Don’t let the TV commercials fool you. Anxiety and depression are not caused by a deficiency in antidepressants! And they aren’t completely fixed with these little pills either!

Truly overcoming mood imbalances requires uncovering and addressing the root causes behind them. 

And unlike a deficiency in pharmaceuticals, a deficiency in key nutrients IS often a factor.

So let’s look at 5 key nutrients for anxiety and depression, along with how you can test for them and restore your levels. 

5 Best Nutrients for Anxiety and Depression

1. Folate or Vitamin B9

Through a process called methylation, folate supports the synthesis of three neurotransmitters involved in mood, behavior, and sleep – dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. 

This process also breaks down the amino acid homocysteine, which is often elevated in patients with anxiety and depression. And it creates a molecule called SAMe, which is believed to have anti-depressive effects.

There’s even evidence showing pharmaceutical antidepressants are more effective when paired with supplemental folate.

The synthetic form of B9, folic acid, is added to many processed foods and used in most drugstore multivitamins. But it must be converted into its active form to do its job. 

That conversion is inhibited by genetic factors like MTHFR mutations, along with poor nutrient absorption due to SIBO or deficiencies in digestive enzymes or stomach acid.

How to Increase Folate:

  • Eat folate-rich foods, including asparagus, leafy greens such as spinach and kale, Brussel sprouts, beets, and broccoli.
  • You may also want to take a supplement of folate in its pre-methylated form, especially if you have one or more MTHFR mutations.

2. Lithium Orotate

You may be familiar with lithium as a treatment for bipolar disorder when used in high doses.

However, in much lower doses this mineral can be highly effective and far safer for treating anxiety, depression, and even ADHD.

It is believed to produce a mood-balancing effect by altering dopamine, glutamate, and GABA levels in your synapses. Studies in animals also show that it increases neurotransmission in a group of serotonin receptors in order to decrease depression.

How to Increase Lithium Orotate:

  • Work with your provider to determine the right dose and protocol for your needs.

3. Magnesium

Magnesium supports the function of mood-regulating neurotransmitters and helps maintain a balanced stress response by regulating the release of cortisol.

However, chronic stress actually depletes your magnesium levels, leading to more stress and a poorer mood-regulating response. 

It’s no surprise then that improving magnesium levels has been shown to decrease depression and anxiety.

A clinical trial in older adults found a daily dose of 450 mg of magnesium was as effective in treating depression as a pharmaceutical antidepressant. 

Additionally, a 2017 review of 18 different studies found increasing magnesium reduced symptoms of generalized anxiety, PMS-related anxiety, and post-partum anxiety.

How to Increase Magnesium:

Magnesium used to be plentiful in our soil and therefore our food. But thanks to modern industrial farming practices and the use of pesticides, this is no longer the case.

  • Eat magnesium-rich foods, such as avocados, fatty fish like salmon and halibut, bananas, and leafy greens
  • Choose organic produce, which has a higher mineral content. 
  • Avoid factors that decrease magnesium absorption, including antacids, caffeine, and alcohol.

You may also want to add in a high-quality magnesium supplement in the form of magnesium L-threonate. This is the only form proven to cross the blood-brain barrier and is the active ingredient in our RootFix NeuroZen formula.

4. Vitamin D

Vitamin D, which is actually a hormone, activates genes that release neurotransmitters, including the “happy” or “feel good” ones. 

Studies have shown patients with lower levels of vitamin D are more likely to experience symptoms of depression than those with higher levels.

Unfortunately, an estimated 1 billion people are around the world are deficient in vitamin D. 

Deficiency, and therefore depression, tend to spike in the winter months when we have less direct sunlight because sun exposure triggers your body to produce vitamin D.

Increasing vitamin D levels on their own can help with depressive symptoms. And like folate, vitamin D supplements have been shown to increase the effectiveness of antidepressants.

How to Increase Vitamin D:

  • Get dietary vitamin D from grass-fed or pasture-raised proteins, fatty fish, and organ meats
  • Consider adding in a vitamin D3 supplement that also includes K2, as the two work synergistically and prevent calcium buildup in your arteries.

5. Zinc

Numerous studies have linked low zinc levels with depression and several have found that increasing levels has a mood-boosting effect.

As a natural anti-inflammatory agent, zinc also combats the brain inflammation often behind anxiety and depression.

Like magnesium, zinc levels are depleted when you’re stressed, so you’re more likely to be deficient when dealing with chronic stressors.

How to Increase Zinc:

  • Get plenty of zinc in your diet from meat, including beef, lamb, and pork, as well as shellfish.
  • If you are not following an AIP or Paleo protocol, legumes, hemp and sesame seeds, and nuts are also a good source.
  • You can also get zinc from a high-quality multivitamin.

Now that you know the key nutrients for anxiety and depression, let’s talk about how (and why!) to test for them!

Getting the Right Testing: Nutrients for Anxiety and Depression

Sometimes when patients first come to see me they walk in with bags and bags of supplements they’ve been taking…without ever noticing a difference in their symptoms (mood-related or otherwise).

This is usually due to one of three factors.

  1. They aren’t actually absorbing the supplements they’re taking due to poor digestion and malabsorption. 
  2. The form of supplement they’re taking isn’t very bio-available or absorbable, so they’re getting very low doses. 
  3. They’re treating a deficiency they never had because they were never properly tested.

That’s why, in my clinic, we use a blood and urine test called NutrEval for a comprehensive nutritional analysis. We also typically order a comprehensive stool analysis called GI MAP™ to uncover any issues impacting nutrient absorption.

With this information, we design a personalized dietary and supplement protocol, so you’re getting exactly what you need, without wasting money on supplements that you don’t.

About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.

Want to work with Dr. Osgood and the GrassRoots team? Become a patient in our West Lebanon, New Hampshire Functional Medicine clinic, our Burlington, Vermont Functional Medicine clinic, or our Austin, Texas Functional Medicine clinic!