Nutrition plays a pivotal role in mental health. Alongside a variety of other lifestyle factors, a balanced, nutrient-dense diet should be made a priority as we strive to create a life well lived. Using the science of nutrition and integrative medicine to track your mental health, we can get a clearer image about how we’re taking care of ourselves, and examine how lifestyle factors may need to change in order to alleviate distress and support the body. This way of enacting change embodies the philosophy of treating the root of the problem, as opposed to addressing resulting symptoms.
While it can be confusing to know what diet to follow, what nutrients matter, and which vitamins help with what ailments, our nutrition and integrative medicine specialists are here to help! Integrative nutrition and healing are closely linked – and we’re here to give you some tips.
A balance of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals is essential for overall wellness, and understanding individual vitamins can contribute to your comprehensive knowledge of better health. B Vitamins are water-soluble which means they cannot be stored in the body; therefore, it is necessary to consume them through diet from day to day. Behaviors that easily deplete B vitamins include excessive alcohol use, consumption of refined sugars, caffeine use, and nicotine use.
Three important B vitamins, B6, B9, and B12, have specific functions as it relates to mental health and wellness. Through working with mental health professionals that are trained in nutrition and integrative medicine for mental health (like ours at Awakened Path) you can best navigate, understand, and address any mental health concerns through this holistic approach.
Vitamin B12 and Mental Health
The function of B Vitamins, specifically Vitamin B12, has been found to have significant influence on mental health. Knowing how to capitalize on their benefits is an important part of your nutrition and integrative medicine for mental health plan.
Vitamin B12 is utilized within the body for formation of red blood cells, neurological functioning, and DNA synthesis. It is also linked with creation of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin—both important influences on our mental health.
The Role of Dopamine
Dopamine is a chemical produced in the brain that plays a vital role in the reward system, movement, emotional regulation, regulation of memory and attention, and regulation of sleep. Thus, dopamine plays a significant role in mental health, including the association with the loss of pleasure as found commonly in depression. Similarly, research reflects insufficient dopamine in the amygdala, the body’s alarm and response system, for those who struggle with anxiety. Low dopamine is associated with inability to focus, low mood, fatigue, among other symptoms. Through adequate consumption of B vitamins—B12 in particular—it ensures dopamine is synthesized and regulated effectively.
The Role of Serotonin
Serotonin, otherwise known as the ‘happy chemical,’ is critical in emotional wellness. It has been found to be one of the most important neurotransmitters influencing mental health. Serotonin stabilizes mood, feelings of well being, and happiness and impacts the entire body. Serotonin enables communication between brain cells and cells that compose the nervous system. Because B12 is involved in serotonin synthesis, a lack or deficiency of serotonin has been found to contribute to mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.
Deficiency of any particular vitamin or nutrient can impact both mental and physical health. Specifically, as it relates to vitamin B12, those deficient may experience fatigue, weakness, constipation, brain fog, symptoms of depression, and/or issues related to cognition. Emerging research continues to highlight the relationship between B12, deficiencies of B12, and symptoms of depression.
How can I best consume B12?
Vitamin B12 is best consumed through animal products. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, consult with your doctor prior to integrating B12 supplementation into your lifestyle. Incorporating foods such as fish and shellfish, such as salmon, tuna, clams, nutritional yeast, pasture raised beef, pasture raised eggs, and high-quality dairy products.
Through a balanced diet, you can be sure to consume sufficient amounts of B Vitamins, including vitamin B12, in order to ensure optimal mental and physical wellness.
Vitamin B6 and Mental Health
Vitamin B6, otherwise known as pyridoxine, plays an essential role in mental health. Vitamin B6 has been found to help with brain function, through lowering levels of homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine have been linked with higher likelihood of neurodegenerative diseases, like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and cognitive decline in general.
Since vitamin B6 is needed to produce neurotransmitters, like serotonin, GABA, and norepinephrine as well as the hormone, melatonin, B6 is thought to help maintain mental health.
Serotonin, as mentioned earlier, and norepinephrine influence mood, while melatonin helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm. Norepinephrine is a stress hormone. It affects the parts of the brain where attention and responding actions are controlled and underlies the flight-or-flight response. Recent research reflects inadequate intake of B6 has been linked to an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
A vitamin B6 deficiency frequently occurs when other B vitamins in the body are low, specifically vitamin B12 and folic acid (B9). Vitamin B6 deficiency has been linked to social deficits and cognitive impairment.
How can I best consume B6?
Vitamin B6 is best consumed through animal products. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, it is recommended to consult with your doctor prior to integrating B6 supplementation into your lifestyle. Sources high in vitamin B6 include chickpeas, pasture raised beef, fatty fish, including salmon and tuna, chicken breast, potatoes, bananas, and fortified breakfast cereals.
Vitamin B9 and Mental Health
Vitamin B9, otherwise known as folic acid, is one of the B vitamins critical in mental health. Folic acid is essential in brain function. It works closely with vitamins B6 and B12 to monitor levels of the amino acid, homocysteine, as mentioned above. Research demonstrates that folic acid deficiency is high in individuals with various psychological disorders, including depression, dementia, and schizophrenia.
Folate regulates levels of BH4, an important factor in the creation of dopamine and serotonin, within the body. As explained previously, dopamine and serotonin are critical neurotransmitters in mood regulation and cognitive functioning. Similar to vitamin B6, folate is involved in the breakdown of homocysteine, which higher levels have been linked to neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as depression.
Vitamin B9 is the most common B vitamin deficiency. A folic acid deficiency results in lower levels of BH4, as mentioned above, which results in lower levels of serotonin and dopamine, impacting mental health.
How can I best consume B9?
Vitamin B9 is found in a variety of different foods. The best sources of vitamin B9 include spinach, pasture raised eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, leafy greens, avocado, mustard greens, and broccoli. If you are looking to integrate a B9 supplement into your diet, it is recommended to consult with your doctor prior to making this change.
At Awakened Path, we provide education around nutrition and integrative medicine for mental health, including how you can best build your plate that supports mental health. While each individual nutrient is critical for overall mental and physical wellness, examining each vitamin, nutrient, and mineral in isolation provides a better understanding of the greater picture. Through consumption of a balance of all vitamins, nutrients, and minerals, the body can operate properly.
Awakened Path offers individual therapy and integrative nutrition therapy for all ages to target nutritional needs. If you’re looking for guidance around dietary factors to support your wellness, and live in New Jersey, our team at Awakened Path would love to connect with you. Call us at 609-297-1112 to schedule a session!
To learn more on the role of vitamin B complex and mental health, check out this article. If you’re interested in understanding Awakened Path’s approach to therapy, consider reading further on how to care for your mind, body, and soul.
Awakened Path Counseling proudly provides quality transpersonal and traditional psychotherapy, at their offices in Middlesex County, New Jersey, and online. Their experienced therapists specialize in serving children, teens and adults. The experienced clinicians at Awakened Path Counseling are passionate about their holistic approach to mental health, addressing your emotional, cognitive, physical, and spiritual needs.