We grow in small steps forwards and backwards. When you’re anxious or depressed, adding even the smallest task can seem daunting. You want to feel better, but everything you have to do to get there seems overwhelming and out of reach.
As I often tell my clients, “All or nothing works for exactly no one.” Try to do everything all at once, a ball will get dropped and you’ll inevitably feel like a failure. Avoid this when integrating healthy nutrition into your mental health care approach. Set yourself up for success by taking things one step at a time.
I talked about some ways to make a few simple changes like drinking more water, avoiding harmful food additives, and adding detoxing foods to your diet in my article Nutrition and Mental Health: Where to Begin.
You can move on to supplementing your nutrition to correct deficiencies related to mental illness. There are a few supplements that can help you on the road to recovery, as you change your eating habits and follow your counselor’s behavioral recommendations.
For two to four weeks, see what supplementing with omega-3 essential fatty acids, B vitamins and probiotics can do for you.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s can help greatly with mental health. These fatty acids are found in fish, nuts, seeds and some whole grains.
Omega-3 fatty acids practice what your counselor preaches: Be flexible and go with the flow. The "3" in omega-3 is essentially the number of hinges in this type of fatty acids. These hinges allow omega-3s to bend in response to pressure, rather than remain rigid.
Saturated fats don’t have these hinges, which makes them very rigid. It’s important to have some saturated fats to allow our structure to stand up for themselves, but it’s also essential to have omega-3s dispersed throughout the body to provide flexibility. Going with the flow and not being reactive is key for mental health, all the way down to the molecular level.
When looking for an omega-3 supplement — or any supplement — look for one that logistically fits into your life. Choose a supplement you can afford. Look at the size of the supplement (often shown on the packaging if not visible through bottle) to make sure it’s not too big to swallow. You’re better off taking two tiny capsules than not taking one at all because it’s too big. Check the ingredients, too, for harmful artificial food dyes and any possible allergens for you.
There are eight B vitamins, and each has a long list of amazing functions that they perform. B vitamins are definitely the go-to guys of the vitamin world. They've got their hands in everything from metabolism, to energy levels, to mood.
When you’re feeling knocked down in life, supplementing with a B vitamin complex can help you find your inner Rocky to get back up and get back in the ring.
Be mindful — this type of supplement can boost your energy levels — i.e., it's not something to take before bed. If you struggle first thing in the morning, that may be the best time to take your supplement. If you have certain times that you feel geared up and anxious, take your supplement at a different time of day.
Moral of the story: Find a time that works for you, and stick to it.
You may notice after taking a B vitamin supplement you have bright yellow or green pee. That’s normal. B vitamins are water soluble and you’re simply peeing out the excess.
Probiotics is a fancy sounding term that means healthy gut bacteria, and once those probiotics are established in your intestines they are then known as microflora. What having a healthy microflora can do for a person is far-reaching. An astounding number of studies have shown that taking probiotic supplements and consuming foods and beverages with probiotics can greatly improve mental health. 1,2
There are as many neurons in the human gut as there are in the brain. This is known as the gut-brain. What keeps one set of neurons happy keeps the other set of neurons happy. Probiotics are loving microbes that keep the guy brain feeling very happy.
Look for a supplement containing at least one type of bifidobacteria and one type of Lactobacillus bacteria. There are tons of supplements to choose from out there. Let the types of bacteria, the size of the capsule, the number of capsules that equal a dose, and the price be your guide.
Talk to Your Health Pros
Supplementing with omega-3s, B vitamins and probiotics is a great discussion to have with your primary care provider and/or your counseling professional. Some medications can negatively impact one or all of these nutrients. Your health care professionals will have advice on dosage and timing to help you.
Discussing this with them will show your doc — but more importantly, yourself — that you’re taking an active role in getting better. That’s a pretty amazing benefit all on its own.
1) Major depressive disorder: probiotics may be an adjuvant therapy. Medical-hypotheses.com. Retrieved May 25, 2015.
2) Intestinal Flora and Mental Health. HuffingtonPost.com. Retrieved May 25, 2015.
3) Fish oil to treat depression? WebMD.com. Retrieved May 25, 2015.
4) 10 Nutritional Deficiencies That May Cause Depression. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved May 25th, 2015.
5) Treatment of Depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12. PubMed.gov. Retrieved May 25th, 2015.
Reviewed May 27, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith