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Can a supplement help boost your mood?

5 minute read
Man taking supplements to boost mental health

Your depression could be linked to nutritional deficiencies. Here’s how getting the right vitamins and minerals may help you battle the blues. 

Rosemary Black

By Rosemary Black

If you’ve been moody, sad and irritable every day for a few weeks, you might have depression. It’s one of the most common mental health disorders, affecting almost 5% of the adult population worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

There are many reasons someone can develop depression. These include chronic stress or a major life change such as moving or losing a job. But some research suggests that certain nutrient deficiencies may be linked to depression, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Is your low mood a symptom of a nutrient deficiency? And if so, should you take a supplement? Read on to find out how you can get more nutrients from your diet and whether vitamin supplements might help you fight off the blues.

Which nutrients affect mood?

Vitamin B12. “B12 is a key micronutrient required for brain development throughout all stages of life,” says Karen Hemmes, a registered dietitian at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. “A deficiency in vitamin B12 can result in dementia, memory loss and even visual disturbances.” The best food sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Beef

Folate. Also known as vitamin B9, folate is found in leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. When added to foods, it’s called folic acid. Both forms may help stave off depression, Hemmes says.

Magnesium. “There is some research that suggests magnesium could be helpful in the treatment of mild anxiety, especially for those individuals who may be deficient,” says Hemmes. She says that this mineral might help with the treatment of migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches. Seeds and nuts are among the best food sources of magnesium.

Omega-3 fatty acids. These fats may help improve depression, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Top food sources include:

  • Cold-water fish such as salmon and sardines
  • Nuts
  • Flaxseed and canola oils

Do you need a supplement?

Before you run out and buy a bunch of supplements, consider this: If you’re eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, you are mostly likely getting enough nutrients.

“Most healthy people likely do not need vitamin and mineral supplements because they can get the nutrients they need through a well-balanced diet,” says Hemmes. In fact, she adds, for healthy people who are not deficient, taking excess supplements may not have any health benefits and could potentially be harmful in large doses.

But some people do need additional vitamins and minerals. Here are some signs you might be at a higher risk for a nutrient deficiency:

You follow a vegetarian diet. Fish is high in B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, and meat is high in B12. Vegetarians and vegans don’t eat meat or fish, so they can be at a higher risk for deficiencies of these nutrients.

You’re thinking about getting pregnant. Women of childbearing age have an increased risk of folate deficiency or folic acid deficiency, says Hemmes. So do pregnant women. Folic acid may help ward off depression during pregnancy, and it protects unborn babies against serious birth defects. It may also help prevent early pregnancy loss, according to the Office on Women’s Health. (Shop our prenatal vitamins.)

You’ve had weight-loss surgery. People who have had gastric bypass surgery or bowel surgery may not absorb nutrients as well. The surgery limits the amount of food a person can eat by decreasing the length of the gastrointestinal tract or changing its anatomy, which may limit the amount of nutrition the body can absorb. “As a result, people who have had weight loss surgery will need larger doses of vitamins and minerals,” says Hemmes.

You live with a chronic gastrointestinal disorder. People who have Crohn’s disease, for example, may be deficient in certain nutrients. “The chronic inflammation in the digestive tract from this disease can interfere with the absorption of nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin C and zinc,” Hemmes says.

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Why talking to your doctor about supplements is important

If you’re currently taking a supplement or are considering it, be sure to talk to your doctor. This gives the provider a full picture of what you’re taking. It can also ensure that your care is coordinated and safe. You should also tell your doctor if you’re feeling depressed.

“I recommend regular vitamin and mineral lab testing to identify any deficiencies so that a provider or dietitian can suggest appropriate supplements,” Hemmes says. If you learn that you’re nutrient deficient, try eating more nutrient-dense meals, including a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

If your doctor approves it, take a daily multivitamin with minerals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not review dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before they’re sold. As a precaution, stick to supplement brands that are verified by an independent laboratory. “The independent labs will test and verify that supplements contain what they claim to contain, are free from contamination and are of higher-quality ingredients,” Hemmes says.

Man looking at supplements bottle
The Optum Store carries a wide range of laboratory-tested vitamins and supplements

More ways to promote a healthy mental outlook

Whether or not you take supplements, eating a well-balanced diet is the best way to stay healthy both physically and mentally. “A healthy diet may lead to increased self-esteem, boost your mood, and ultimately decrease stress and anxiety,” Hemmes says. “Healthy foods provide your body with the nutrients you and your brain need to function properly.” Here are some strategies to try:

Stick to a Mediterranean diet. “This means consuming more foods with omega-3s, such as salmon, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds,” Hemmes says. Why? It may reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. Fish oil supplements may also help.

Watch your fat intake. Avoid eating trans fats and excessive saturated fats, says Hemmes. She also recommends choosing unrefined grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, unsaturated fats and high-fiber foods. “High vegetable and unrefined grain consumption is linked to lower depressive and anxiety-related symptoms.”

Stay away from highly processed foods. They are low in nutritional value. Just as healthy foods can make you feel better, highly processed foods may decrease self-esteem and cause an increase in stress and anxiety.

Additional sources
Nutrients and depression: Mayo Clinic (2018). “Vitamin B12 and depression: Are they related?”
Depression facts: World Health Organization (2021). Depression
Omega 3s: Harvard Health Publishing (2020). “Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders”
Folic acid: Office on Women’s Health (2019). Folic acid