The connection between mental health and supplements is well known, if not fully understood. It is universally accepted that vitamins and minerals are essential for good health, and there is no reason why this should only apply only to bodily health and not also to mental health.
In fact, can the two be treated as separate entities? When a body suffers from a deficiency of vitamins and minerals, the organs do not work as effectively as they should. Certain conditions occur that can be ascribed to a lack of this vitamin or that mineral. The brain is part of the human body, and there is no reason why a nutritional deficiency should not also cause problems with the way that the brain works.
Vitamins and minerals are essential chemicals that take part in the biochemical reactions of the body that are responsible for the synthesis of complex enzymes that allow such functions as digestion, metabolism of food into energy and the proper functioning of brain cells and the neurotransmitters responsible for passing messages from the brain throughout the body.
These messages are passed through a massive network of electrical connections and nerve cells. If anything goes wrong with this system then the mental functioning of what is known as the mind can be disrupted due to faults in these electrical connections and signals within the brain. People have no conscious control over these connections, and when depressed cannot just ‘shake out of it’. Their problems are as medically genuine as those with any other disorder, and due to an imbalance in the chemistry of the body.
It is important to understand the effect of specific deficiencies on the brain and the mind, that can cause extreme sadness and helplessness in what is commonly termed depression. Mental health is frequently regarded as being connected with the condition of the mind as opposed to the brain as an organ. Naturally, any deficiency that interferes with the chemical processes necessary for the correct operation of the brain as a physical entity will interfere with human consciousness or psyche that is an abstract manifestation of the way the brain works.
Vitamins known and accepted as affecting mental processes include the B vitamins, of which even slight deficiencies can have an adverse effect on mental health. Significant deficiencies can be related to serious mental illnesses such as severe depression. Each one of the B vitamins is known to have a specific effect.
Thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency can lead to depression, anxiety, fearfulness and irritability. The B vitamins are used to create specific enzymes needed for some of the functions in the brain, and it is a lack of these enzymes that ultimately leads to psychiatric disorders. Studies have determined a thiamine deficiency in a large proportion of psychiatric patients. Alcoholics and patients suffering from malnutrition have also been found to suffer from psychiatric disorders, and both of these conditions can lead to a deficiency in thiamine.
Riboflavin, too, has been studied in relation to psychosis. A few studies have indicated a deficiency of riboflavin, vitamin B2, to be associated with increased levels of depression and hysteria. Riboflavin, like thiamine, is essential for the formation and proper use of brain enzymes. The other B vitamins are also known to be essential in the biochemistry of the brain, and depression is a common result of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Other symptoms include psychosis, memory defects and a slowing of the mental processes in general.
In all of these cases, a vitamin B complex supplement appears to have fairly rapid positive results, especially in the treatment of depression. Whether the more severe conditions are helped or not is uncertain since vitamin treatment has rarely been a significant part of the treatment of severe cases of psychosis. It is difficult to see how it could do harm, though while it makes sense for any deficiency to be treated with a corresponding supplement, the damage is generally caused by the presence, or lack of, a chemical farther down the biochemical pathway.
It is well known and accepted that depression is a symptom of insufficient vitamin C intake. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, and is also needed for the production of serotonin. Produced by the pineal gland deep in the brain, serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for mood and depression, and sometimes called the ‘molecule of happiness’. A lack of serotonin leads to depression.
It is not only vitamins that are essential for good mental health, however. Mineral deficiencies also feature in some mental problems, particularly magnesium and zinc. Take zinc first: this mineral is responsible for a large number of enzyme syntheses in the body, and influences nerve impulse transmissions and also the activity of the thyroid gland. A deficiency will give several symptoms including depression and bevioural problems.
Magnesium takes part in hundreds of biochemical reactions, and a deficiency can be caused by stress since stress increases the demand for magnesium. The deficiency then affects the ability of the heart to react to the stress, and it becomes a vicious circle. The magnesium deficiency manifests in the form of personality changes, depression, irritability and anxiety.
These are known effects and many studies have been carries out to confirm that knowledge. Many more vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid, manganese, iron and potassium, are known to be necessary components of the human biochemical pathways that lead ultimately to chemicals essential for the proper functioning of the brain as an organism, and deficiencies of which can affect the mind. Mild depressions have been significantly reduced by use of the appropriate supplements but should not be regarded as a cure.
Since these known deficiencies cause known psychiatric defects, particularly depression and anxiety, it is only sensible to assume that intelligent and appropriate supplementation should help to avoid them, if not cure them. Some deficiencies are due to alcoholism and malnutrition. In alcoholism, the B vitamins are rapidly depleted in the body by the alcohol, even though there is no deficiency in the diet. Malnutrition speaks for itself, and while supplements can have a dramatic effect in that case, alcoholics must be cured for the effects of vitamin supplements to take real effect.
Vitamin and mineral supplements can be used to avoid many of the mental problems that a deficiency can cause. Of these, the various members of the vitamin B complex is that which is indicated most, and also zinc and magnesium supplementation are amongst the essential minerals required.
The treatment of minor disorders with supplements has had a degree of success but it is doubtful if any significant advantages can be gained by using them for severe symptoms. The more traditional methods have been found to be more effective, though some herbal supplements such as St. John’s Wort might have some beneficial effects. These remedies, however, cannot be regarded as cures for depression or any other psychiatric disorder. The connection between mental health and supplements can be used towards finding a cure for many mental conditions.