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How healthy food, vitamins and minerals can affect our mood?

Research has shown that eating a healthy diet can actually have an impact on reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and ultimately elevating our mood. Traditional Mediterranean diet has been proved to have a significantly effect on reducing the risk of suffering from symptoms of mental health such as depression and anxiety.

Below are some evidence-based information for someone who are still resisted to take antidepressants or who would like to take some supplements in addition to their current medication.

Some vitamins and minerals are essential to help our body produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamin. Vitamins B3, B6 and B12 are particularly important for mental health or our nerves.

B3 is also called niacin. Deficiency of B3 will show the symptoms of depression, poor working memory and lack of energy. It also helps to manage skin itchiness for someone who has skin problems. B6 is responsible for producing neurotransmitters such as serotonin, and dopamine.   After taking B6, it will transform the amino acid, tryptophan, into serotonin. B12 helps improve depression, anxiety, bipolar and even schizophrenia.

Magnesium helps muscle relaxation, and it definitely helps relieve stress and anxiety, as well as joint pain. Low levels of magnesium and zinc have been found in people with depression and anxiety as it has the effect on mood.

Deficient in Vitamin D can have a negative effect on mood. People with depression tend to have a low level of Vitamin D. Actually Vitamin D can prevent depression and dementia, as well as working for chronic inflammation. Depression is a kind of chronic inflammation within our brain.

Omega-3 fatty acids are good to help chronic inflammation. Low levels of omega-3 have found in people with depression and other mental disorders.

Curcumin comes from turmeric, and it is usually found in curry. It is a natural antidepressant and antioxidant. Research shows curcumin can help improve mood in adults. After consuming curcumin, it will increase our Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNS). BDNF increases brain plasticity, suppresses brain inflammation, acts as a natural antidepressant, offsets the negative effects of stress on the brain, and protects the brain from neurodegenerative diseases.

Apple pectin can be found in the peels in apple and other citrus fruits such as cherries and plums. Apple pectin is extracted from apples. When apple pectin is consumed, it goes into the large intestine. Then the bacteria in the intestine will decompose and produce a by-product called butyrate. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that is most commonly produced by probiotics (the good bacteria) in the colon. Butyrate is then absorbed by the large intestine, through the blood-brain barrier, into our brain. The butyrate will inhibit the brain “astrocyte” secretion of an enzyme – “histone deacetylase” (HDAC). Cells are also produced by the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).

It is proposed that depression is associated with reduced brain BDNF levels and that antidepressant treatments alleviate depressive behaviour and increase BDNF levels. This alteration was recently explained as activity-dependent neuronal plasticity. It is believed that a low level of BDNF has been linked to a wide range of brain-related conditions such as anxiety related disorders, and depression. The evidence clearly indicates that BDNF levels are negatively impacted by an unhealthy lifestyle. The stress hormone cortisol also inhibits the production of BDNF, resulting in fewer new brain cells being formed. It would be better for us to relax more everyday rather than allowing our stress hormones to attack our body especially our brain as these stress hormones will do some damage to our brain cells overtime.

It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of stressors you are facing as they will all reduce BDNF production. Chronic daily stress, the occasional acute stress, chronic insomnia due to stress, and the burnout experienced by high achievers all lead to a decrease in BDNF.

It is crystal clear that healthy food that we consume not just have an impact on our mood, it does have a direct connection with the production of neurotransmitters and BDNF in our brain. This is a more proactive way of looking after our mental health as well as our physical health.


Holick, M. (2010). The vitamin D solution: a 3-step strategy to cure our most common health problems. Scribe publications pty ltd, Victoria, Australia.

Marano, H.E. (2010). The world’s first health food. Psychology Today, November/December.

Pacholok, S.M., Stuart, J.J. (2011). Could it be B12: an epidemic of misdiagnoses. Quill Driver Books, California, USA.

Gabriel Wong

Clinical Psychologist

Gabriel Wong
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