Supplements to help managing your mind

21st September 2014 by Gabriel Wong, Clinical Psychologist

Many people who suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar or other mental illness may need to take some medications to monitor their conditions. Some of the medications are working for them, but other people do not benefit from their medications. Some people are still hesitating whether they are going to take these medications or not.

Are you aware that taking some supplements such as Vitamins or minerals may help or alleviate some of the symptoms that you may have encountered recently? Here are some of the findings from some orthomolecular doctors and other resources hoping to give you to look at this from another perspective.

Folic acid is a B-group vitamin essential for the healthy development of the neural tube of fetus in early pregnancy. Generally it helps the body make healthy new cells. It helps produce the brain chemicals acetylcholine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Deficiency of folic acid will trigger irritability and forgetfulness.

Vitamin B12 deficiency will attack the nerves especially the myelin shealth of the neurotransmitters. The deficiency can cause mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder, paranoia and schizophrenic symptoms (Pacholok & Stuart, 2011).

Amino acids such as the tyrosine and tryptophan are the natural raw materials for the production of serotonin & norepinephrine. Tyrosine or norepinephrine influences the centre of the brain which is supposed for making us to have he feel of pleasure, and gratification. A deficiency of these chemicals will make us feel a sense of loss of motivation and forgetfulness. In addition, tyrosine is also a material for dopamine. L-tyrosine is involved in producing adrenaline, the fight-or-flight hormone. L-phenylalamine is the formation of the neurotransmitter 2-phenylethylamine. Taking Vitamin B6, the pyridoxal-5-phosphate will enable optimal production of serotonin from tryptophan. Taking Vitamin B6 along side with magnesium is needed by the amino acids for the synthesis of serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, phenylethylamine, and aminobutyric acid.

Studies have found that an overload of vanadium in the bodies of people with manic depression, in both manic and depressed stages. Lowering vanadium levels in manic-depressions will have an overall stabilization of moods. Vitamin C can easy to counteract and reduce vandanium level with the use of a relatively high dosage of Vitamin C, e.g. an excess of 3g. As vandanium suppresses the activity of lithium, Vitamin C detoxifies vandanium and hence stabilizing lithium activity. Taking fish oil daily may facilitate the functioning of lithium within the brain.

The minerals magnesium and manganese are powerful central nervous system depressant. Calcium helps regulate the balance between excitating and inhibiting functions in the brain. People with anxiety may have exceptionally high levels of lactic acid in their blood.

It is believed that Vitamins B1, B3, and B6 help decrease anxiety by increasing the body’s ratio and pyruvate to lactate. The natural B3 receptors in the brain attract the benzodiazepine which is commonly used to treat anxiety. B3 increases the effectiveness of diazepine compounds and many other tranquilizers. Vitamin B6 is helpful to stop anxiety as Vitamin B6 is necessary for the synthesis of the inhibitory brain chemical GABA (gama-aminobutyric acid), which has been linked with anxiety reduction.

Many people drink many cups of coffee and tea a day. Caffeine in the coffee and tea produces these symptoms by counteracting the brain chemical adenosine, a potent central nervous system depressant. Yale University psychiatrists found that caffeine produced panic-attack symptoms in 71% of panic disorder patients.

Low blood sugar can cause panic attack as well. Symptoms of low blood sugar can be identical to those of a panic attack. Sugar can affect our minds and our moods. Sugar can deprive our bodies of some of the vitamins and minerals needed to synthesis the brain chemicals that affect our moods and that it may contribute directly to the deficiency of amino acids.

Last but not the least, Vitamin D3 can prevent depression and dementia. It can help the body absorb calcium. Here is a link to watch Dr Michael Hollick to talk about the importance of Vitamin D :

If you are considering taking the above-mentioned Vitamins or minerals, it would be better to consult your GP first for advice. Your GP may ask you to do a blood test to check the deficiencies before prescribing you the right amount of dosage.

Hollick, M. (2013). The D-lightful vitamin d for good health. Retrieved on September 22, 2014,

Lazarus, P. (1995). Healing the mind the natural way: Nutritional solutions to psychological problems. New York: G.P.Putnam’s Sons.

Pacholok, S.M. & Stuart, J.J. (2011). Could it be B12. An epidemic of
misdiagnoses. (Second Edition). California: Quill Driver Books.

Distraction: Friend or Foe?

distractionPeople seem to have mixed feelings about distraction. Distraction is often what we use to feel better during times of anxiety or to cope when we feel down, flat, or depressed. Yet at the same time distractions can create stress and anxiety for procrastinators and anyone who wants to get anything done! Distraction is sometimes used in therapy to help people manage the strong cravings that come with alcohol or drug abuse, but then our distractions can become addictions themselves! It seems everyone enjoys a bit of distraction to let yourself relax (I know I do!) but at the same time Facebook, phones, games and TV can steal a lot of our time away without giving much back.

When we are talking about distraction we are really discussing the complex cognitive processes which underlie attention. Attention techniques have been found useful in reducing pain, stress, and improving overall mental health. A great example of this can be found at the Smiling Mind project (, which uses principals of mindfulness to guide our attention. This form of distraction allows us to refocus on those things which enhance life, since we are better able to cope with the stress or discomfort that may come along when we chase the things we find fulfilling.

When it comes to getting things done, though, research looking at student’s study habits showed some interesting results. Students from high school and university were observed while studying something for just 15 minutes in their normal place of study. Students were also given a questionnaire assessing study strategies, GPA, and other relevant factors. The results showed these students averaged less than 6 minutes attention on a task before switching, and these attention switches were nearly all caused by distracting technology (ie, social media and texting).

Unsurprisingly, the ability to stay on task for longer was one predictor of better grades. Interestingly, those students who checked Facebook even once during this time had lower grades than those who did not. After checking it appeared that participants would have insistent lingering thoughts about what was happening in the world of Facebook (“has anyone responded to my post?”, “is there any interesting new videos posted up yet?”).

Most of us have probably experienced mental distraction like this. It is those times our bodies may be present but our minds are still elsewhere, lost in the world of work or games, social drama or a television drama. This is when distraction becomes unhelpful, it disengages us from the important things in life. Distraction becomes a form of avoidance which robs us of the ability to perform the task in front of us, as well as the ability to sit with uncomfortable thoughts, feelings or situations.

So when it comes to your distraction how do you know if it is friend or foe? The answer may be found in the question; does it allow me to connect to the things which are most important or valuable to me? These may be the things you remember doing at those times when you felt most purposeful, or most productive, or most connected. Distractions sometimes stop us from having to think about the day to day chores, but leave little time or energy left to do things like going for a bushwalk and getting out into nature, having a good coffee and a chat with a close friend, finish building a project, write a short novel, spend some quality family time, or whatever else it is that you may love but may get left out of the busy weekly schedule!

What’s so good about exercise anyway?


By Kaitlyn Massey, Psychologist

Is anyone else fed up hearing the old message that you need to exercise and eat healthy or else… Or else what? We are swamped with daily messages from magazines and television shows about how to get that fab body “in 10 minutes or less”, and there are new exercise fads being promoted by celebrities constantly. But is there more to exercise than simply losing weight and minimising our risk of cardiovascular disease? And what is so good about exercise anyway?


Beyond the physical benefits, I truly believe that exercise is the number one thing we can do to support our mental and social health. Here are 6 key reasons why:

1. Exercise can alter the chemicals in our brain. Research shows that exercise can alter the serotonin levels in our brain, which can lead to improved mood (Puetz, T, 2006). Exercise also burns stress hormones such as adrenaline, which can help you to feel more relaxed. And in some cases it has even been demonstrated that exercise can be just as affective as anti-depressant medication for the treatment of depressive symptoms (Blumenthal et. al., 2007).

2. Exercise can increase social connectedness. Joining a sporting club or community exercise group can increase your sense of social connectivity, which enhances a person’s sense of wellbeing. I recently participated in Sydney’s City to Surf 14km run. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the race was running alongside 80,000 other people who had the same goal. The community spirit was alive with hundreds of people lining the streets to cheer on complete strangers and support them all the way to the finish line.

3. Exercise can increase your energy levels. It sounds paradoxical: How can burning energy actually increase my energy levels? I know myself after a long day at work the last thing I feel like doing is going for a run, however research suggests that when people who generally live a sedentary lifestyle (i.e. work in an office all day) complete regular exercise, they report having more energy (Puetz, T, 2006). This is a result of the physiological effects of exercise, such as increasing muscle mass, improving circulation, improving the regulation of blood sugar levels, reducing body fat and fat in the blood stream, and increasing the heart’s pumping capacity.

4. Exercise Improves physical health – and therefore your psychological health. As people’s physical health improves, they also tend to notice a boost in their self-esteem and confidence (Nauert, 2009).


5. Exercise can improve your sleep. Having a good night’s sleep is hugely important for our psychological wellbeing and research shows that exercise can help us improve our sleep. Physical activity can stimulate longer periods of slow-wave sleep, which is considered the deepest and most restorative stages of sleep. Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep for people with diagnosed sleep disorders such as insomnia (Passos, et al., 2011).

6. Exercise can provide you with a sense of achievement. When get home after a long day at work and you have a million other things to be doing, and all you really want to do is crash on the couch, and you choose to go for that walk instead – that’s an achievement! Dr James Blumenthal puts it like this; I think that one of the other appeals of exercising is that people are really taking an active role in their treatment. I think this appeals to a lot of people. Taking a pill is a very passive kind of activity. Exercising obviously requires more active participation. And I think having a sense of control over what you’re doing and feeling that sense of accomplishment are important” (Blumenthal, 2001).

So how much exercise should you be doing to see these benefits? The Australian Government’s Physical Activity Guidelines state that:

  • Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount.
  • Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes moderate-intensity physical activity per day.
  • Be active on most, preferably all, days every week.


My general philosophy is to aim for 45-60 minutes a day, at least 5 days per week. This could be broken up into 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening, but whatever fits into your busy schedule. Fitting exercise into your calendar might be as simple as turning your Saturday morning “coffee catch up” with your bestie, into a “walk and talk” time instead. Most importantly, take time to notice how you feel before and after you exercise. When you stop and reflect for a moment on how that morning run has made you feel, you start to develop the motivation to get up and do it again the next day. As the philosopher Henry David Thoreau put it, “An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”

So, next time you hear somebody telling you to exercise, why not use it as a cue to consider your psychological wellbeing? Exercise shouldn’t be a chore but a choice; a lifestyle decision you make every day; to choose to be more vibrant, more energised, more productive, more connected with yourself, others and the world.


*Consult your GP before engaging in strenuous activity.
** For additional motivation, check out Dr Mike Evans presentation on YouTube here. Can you sleep and be sedentary for just 23.5 hours per day?

Blumenthal, J. (2001). Depression and Exercise [Audio Transcript]. Quantum ABC Television.

Blumenthal, J. A., Babyak, M. A., Doraiswamy, P. M., Watkins, L., Hoffman, B. M., Barbour, K. A., … & Sherwood, A. (2007). Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder. Psychosomatic medicine, 69(7), 587.

Commonwealth of Australia. (2014). More than half of all Australian adults are not active enough. Retrieved from The Department of Health website:

Evans, M. (2011). 23 and 1/2 hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health? [Video file]. Retrieved from

Inspiration. (2013). Exercise is 4% [Image]. Retrieved from

KarmaJello. (2014). Exercise photo [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Latrobe Health Centre. (2013). Exercise Physiology[Photograph]. Retrieved from

Nauert, R. (2009). Exercise Improves Self-Esteem in Overweight Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 22, 2014, from

Omidi, M. (2014). Keep Calm and Exercise [Image]. Retrieved from

Passos G. S., Poyares D., Santana M. G., D’Aurea C.V., Youngstedt S. D., Tufik S., de Mello M. T. (2011) Effects of moderate aerobic exercise training on chronic primary insomnia. Sleep Med, 12(10) 1018-1027.

Puetz, T. Psychological Bulletin, November 2006. News release, University of Georgia.

Youngstedt, S. D., O’Connor, P. J., & Dishman, R. K. (1997). The effects of acute exercise on sleep: a quantitative synthesis. Sleep: Journal of Sleep Research & Sleep Medicine.

Depression and exercise | Better Health Channel. (2012). Retrieved August 2014, from