7 Nutritional Deficiencies Linked to Depression

Depression is a medical condition that has a negative effect on the way people feel, and act. Depression, which can be mild, moderate or severe, causes a loss of interest in daily activities and enjoyment, feelings of happiness and sometimes brings on suicidal tendencies. It has been shown to chronically affect approximately one in fifteen adults every year, while one in six people will experience some form of depression at some point in their life.

It’s a long known fact that certain nutritional deficiencies can be the reason for some physical illnesses. However, not many people realise that a strong link exists between nutrition and depression. Certain food classes have been shown to improve depression symptoms and some nutritional deficiencies have been shown to co-exist in a depressed person. Nutritional studies have confirmed this link between nutrition and the onset, as well as the severity of depression. Deficiencies in these nutrients have been shown to have an effect on depression.


First, a study found that there is a higher prevalence of depression amongst women than men. While up to 20% of females are iron deficient at any given time, only 3% of males have anaemia. This was eventually linked to the susceptibility of women between the ages of 25 – 45 to anaemia.  Iron deficiency anaemia has been shown to result in depression, irritability, brain fog and fatigue. Good sources of iron include red meat, fish and poultry.


Five studies have been able to independently confirm the presence of lower amounts of zinc in patients with depression. Another study found a link between oral zinc supplements and improved response to clinical antidepressant therapy. Zinc is known to protect the brain cells from damage caused by free radicals and is needed by more enzymes than any other mineral. The recommended daily intake of zinc for adults is 11mg for men and 8 mg for women.

Folic acid

Individuals with depression have been shown to have a 25% lower folate levels when compared to individuals without depression. Individuals with folate deficiency show only a 7% response rate to antidepressants when compared to 44% response rate in patients without it. Folic acid deficiency has also been linked to poor response to antidepressant therapy in patients with depression. A supplementation of 500mcg of folic acid has been known to boost the effectiveness of antidepressant therapy.

Amino acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein which are important for both fitness and optimal brain function and mental health. Neurotransmitters in the brain are made from amino acids which can be obtained from the proteins that we consume. A diet poor in protein puts a person at risk of depression. An amino acid deficiency results in sluggishness, being foggy and unfocused as well. To improve these symptoms, a diet rich in proteins such consisting of eggs, fish, beans, seeds and nuts are helpful.

Omega-3 fatty acids

The brain is one of the organs that contain the highest quantities of lipids or fats. Gray matter is made up of 50% fatty acids. Some studies have linked the increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids with an improvement in mood and an improvement in other depression symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids play a critical role in brain function, memory and mood. They cannot be synthesized by the body and thus can only be obtained from the diet rich in them.

Vitamin B-complex

Some studies reported an improvement in mood when patients with b-complex deficiencies were given supplementation. B-complex deficiencies have been shown to result in a change in cognitive function in both adolescents and the elderly. The B-complex vitamins also provide incredible health benefits such as a reduced risk of strokes, healthy skin, and healthy nails. More than 25% of older women with depression had vitamin B-12 deficiencies in a study carried out in 2009. The recommended daily intake of vitamin B-6 in adults is 1.7mg for men and 1.5mg for women. For vitamin B-12, it is 2.4mg for adults of all sexes. Great sources of the B-complex vitamins include meat, fish, eggs, poultry and milk.


Magnesium is quickly used up by the body in periods of stress according to a study published in 2012. This then results in depression and anxiety. Magnesium is known as a “relaxation mineral” and is found in seaweed, green vegetables and beans. The recommended daily intake is 310 for adult males and 320mg for adult females. An increase in magnesium intake has the capacity to improve mental health.

A diet that incorporates these minerals will be beneficial to mental health.

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