The nervous system is one of the most intricate systems within the body and functions as our control centre where it gathers, conveys, processes and stores information.
Stress, anxiety and depression are common conditions in Australia. In the figures from last year’s one month post COVID outbreak, Australians reported anxiety was up 62%, depression up 50% and stress up 64%.
And so much has happened since then!
Mental health instability creates a variety of quality of life issues, and can leave you feeling exhausted and powerless or out of control.
There can be many triggers for mental health imbalance, including environmental, neurotransmitter imbalances, genetics, pre-existing conditions, sex, heavy metals, cortisol dysfunction and nutrient deficiencies.
That is why it is important to visit a qualified naturopath to work out the underlying cause!
This article is focusing on nutrient deficiencies and the role they can play in supporting stress, anxiety and depression.
There are always other aspects of health to consider for a holistic approach to stabilizing mental health.
There is increasing consensus that nutrient status is an important modifiable factor in many neurological and psychiatric conditions, and time and time again, I see wonderful results in clinic using targeted supplementation.
Often the dose, form and quality of the product can make an enormous difference to patient outcomes, particularly if people are struggling.
So here are 6 of most effective and researched natural products I prescribe for stress, anxiety and depression.
Zinc is an essential nutrient involved with many enzyme reactions in the body, including the brain!
It seems to have an ability to reduce inflammatory processes in the brain and also assists in modulating the immune system.
Unfortunately zinc is in high demand in our body, particularly when we are stressed or anxious or depressed. This can lead to rapid depletion, and consequently ongoing imbalances.
This mineral has been researched and has systematic reviews concluding its efficacy in relation to mental health
The great thing is zinc also works well alongside antidepressant medication!
Many medications also deplete zinc in the body, including the oral contraceptive pill, so it’s a good
idea to include the below list of foods in your diet regularly.
Zinc can be found in beef, brewer’s yeast, bilberry, capsicum, egg yolk, ginger, herrings, liver, milk,
lamb, oysters, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, seafood, whole grains and yeast.
NOTE: It’s always important to take zinc away from any iron and calcium supplements as they
compete for absorption in the body.
Magnesium is a very important macro-mineral in the diet with a multitude of roles in the human
body, including serving as a cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions.
Magnesium is essential for regulation of muscle contraction (including that of the heart), blood pressure, insulin
metabolism, and is required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA and proteins.
In the nervous system, magnesium is important for optimal nerve transmission and neuromuscular
coordination, as well as serving to protect against excitotoxicity (excessive excitation leading to cell
If you drink alcohol regularly, drink excess coffee (more than 2-3 cups per day), suffer with chronic
fatigue, diarrhoea, diabetes and/or emotional stress, this increases your need for magnesium.
There is growing evidence for the use of magnesium to support anxiety, stress and depression, and it
can also be wonderful to increase energy levels and assist with more restful sleep.
Magnesium can be found in almonds, barley, brewer’s yeast, cashews, cacao, figs, kelp, cod, eggs,
leafy greens, legumes, lima beans, mineral water, molasses, parsnips, seeds, soybeans and
Calcium and phosphate, iron and manganese may reduce absorption of magnesium.
3. B Vitamins
There is growing research particularly around B6, B12 and folate (B9) in helping lower homocysteine
levels in the body. Elevated homocysteine can change neurotransmission, resulting in depression.
Research is also revealing that individuals with depression have lower serum levels of folate and
dietary folate intake than individuals without depression.
B vitamins also synthesise and regulate the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, implicated in the regulation of mood.
The Mediterranean diet is high in B vitamins, including lean meats, fish, green leafy vegetables,
legumes, and nuts.
Activated forms of these vitamins are normally recommended, to avoid possible genetic defects in
I would normally recommend a multi that includes all of the B vitamins, even those B’s not mentioned above, as they all work synergistically.
4. S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe)
SAMe is a compound found naturally in the body that helps produce and regulate hormones and maintain cell membranes.
SAMe is also required to metabolise homocysteine, (as mentioned above) and research has shown that responsiveness and remission were better in patients using SAMe alongside Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) antidepressants.
In a study comparing SAMe to citalopram (Sarris, et al., 2014):
SAMe was superior to placebo in reducing depression at wk 1
SAMe was superior to citalopram at wks 2,4 & 6
Response rate for SAMe 45% V citalopram 26%
Remission rate for SAMe 34% V citalopram 23% V placebo 6%
SAMe has also proven to reduce side effects related to antidepressants, including sexual dysfunction.
It cannot be found in food, so a good quality supplement recommended by a natural health
practitioner is advisable.
SAMe is not for everyone! It should not be taken if you have diagnosed Bipolar disorder, and it is
best to book an appointment with a qualified natural health practitioner to determine if this
supplement is right for you.
After at least 80 years of naturopaths treating the gut to help the body heal itself, science is finally
In fact, a new category of medicines called "psychobiotic" is hoped to be of low-side effect, anti-
inflammatory, antidepressant, and anti-anxiety constitutes.
A systematic review published in 2020 concluded that probiotics and prebiotics can improve mental
health and psychological function and can be offered as new medicines for common mental disorders.
So how does this work?
The gut and the brain are connected via the largest nerve in the body – the vagus nerve – where
communication is consistently firing back and forth.
Most of the neurotransmitters and hormones that affect our mood are made in the gut, including
serotonin, dopamine and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA).
So to put it simply, when we feel depressed, stressed or anxious, the brain sends a message to our
gut, then your gut bacteria cannot function as efficiently (including making balanced mood
Conversely, if our gut bacteria isn’t balanced (diet, medication, food intolerances, gastro, etc.), a
message is sent to our brain to trigger anxiety or low moods.
I normally prescribe a good quality multi-strain probiotic to get bacteria quickly functioning well, but
through diet, consider pot set yoghurts and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and other pickled
Prebiotics are fibre-food for the beneficial bacteria, and again, I prescribe researched fibres such as
galactoologosaccharides (GOS), but a wide variety of plant-based, whole foods are a fantastic source
of fibre for your most important gut bacteria!
6. Vitamin D
Research suggests that vitamin D may assist with depression, by reducing inflammation in the gut,
creating a more suitable environment for gut bacteria to thrive.
There are also numerous studies confirming higher incidence of anxiety and depression linked to low
vitamin D status.
If you are unsure what your vitamin D levels are, ask your GP for a blood test – a healthy vitamin D
level should sit around 100.
Vitamin D can be found in fish liver oils – cod, halibut, herring, tuna, butter, egg yolk, milk and
Of course getting out into the sun for short bursts, during safe times of the day without sunscreen is
also super important!
Keeping your mental health in check is a priority in this day and age of uncertainty. There are many
options available in supporting mental health, and many allied health practitioners who may be able
to assist, alongside psychologists, counsellors and GP’s.
Diet is one option that is under your control, and is a crucial link to supporting your mental health
For further information on the research used in this article, please don’t hesitate to contact me!