Shockingly, Most Therapists And Doctors Don’t Address This Critical Area Of Your Mental Health. Here’s What You Need To Know.

A few years ago I found myself unusually anxious and depressed. I was lethargic, tearful and unwaveringly overwhelmed by feelings of fear and shame. Since there were no obvious triggers, I decided to get blood work done to rule out anything physiological. As a therapist and executive coach, I knew that no amount of therapy would fix the psychological effects of a physiological imbalance.

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When my results came back, I was relieved to see clearly the potential problem: I was deficient in vitamin D, a micronutrient integral to mental health. I started taking supplements and within weeks the chronic shame and fear subsided (of my daily New York neuroses).

Unfortunately, most mental health professionals (including doctors) are not taught to check for nutrient deficiencies or hormonal imbalances as possible causes of mental health challenges. The system tends to support the prescription of severe psychotropic drugs with side effects without first requiring lab work or researching supplements.

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As someone who helps clients optimize their mental health from all angles, the rest of this article will focus on the powerful role our diet plays in mental health—and how you can make sure you’re eating in a way that prepares you. for optimal mood, focus and sleep. Specifically, we will cover the importance of: mood-enhancing nutrients; balanced microbiome (gut); stable blood sugar; and anti-inflammatory diet.

1. Supplement with these mood-boosting nutrients

The supplement industry exceeds $71.8 billion and most health professionals agree that you shouldn’t start your morning chowing down on a few dozen herbal capsules. However, even those of us following our favorite biohacking podcaster diet could be susceptible to deficiencies that can lead to mental health challenges. In some cases, this may be due to eating a restrictive or unbalanced diet; however, repeated studies actually show that our food is significantly less nutritious than it was for our parents. This phenomenon is largely due to the decline in soil quality and the pressure to grow “bigger crops, faster”. Fruits, vegetables, grains – both the animals that eat them and those that eat meat – have less of the essential nutrients that people depend on for (mental) health.

So, in addition to a varied diet, you may want to consider supplementing with the following:

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency affects approximately forty-two percent of the US population. Knowing that deficiency affects mental health, one can imagine that same demographic navigating the effects of less than optimal mental health. To get a better feel for the ubiquitous question, I consulted with Ashley Jordan Ferreira, MD, PhD, RDN and VP of Scientific Affairs for Mindbodygreen Supplements:

“Our nation has an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency, and the implications for our mental well-being are significant,” she affirmed. “Involved in neurotransmitter synthesis, vitamin D regulates serotonin production, clearly linking the nutrient to mood, emotional health and mental well-being.”

Although vitamin D can be produced by spending time in sunlight—and is found naturally in fatty fish, mushrooms, and egg yolks—it’s very challenging to get enough without supplements.

B vitamins

Dr. Raghu Appasani, the in-house psychiatrist at PYM, reflected on the importance of several mood-enhancing nutrients. PYM, founded by Zach Williams (son of the late Robin Williams), produces supplements that “prepare your mind” to deal with everyday stressors and life events that affect mental health.

“Taking methyl B complex (vitamins) has been shown in multiple research studies to help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety,” Apasani explained. “Many of the B vitamins work together with other enzymes in your body to help produce vital neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is key to regulating mood and mental health.”

Some places B vitamins can be found naturally are meat, seafood, eggs, dairy products, seeds, leafy greens and fortified cereals.


“The body actually depends on magnesium to convert vitamin D into its active form in the body,” explained functional nutrition guide Alexandra Chojnachka. “In other words, often when blood tests show vitamin D deficiency, it’s because we’re magnesium deficient.”

She emphasized the importance of the mineral for absorbing other essential nutrients, such as B vitamins and potassium.

In addition to a supplement, get more magnesium in your diet by including leafy greens, bananas, avocados, nuts, seeds, legumes, and tofu.

Omega 3

“Omega fatty acids have been shown to be the most effective supplement for mood disorders across the mental health spectrum,” Appasani explains. “Most studies have shown that they can prevent or alleviate depression or bipolar disorder and can be effective in stabilizing mood and improving the effectiveness of conventional antidepressants as adjuncts.”

He went on to share that omega fatty acids “have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, improving not only mental but overall health, which in turn allows for improved mood.”

You can get more omega 3 in your diet by eating fatty cold fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies), oysters, flax seeds and chia seeds.


Countless studies have linked zinc deficiency to anxiety and depression. Experts have determined that the mineral improves the areas of our brain that control emotions by increasing their levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Low BDNF levels are associated with low mood, and zinc is a mitigating factor.

Get more zinc in your diet naturally by including oysters, poultry, meat and fortified cereals.

2. Feed your gut microbiome

We’ve known for decades that anxiety and depression can cause digestive disorders, but only in recent years have we realized digestive disorders can cause anxiety and depression. “Ninety-five percent of the neurotransmitter receptors responsible for our mood are actually in our gut. [versus our brain]”, explains psychologist and anxiety expert Becky Beaton-Yorke. In other words, if our gut is not healthy and balanced, our mind will not be healthy and balanced.

Mindbodygreen’s Ferreira further explains the connection between the microbiome and mental health: “The gut-brain connection acts as a metaphorical highway that delivers critical data between the gastrointestinal tract and our brain. The microbes that live in our guts communicate directly with the brain and produce neurotransmitters that affect everything from sleep quality to mood and more.

I recommend that clients take a probiotic supplement daily and include probiotic-rich foods in your diet (probiotic yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, and tempeh are some examples).

3. Follow an anti-inflammatory diet

Inflammation is linked to most chronic diseases—from cancer to heart disease to diabetes to rheumatoid arthritis. And mental illness is no different: bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder are linked to increased levels of inflammation. Research shows that our diet contributes to inflammation, and following an anti-inflammatory diet can help both prevent and manage disease.

Experts advise following a whole foods diet with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, nutrient-dense fish, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Processed foods, sugar, alcohol and unhealthy fats should be moderated or avoided.

Finally, there is a misconception that gluten and dairy cause inflammation. However, this only applies to those who are gluten or dairy intolerant. So, despite what the nearly $6 billion gluten-free industry would have you think, there’s no need to avoid the bread basket (or the cheese plate) unless you have a sensitivity or allergy.

4. Eat for balanced blood sugar

At some point, most of us have experienced a “crash”—irritability and low mood caused by a drop in blood sugar.

Blood glucose monitoring has become a popular practice in the wellness space as compelling research emerges showing a link between blood sugar trends and health. Aspect is a company that offers continuous glucose monitoring combined with health coaching to help customers better understand how their eating patterns affect their mood, sleep, energy levels and more. I spoke with their neuroscience and nutrition expert, Dr. Nicole Avena, about the link between blood sugar and mental health:

“When you eat a lot of processed foods with added sugars, it can cause spikes in your blood sugar,” Avena explained. depression and mood dysregulation in general.”

She went on to clarify that the cause of this link is unknown: “Low blood sugar and anxiety are linked, but the exact direction of the link is not clear. However, we know that the symptoms of low blood sugar mirror the symptoms of anxiety, due to a similar biochemical process that occurs in the body. So with a balanced blood sugar level, you may be able to set the stage for a more balanced mood as well.

By knowing the glycemic index (GI) of the foods you consume regularly, eating every 2-3 hours and taking into account a continuous glucose monitor, you can get a better sense of how to adjust your diet for balanced blood sugar .

Diet is certainly not the only factor to be aware of when it comes to mental health. Sleep, social connection, exercise, self-care, self-compassion, trauma healing, spirituality, career satisfaction, and physical and emotional safety and security are just some of the many other important determinants of our psychological well-being. However, what was once dismissed as pseudoscience is now considered factual: what we eat affects how we feel, and everyone should be empowered to improve their mental health with this information.


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