There is a strong link between depression and a deficiency in amino acids, B complex vitamins (B6, folate and B12) and omega-3 essential fatty acids (Holford). A diet too high in sugar depletes the body of essential vitamin and minerals. B complex vitamins are more notably depleted since just a teaspoon of sugar is needed to depleted vitamin B levels in the body. This is important because there is a strong relationship between B vitamins and mood. Depression is usually a biological reaction to an imbalance of serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and adrenaline and is defined by mood instability and lack of motivation (Holford). When SSRI antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) are used to treat depression, there is a 25 percent risk of negative side effects and also a risk of severe side effects (Holford). Research has shown that incorporating the amino acids, fats and vitamins listed below are a much better way to combat depression than SSRIs.
5-HTP is an amino acid normally produced from the seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia and is known to promote cognitive function. It’s an amino acid that’s produced from L-tryptophan and produces neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin has to feel positive mood, general well-being, appetite, sleep and pain-perception (Aliouche). Tryptophan is crucial to the synthesis of serotonin from blood to brain and can be be obtained by including dietary proteins in the diet (Frazer & Hensler). The production of serotonin (5-HT) relies on messaging from receptors on tissues in the gut and brain. While 5-HTP can cross the blood-brain barrier, 5-HT cannot; therefore, quantity of serotonin produced is reliant on 5-HTP and tryptophan. Research has shown that B12 and folic acid may help in the processes of turning 5-HTP into serotonin.
L-Tyrosine - An amino acid that reduces stress during exposure to acute stressors (which tend to deplete noradrenaline) and may help prevent stress-induced memory and attention deficits. A group of neurotransmitters tied with depression symptoms are dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline are made from L-Tyrosine. L-Tyrosine supports the body respond to stress and gets the body ready for "fight-or-flight" reactions. A recent study conducted in the Netherlands was conducted where half of military cadets were given 2g of tyrosine a day and half were given the same drink without tyrosine. The cadets who consumed the tyrosine did better at memorizing tasks, tracking tasks and overall performed better. It is also used in the production of thyroid hormones. It is known to help memory and attention during stressful situations. L-Tyrosine is most affect when it’s used with 5-HTP and B vitamins that assist with the converting them into neurotransmitters (Holford).
B-Complex vitamins such as B-12, B-6 and folate are essential in helping balance and controlling neurotransmitters. 5-HTP, adrenaline and noradrenaline are all dependent on B Complex vitamins. A study of 213 depressed patients at at the Depression and Clinical Research Program at Boston Massachusetts General Hospital showed that those with folate (B-12) deficiencies didn’t have improved symptoms when given antidepressants (Holford). This is likely due to their specific folate deficiency needing to be addressed. There are strong ties with folate deficiencies, schizophrenia and severe depression. B complex vitamins include B-1 (thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3 Niacin, B-5(pantothenic acid), B-6 (pyridoxine), B-7 (biotin), B-09 ( folic acid) , B-12 (cobalamin). The health benefits include cellular health, growth of red blood cells, energy levels, healthy brain function, good digestion, proper nerve function, health appetite, and cardiovascular health. Because B complex vitamins are a part of every aspect of the catabolic process in the body producing energy, deficiency in any of the B complex vitamins is detrimental to health (Kennedy).
DHA is essential for the brain during development and is one of the most important Omega- 3s. The reason that Omega-3s are called essential fatty acids is because the only way your body is able to get them is from the food or supplements (Alban). Omega-3s are highly concentrated in the nervous system and brain where they’re used to generate healthy cell membranes, reduce inflammation, promote new cell formation, form important brain chemicals, and improve nerve transmission (Alban). Omega 3-fats enhance the bodes capability to produce and receive serotonin levels in the body. More explicitly, as cited in an article by Primary Care Mental Health, Dr JR Hammersmith describes that these consuming these fats as, “like building more serotonin factories, instead of just increasing the efficiency of the serotonin you have” (Holford). This quote shows the ability of omega-3s to improve the capacity for serotonin in your brain. According to Alban, many people are deficient in Omega-3s which is concerning because they can help mood, memory and to lower the risks of heart disease, cancer and arthritis. It’s also been noted that people with ADHD, on the autism spectrum and with cerebral palsy have lower levels of Omega-3s.
DHA specifically is responsible for 97% of the omega-3s around the brain and is responsible for creating structure in the cerebral cortex which is responsible for memory, language, abstraction, creativity, judgment, emotion, and attention (Alban). It also promotes ideal levels of neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and acetylcholine. DHA can assist with improving severe levels of depression, sleeping problems, difficulties socializing and with self esteem issues (Alban). It's linked to a healthy heart, better vision, and reduced inflammatory response after exercise. DHA also increases blood flow during mental tasks. So therefore, can improve ADHD. It also lowers blood pressure and supports circulation.
In addition to get optimal health from consuming these vitamins, amino acids and fats, it’s also important to get get outside with natural light for serotonin levels, exercise, reduce stress, cut out stimulates such as caffeine and smoking and follow a diet with at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day. It’s also best to consume fish or plant based alternatives with Omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans and ensure proper protein for a person’s individual body makeup.
Alban, Deane. “The Brain Benefits of Omega-3 Fats.” Be Brain Fit, bebrainfit.com/omega-3-fats-brain-benefits/.
Aliouche, Hidaya. “The Relationship Between Serotonin and 5-HTP.” News, 30 Oct. 2018, www.news-medical.net/life-sciences/The-Relationship-Between-Serotonin-and-5-HTP.aspx.
Holford, Patrick. “Depression: the Nutrition Connection.” Primary Care Mental Health, 2003, www.mhfmjournal.com/pdf/depression-the-nutrition-connection.pdf.
Kennedy, David O. “B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy--A Review.” Nutrients vol. 8,2 68. 27 Jan. 2016, doi:10.3390/nu8020068
Frazer A, Hensler JG. Serotonin. In: Siegel GJ, Agranoff BW, Albers RW, et al., editors. Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects. 6th edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven; 1999. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK28150/