The typical American diet is deficient in several nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. While this can lead to several physical difficulties, it can also harm an individual’s mental health. Research has shown higher rates of depression among those with deficiencies in the neurotransmitters serotonin, GABA, dopamine and noradrenaline. These important mood-regulating chemicals can be stimulated by nutrients found in a balanced diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals and amino acids are precursors to neurotransmitters. Depression and anxiety can make eating difficult, but not eating can make the mental illness more difficult. Therefore, it is important to maintain a healthy diet as much as possible in order to maintain a proper level of neurotransmitters. It’s a vicious cycle to be in.

Consuming a low amount of carbohydrates can precipitate depression as well. Serotonin and tryptophan, both necessary in promoting the feeling of well-being, are stimulated by carbohydrate-rich foods. Vegetables, fruits and whole grains can boost mood. Sweets such as candy can also boost mood; however, this is only temporary and, therefore, not ideal.

The body produces as many as 12 amino acids, which can be found in protein and are important in brain functioning and mental health. Not eating enough protein-rich foods causes a lack of the amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan, which leads to a slow production of serotonin and dopamine. Please be advised that too much protein can lead to brain damage and mental retardation.

Individuals with low iron are susceptible to depression. Neurotransmitters are produced from iron. Statistics tell us women have higher rates of depression then men. Due to menstruation, women of childbearing age are more likely to have an iron deficiency, thus making them more prone to depression. This is particularly true for women who have children. Adding insult to injury, SSRIs — pharmaceuticals prescribed to help with mood regulation — can make it difficult for the body to absorb calcium. Low iron levels can also be seen in athletes, particularly young female athletes. Ironically, exercise is vital to mental health because it stimulates the “feel good” chemical dopamine, but it can also make an individual prone to low iron, causing a decrease in serotonin levels.

If you are concerned about your nutrition, please see your primary care physician. It is dangerous to begin a new diet or supplements without a professional ordering and examining blood tests. Also, if you feel you have anxiety or depression, please see your therapist. Nutrition is part of a very large puzzle, and it takes training to understand how it all works together.

Coonrod is a licensed professional counselor. If you have a mental health question, please send it to: Mental Health Moment, The Courier, P.O. Box 609 45839.