Guest writer for Wake Up World
When I fell into a deep depression in 2010, I felt like I would never be able to escape it. Doctors made it seem that antidepressants and anxiety medications were my only options. That was it. I was left in the dark. I thought I had no other options and nowhere to turn, so I resorted to pharmaceuticals — which ultimately did not help.
Since then, I’ve travelled down a road of intense research and self-experimentation. I found solutions that weren’t conventional and mainstream, and I witnessed significant improvements in my mental health. I’ve learned many things along the way, and most importantly, I’ve learned that you don’t need drugs, the medical system or a doctor to overcome depression, anxiety and mental disturbance. What you need is to tap into the magnificent healing potential of your body — and, not surprisingly, nutrition plays a huge role in that healing process.
Nutrients have a powerful impact on mood and brain function. Our nervous system requires several dozen minerals, vitamins, fatty acids and amino acids to function properly. For more information on this fundamental point, I highly recommend you watch the TEDx Talk by Julia Rucklidge, Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Canterbury. In her presentation, Dr. Rucklidge outlines the power of nutrition and supplements, and explores a range of scientific research showing the significant role that nutrition plays when it comes to mental health and illness.
(You can watch Dr. Rucklidge’s 17-minute Tedx Talk, below.)
The problem today is that, if you go to your doctor and suggest that a deficiency or imbalance of nutrients may be causing your depression and anxiety, they’ll likely laugh at you, then offer you a prescription. Although I didn’t know at the height of my depression, I now understand that many doctors don’t proactively keep up on new research outside their clinical practice, and therefore don’t understand the full range of mental health treatment options that have become available in recent years. The fact is, there are many better solutions, and the drugs that your doctors give you are not optimal treatments for mental health issues – far from it.
Steve Taylor Ph.D, senior lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, summarized the problem in his article, Chemical Lobotomy: The Mad Mass Prescription of Psychotropic Drugs:
Although the American Psychological Association states that anti-depressants are “not habit-forming”, a 2012 survey by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK showed that 63% of people who came off antidepressants reported withdrawal symptoms, with anxiety the most common. One problem here is that withdrawal symptoms are often interpreted as a “relapse” and used as a justification for continuing treatment, which continues indefinitely. The most unfortunate aspect of this is that research has shown that… the average natural duration of “major depressive episodes” without [medical] treatment was just three months . This means that, absurdly and tragically, millions of people are being treated for a condition which wouldn’t exist if they weren’t taking treatment for it… In line with this, a 2015 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that 69% of US citizens on anti-depressants had never met the criteria for depression and should never have been prescribed them in the first place. 
Clearly, we need a different approach how we think about healing mental health issues. So today I’m going to share with you three important nutrients that helped me overcome my chronic depression and anxiety, in hopes that you can become more resilient and begin to heal yourself.
1. N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC)
N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is a modified form of cysteine, an amino acid that helps the body produce glutathione. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that supports liver detoxification and reduces free radicals in the body.
There is also an overwhelming amount of evidence that NAC can help treat a number of neurological and psychiatric disorders, and it has personally played a huge role in my recovery from mental illness.
There is favourable evidence supporting NAC in the treatment of the following conditions (1, 2, 3, 4):
- Major depressive disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Drug addiction
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Certain forms of epilepsy (progressive myoclonic)
Disorders such as anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder also show preliminary evidence but require larger studies (1, 2).
So how is NAC effective at alleviating so many mental health conditions?
There are a number of possible explanations:
- Inflammation has been linked to depression and other mental health disorders, and NAC is anti-inflammatory (5, 6).
- Low levels of glutathione have been linked to a number of psychiatric disorders, and NAC has been shown to successfully cross the blood-brain-barrier and raise glutathione levels in the brain (7-14).
- High levels of oxidative stress have been identified in the brains of patients with psychiatric illnesses. By supplementing with NAC, you can increase glutathione in the brain, which reduces oxidative stress and protects neurons from damage (15-18).
- Lastly, people with a wide range of neurologic and psychiatric disorders often have abnormally high levels of glutamate – a major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain that can lead to overstimulation. And research shows that NAC reduces glutamate (19-22).
So it appears that NAC is targeting biological pathways that are common across all mental disorders. That’s why I’m convinced it should be a first-line treatment for mental illness.
However, this is something mainstream medicine and the pharmaceutical industry would rather ignore. NAC isn’t a patentable substance. Big Pharma would rather focus on producing, patenting and marketing new drugs for many different disorders. There’s lots more money in that.
But you don’t have to wait for a doctor to prescribe you NAC. I would definitely advise people suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, drug addiction or autism to simply start taking it. It’s very safe, and the research suggests that NAC enhances the effectiveness of psychiatric medications. So if you’re already on medication, they will likely work well together.
I personally take 1200 mg of NAC every other day to manage my long-term mental health. Studies show that people benefit from anywhere between 500 mg to 3000 mg daily or every other day.
2. Vitamin D
Every tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system. This means your entire body needs it to function properly. Therefore, a deficiency can lead to a number of costly physiological and psychological consequences. Yet an estimated one billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient (34).
Vitamin D significantly affects brain function. It affects genes that support the production and release of dopamine and serotonin, and having an insufficient amount of these two neurotransmitters has been linked to anxiety and ADHD. Researchers have also found vitamin D receptors on brain cells and within regions of the brain linked to depression. Even schizophrenia has been linked with abnormal levels of vitamin D (35-37).
In fact, 50% of psychiatric inpatients have vitamin D deficiency (38).
And a number of other studies confirm the link between low vitamin D and mental illness, showing that the optimization of vitamin D improves psychological well-being (39-42).
The Vitamin D Council recommends people take 1000IU for every 25 pounds of body weight, in the morning. I personally take 5000IU every day.
But the best way to get your daily dose of Vitamin D is the natural way — spending 30 minutes a day in the sunshine.
Everyone gets anxious once in a while. But chronic anxiety, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), is when a person suffers from worry and tension all of the time. People who suffer from GAD are often clinically depressed as well (23).
Research suggests that an imbalance of zinc and copper, two essential trace minerals within the body, may be contributing and worsening GAD.
Researchers of a study titled “Decreased zinc and increased copper in individuals with anxiety” found that individuals with chronic anxiety had significantly higher plasma levels of copper and very low levels of zinc, and their anxiety improved significantly with zinc supplementation (24).
I used to suffer from GAD and depression, and increasing my intake of zinc, and limiting my consumption of copper, is one of the most impactful actions I have taken to overcome them.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral that activates several hundred enzymatic reactions, including brain and nervous system function and neurotransmission. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in the mineral, and six different studies show that subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (25-27).
A number of other studies show that zinc is depleted during times of high stress, and a deficiency causes depression-like and anxiety-like behaviours. Luckily, supplementation has successfully been used as a treatment to reverse these behaviours. This is because zinc can be very calming and sedating, and enhances GABA activity in the brain (28-33).
I discovered a few years ago that I was very deficient in zinc, and my anxiety improved significantly after supplementing with 50 mg every day. It’s one of many things that have helped me.
You should also eat lots of zinc-rich foods including oysters, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, Brazil nuts and legumes.
For people with severe anxiety, it will take some time for zinc to build up in your system and for copper to be reduced. But you should find relief over time.
Unfortunately, your doctor isn’t aware of these nutrients. Modern medicine doesn’t care very much about deficiencies, and most physicians are mistakenly taught that diet provides sufficient nutrition.
This is because nutritional deficiencies benefit the pharmaceutical industry. Malnutrition leads to chronic symptoms that can be “managed” by patented drugs. Natural supplements can’t be patented. But drugs can. So as long as underlying nutritional imbalances aren’t corrected, doctors will keep prescribing and the pharmaceutical industry will have life-long customers.
For now, the “drug model” of disease remains prevalent, and until it becomes a thing of the past, people will just have to acknowledge and accept that they need to take control and overcome their mental illness themselves. It is a multi-faceted condition, but nutrients can play a huge role in eliminating it.
For more information on natural, science-based ways to treat depression and anxiety, please check out my recent article, 3 Cutting-Edge Ways to Overcome Your Depression and Anxiety.
The Dramatic Role of Nutrition in Mental Health | Julia Rucklidge | TEDx Christchurch
About the author:
Jordan Fallis is a journalist, freelance writer and biohacker. His work has been featured in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Canadian Pharmacists Journal, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Jordan spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and testing different theories on himself. Through his research and self-experimentation, he has discovered unconventional solutions to mental illness that have allowed him to permanently overcome his own depression and anxiety.
His passion is sharing these cutting-edge discoveries with people that desperately need them. You can read about his ideas and breakthroughs at OptimalLivingDynamics.com and connect with him at Facebook.com/OptimalLivingDynamics and Twitter.com/Jordan_Fallis.
Jordan is also giving away his copies of his Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health, free to all readers! You can download your copy here.