6 supplements to support mental health

It goes without saying that the brain is a very complex organ. It’s no wonder then that achieving mental well-being can be so challenging. Plus, the brain is affected by so many other body systems; another reason for it being so difficult to find a ‘happy’ balance.

Selection of dried herbs on floor

Supplementation can be enormously powerful and, when successfully personalised and coupled with a healthy, balanced diet, can achieve positive and lasting results.

So, let’s take a look at which supplements could support positive mental health.

It’s important to note that you should always consult your GP or a nutrition professional if you are considering taking a supplement, as it may interfere with medication, allergies and intolerances.

1. Multivitamin and mineral formulation

As nutritionists, we understand the importance of ‘topping up’ nutrient-deficient diets in order to achieve optimal wellness. Whilst every nutrient is key, there are a few ‘stand-outs’ when it comes to brain health.

The process of methylation, an essential bodily process, helps stop the body from producing homocysteine, a known inflammatory and toxic marker for mental health problems. Frequent mood swings, feeling ‘spaced-out’ and anxiety are common symptoms of poor methylation. This process requires niacin, folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, all frequently deficient in the typical western diet, often down to an over-reliance on processed foods. 

Iodine is another mineral associated with the development of anxiety and depression when levels are significantly low. The best source of iodine is dairy, which for many reasons is being consumed less, hence iodine deficiency is widespread. It’s essential for good cognitive function and also to produce thyroid hormones. Thyroid issues are a common factor in cases of depression, which is another key reason for taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement.

2. Rhodiola

Often referred to as golden root, Rhodiola is a herb with a long history of safe and effective medicinal use. In fact, it dates back at least 2,000 years when the famous Greek physician Dioscorides wrote about the medicinal qualities of the plant.

Rhodiola is known as an adaptogenic herb because it helps the body resist and adapt to stressors of all kinds. Adaptogenic herbs are very popular in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.

This traditional herbal medicine is used for the temporary relief of symptoms associated with stress, such as fatigue, exhaustion and mild anxiety, exclusively based upon long-standing use as a traditional remedy.

However, as with most herbs, there is no single compound responsible for Rhodiola’s healing powers, but research indicates that chemical ingredients known as rosavins are mainly responsible. It seems they have an effect on brain neurotransmitters, especially serotonin, regulating messages between nerves and helping regulate mood and other brain functions. These active compounds also have a positive effect on the parasympathetic nervous system.

 Rhodiola extract

3. Krill oil

All cells throughout the body are composed primarily of essential fatty acids in the form of phospholipids (fat that contains phosphorus, living in the cell membrane). They differ from triglycerides (fat found in the bloodstream) that are made up of three fatty acids and a glycerol molecule. Phospholipids are composed of three fatty acids attached to a phosphorus-containing molecule such as choline or serine. These phospholipids play a major role in determining the fluidity of the cells and provide an excellent source of the key EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

Krill oil (Euphausia Superba), a phospholipid, generally sourced from crustaceans in the relatively clean waters of the Antarctic provides an excellent source of omega-3s. There is much evidence to suggest phospholipids are easier to absorb into the bloodstream and are especially beneficial for brain health.

4. St John’s Wort

Properly named Hypericum perforatum, St John’s Wort (SJW) is another herb that has been used for nerve disorders for more than 2,000 years and is very effective in cases of mild to moderate depression. There are many studies to prove its effectiveness in easing SAD (seasonal affective disorder), sleep disorders and low mood.  

The mechanisms of action of SJW have been much studied and we are still achieving a better understanding, but it seems that particular compounds (largely the naphthodianthrone content, including hypericin), work on keeping more serotonin within the system. This means that if you are taking medication for depression, SJW can interfere with this and cause the body to contain too much serotonin which can have severe side effects.  

5. 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan)

Antidepressant drugs work by stopping the body from breaking down serotonin, therefore, keeping more circulating in the brain. Serotonin is produced from the amino acid tryptophan – rich in turkey, chicken, eggs, oats and beans. Serotonin is metabolised into melatonin, our sleep hormone. Melatonin can’t be sold legally as a supplement in the UK, hence 5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin, is an extremely effective substitute.

5-HTP is derived from the African plant, Griffonia, and has been found to be effective when used for low mood, sleep disorders, anxiety and other physical symptoms. 5-HTP also relies on cofactors to make its conversion, these being vitamin C, B6 and Zinc.

If you do opt for 5-HTP, try to purchase one that contains vitamin B6 and vitamin C, which are co-factors in the normal production of serotonin – the body’s happy’ hormone. 

Selection of dried hanging herbs

6. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an Ayurvedic and adaptogenic herb that has been used as a broad-spectrum remedy in India for centuries, with the roots being classified as a ‘rasayana’, a medicine used to enhance both physical and mental performance. 

Ashwagandha has recognised anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is often referred to as Indian Ginseng due to its use in India to balance life forces during stress and ageing. It is often included in formulations for the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions and as a broad tonic to increase energy and improve general health. However, it has only relatively recently been investigated in laboratory settings specifically for the treatment of stress and anxiety.

It has been found that ashwagandha comprises over 35 chemical constituents, of which the biologically active compounds are alkaloids, steroidal lactones, saponins containing an additional acyl group, and withanolides. Withaferin A and Withanolide D are thought to be important active constituents regarding their adaptogenic effects.

These compounds have also been shown to possess GABA-modulating properties, hence their potential to induce calm. It is thought that these properties may also be responsible for its ability to reduce anxiety. The antioxidant activity of glycowithanolides may also explain the anti-stress effects of ashwagandha. All in all, it’s a very useful supplement for balancing the mind and body.

If you’d like support with balancing your diet and introducing supplementation, use our advanced search tool to find the professional who’s right for you.

Suzie Sawyer is a clinical nutritionist and formulator of the Alive! multi-vitamin range feelaliveuk.com.

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Written by Suzie Sawyer
Suzie Sawyer is a clinical nutritionist and formulator of the Alive! multi-vitamin range.
Written by Suzie Sawyer
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