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Comfort Food for Your Brain


Feed Your Brain: Supplemental Nutrients

  • A high-quality, high-potency, highly bioavailable broad-spectrum multivitamin that contains all the basic essential vitamins and minerals. Specifically, for brain function and mood stability, minerals like zinc and selenium are very important. More than a third of the world’s population is zinc-deficient, and low zinc levels have been linked to depression. Zinc is used by more enzymes than any other mineral, including the enzyme that makes the happy hormone dopamine from noradrenaline, which is, perhaps, one of the primary reasons zinc deficiency is associated with depression. Selenium is key because it functions in a number of critical systems in the body that control proper mood and brain function. (For more
    on multivitamins, see Not All Supplements Are Created Equal, below.)
  • Calcium and magnesium. Magnesium, especially, is a stress antidote, a secret weapon against anxiety and the most powerful relaxation mineral that exists. Anything that is tight, irritable, crampy, stiff whether it’s a body part or a mood is a sign of magnesium deficiency. You should consider taking additional calcium and magnesium supplements beyond what is in your multivitamin.
  • Vitamin D: D as in depression and dementia. Vitamin-D deficiency is a major epidemic that flies under the radar of most doctors and public-health officials. In one study of elderly patients, those with the lowest vitamin-D levels were most likely to suffer from depression. We also know that vitamin-D levels drop precipitously in winter, contributing to seasonal affective disorder; taking vitamin D can prevent this. Supplementation beyond your multivitamin is essential unless you are spending all your time at the beach, eating 30 ounces of wild salmon a day or downing 10 tablespoons of cod liver oil a day!
  • Omega-3 fatty acids in capsule or liquid form. Even if you are eating lots of fish and nuts in your diet, it’s probably still a good idea to supplement.
  • Folate, B6 and B12. These nutrients are all methylation factors necessary for brain health. You should consider taking additional folate, B6 and B12 supplements beyond what is in your multivitamin.
    Probiotics, or beneficial bacteria. These improve our digestion, reduce food allergies and reduce gut inflammation that can lead to mental-function and mood problems.

Of course, nutrient deficiency is only one area where brain and mood problems are created. We have to look at how our genes, diet and environment all interact to affect our brain chemistry and influence function and balance of our body and mind. But one thing is sure: What you eat is a major contributor to your mental and emotional health.

Determining what nutrients you are lacking and reestablishing nutritional balance with a mood-calming eating plan is an important step on your path to optimal vitality, or what I call UltraWellness. As I always say, the most powerful tool you have to transform your health and improve your mood is your fork!

Mark Hyman, MD, is the medical director and founder of The UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Mass. This article was adapted from his recent book, The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First (Scribner, 2009). Dr. Hyman also is editor of the peer-reviewed journal Alternative Therapies and a leading expert in functional medicine. For more information, see www.ultrawellness.com/blog. Learn more about the fundamentals of functional medicine from Dr. Hyman by reading our six-part series on the topic, beginning with the June 2008 issue in our archives at experiencelifemag.com.

Not All Supplements Are Created Equal
In a perfect world, no one would need supplements. But given the stress of our modern life, the poor quality of our food supply, and the high load of toxins in our brains and bodies, we clearly need a basic daily supply of the raw materials for all our enzymes and biochemistry to run as designed.

Through my research and my treatment of thousands of patients over the last 15 years, I have learned much about how to find safe, high-quality and effective nutritional-supplement products. Finding the best products to support health has always been the most difficult part of my job. The lack of adequate government regulations, the dizzying array of products on the market, and the large variations in quality all create a minefield of obstacles for anyone trying to find the right supplement, vitamin or herb.

Be aware that not all brands are created equal. Manufacturers, rather than government regulators, oversee the quality of these products. Certain companies are more careful about quality, sourcing of raw materials, consistency of dose from batch to batch, the use of active forms of nutrients, and not using fillers, additives, colorings, etc.

When choosing supplements, look for:

  • Manufacturers who use GMP (good manufacturing practices) for drug or supplement standards from an outside certifying body.
  • Products that use independent, third-party organizations to verify active ingredients and contaminants.
  • Products that have been tested in clinical trials or have a long history of use and safety.
  • Products that are free of preservatives, fillers, binders, excipients, flow agents, shellacs, coloring agents, gluten, yeast lactose and other allergens.

Each person must be cautious and evaluate companies and products for themselves. If possible, try to work with a trained dietitian, nutritionist, or nutritionally oriented physical therapist or healthcare practitioner to select the best products.

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Megan, selected from Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

27 comments

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12:13PM PDT on Aug 27, 2014

Many thanks!!

6:08PM PDT on Jun 9, 2013

thank you

10:25PM PDT on Apr 24, 2013

yep low thyroid can wreck havoc and cause depression go get yours tested symptoms include very dry skin hair loss and cold body temp

10:07PM PDT on Apr 24, 2013

good advise :)

6:04AM PDT on Oct 24, 2012

A year ago, I found out I have type 2 diabetes. We ate pretty heallthy before, but more so now!!

I went to my doctor yesterday, and he told me my A1C test came back great and to keep doing whatever I am doing because it is working!!

I take some of the vitamins listed above, but now I will look for a few others and try to eat a little more fish!!

8:22AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

For many depression is not just down days but a disorder and not to be painted over by some of the commentators here.

So many of the refined foods we eat do not help and with so many chemicals and additives in our foods these days it is often better to cook from scratch and beware of some of the sources, especially if one mainly eats canned and frozen microwaved dinners.

Many people with low incomes cannot afford a lot of healthy foods especially if living far from rural areas where one can buy from a small family farm.

With gas prices soaring finding food within a good price range gets even more difficult.

10:31PM PST on Jan 4, 2011

I'm thrilled to see one more medical doctor who advocates addressing the source of so many of these problems -- so few even see the connection. Every one counts! Sadly, Dr Hyman says "all [these factors] create a minefield of obstacles for anyone trying to find the right supplement, vitamin or herb" yet fails to mention even one resource for navigating this minefield. I found "The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) is a non–governmental, official public standards–setting authority for prescription and over–the–counter medicines and other healthcare products manufactured or sold in the United States". On the USP website is a list of supplement manufacturers which have the USP test their products to ensure their quality -- eg. the product has the ingredients it says and it has no contaminants. The only manufacturer whose products I can find locally is NatureMade, which appears expensive, except our local pharmacy chain has them on sale 2-for-1 about twice a year, which makes them a best-buy.

Like Donna M and Laurie Walsh, I've struggled with SAD and severe depression since my teens. I've taken antidepressants for years and only recently found out the EXTREMELY important role Vitamin D plays in our health (physical AND mental/emotional). Check out: Also, check out The Alliance for NAtural Health . The FDA promotes meds and suppresses nutrition info. The FDA needs a colon cleanse NOW.

3:53PM PDT on Apr 27, 2010

This is a really great article, and I completely agree. Your mind and body are connected, and you have to take care of both in order to be balanced.

4:10AM PST on Mar 10, 2010

I have suffered severe depression on and off since I was fourteen (twenty years now), and was diagnosed as bipolar in September '08. I have taken a variety of anti-depressants and mood stabilisers, and endured a variety of side-effects including: insomnia, weight gain, hair loss, panic attacks, severe tremors, severe brain fog, nausea, dizziness, and plenty more.
In January I went off all of my medication and started using nutrition and lots of brain work (learning about the power of our thoughts and emotions, and our ability to choose them) to heal myself instead. I read a huge range of books on these subjects and learn new things every day.
I've discovered that I can't eat red meat (makes me crazy), for example.
I have been happier and more stable in the past two months than I have been for as long as I can remember. I'm not saying that in the future I might not need a bit of chemical help - who knows? - but for now I'm doing just fine :)

3:52PM PST on Jan 11, 2010

Finally, an article on nutrition that makes sense. Thank you so much. I am a firm believer that basically most disease and un-wellness comes from the foods we supply the body. We can avoid all those drugs (esp. prosac) if we feed the body and brain properly. We are so used to not question what goes in our bodies and than run to the doctor to get symptom treatment in the form of drugs or other intervention. Why not prevent disease? It's so natural and simple, where is people's responsibility to take care of themselves? Have we become brain fogged from a nutrient deficient diet? We need to think for ourselves, take charge and eat right.

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