Mental Health and Nutrition

 “Some of the greatest battles will be fought within the silent chambers of your own soul.”Ezra Taft Benson

History and Statistics

The mental health care story reaches far back into history. Men and women battled with what were believed to be literal invisible demons that lived inside their heads. Prayer and exorcisms, witch doctors and shamans were called on to aid those who struggled with these conditions. Later it was determined that this was not some supernatural element but rather medical conditions that could be treated. Although no one quite knew how to treat them in those days [1].

It could be said that we still struggle to treat mental illness in these current days with the incidence of these conditions continuing to rise. According to the BlackDog Institute, one in five (20%) of Australians aged between 16-85 years will experience a mental illness in any year. The most common conditions being depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorder [2].

One in seven Australians will experience some form of depression in their lifetime. This condition is also the third highest burden of all diseases within Australia. This means the financial cost, mortality and morbidity of this condition. This is often measured in the number of years of life lost due to ill health, disability or early death [2].


Nutritional deficiencies are being researched to discover their role in mental health conditions. I believe this is an area often over looked in the traditional setting. In a 2016 study they looked at the role of B vitamin deficiencies in depression and found how essential the role of these individual B vitamins are. Vitamin B1, B3, B6, B9 and B12 are all essential for optimal neuronal function, including memory function, cognitive impairment and dementia. In a deficiency they were found to have a link with depression.

Protein is a macro nutrient that is required for neurotransmitter production. I often see this as a deficiency in clients with mood disorders. Our fast paced lifestyle often means we grab instant foods, usually containing carbohydrates and bad fats and not much protein. Breakfast is often a big culprit here with cereals often thought to be a healthy option when in fact they are not.

Stomach acid, zinc, B1 and B6 are all essential to breakdown your proteins into amino acids. In order for these amino acids to get broken down further and supply you with things like tryptophan and serotonin (the feel good one and the one targeted with prescription medications) you will also need magnesium, vitamin C, folate, iron and calcium. This is a big list of nutrients and often these are the most common deficiencies seen in clinic.

Stomach acid can only be produced in a healthy gut environment where the pH is optimal. Stomach acid plays a key role in the digestion of protein, carbohydrates and fat. Stomach acid requires B6 and zinc for production and can be disturbed by some of our modern addictions such as coffee and alcohol. When the pH of the stomach gets low then the secretion of enzymes need for protein breakdown are inhibited. This can lead to undigested proteins which then putrefy in the gut, and may cause gas, bloating, heartburn and other digestive issues. Not to mention the impact on our mental health.


Your diet plays an important role in your mental health. Ensuring you have enough macro and micro nutrients is a bit like a recipe. You need the basics (the precursors) and the extras (the cofactors) to ensure you have a complete product (the outcome).

Gut health is another important piece of this puzzle because if your gut isn’t working then no matter what ingredients you put into your recipe the outcome will not be optimal. A bit like a broken oven that doesn’t produce the best product.

So if you would like to know more about food and mental health, need to address you diet or your gut or even both then book in for a consult to get you feeling your best again.


  3. Kathleen Mikkelsen, Lily Stojanovska and Vasso Apostolopoulos, “The Effects of Vitamin B in Depression”, Current Medicinal Chemistry (2016) 23: 4317.

This article was written by Jan Caton BHSc – Naturopathy. Jan is the owner, Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist of Magnolia Apothecary. Jan operates in the Yarra Ranges Area.

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