Top Mood-Boosting Nutrients
ByKatarina Meister, ND •January 6, 2022
Struggling with the winter blues? Feeling fatigued, low mood, and socially withdrawn? You may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD). You’re not alone. There are more than 3 million cases of seasonal affective disorder per year in the US. It is important to note that many psychiatric diseases in nature look very similar to hormonal, nutritional, and immune imbalances (1). This is why digging to address the root cause is imperative.
Depression is characterized by the model of insufficient activity of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Low mood can also be caused by low vitamin levels, such as low vitamin D and low vitamin B12. A holistic perspective of your health alongside routine lab assessment for nutritional status can guide a naturopathic doctor to an individualized and evidenced based recommendation. Highlighted below are 5 nutrients that are utilized to help boost mood.
1. 5-MTHF (Methyl-Folate)
5-MTHF is the metabolically active form of folate and is the only form of folate that can cross the blood brain barrier. Methylated B vitamins such as methyl-B12 and methyl-folate, aid in the management of gene expression. 5-MTHF is responsible to help produce adequate levels of neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
2. Vitamin D
Many know vitamin D for its role with the immune system as well as aiding calcium absorption in the gut. What most people don’t know is that vitamin D has also been shown to help boost mood. In fact, low serum levels of vitamin D are associated with low mood. Vitamin D has thought to be related to mood by its role with serotonin function. Additionally there are vitamin D receptor sites found along neurons in the brain. Foods rich in vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel. Other food source of vitamin D include shiitake mushrooms, egg yolks, and beer liver. Checking serum status is important when supplementing with this nutrient because it is fat soluble and can accumulate in the body if too much, which can create harmful side effects. Make sure to talk to your practitioner when supplementing.
3. Methyl-Cobalamin (Methyl-B12)
Vitamin B12 is one of the most useful nutrients for low mood. The active form of B12 is methyl-cobalamin. Data of low serum B12 levels in adults over 50 yo range from 3-15% of the US population. B12 acts to decrease brain homocysteine, normalize gene expression, and for its anti-inflammatory activity, (5). B12 also supports the synthesis of myelin, thus allowing nerve impulses to conduct. Optimizing serum B12 levels can provide significant results with fatigue, sleep disorders, and depression. Animal foods are the primary sources of B12. Vegetarian sources include algae and fermented foods such as nutritional yeast.
For more info on B12, see these previous posts:
Boost Energy and Mood with B12…But Supplement Wisely!
5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, from tryptophan, that can cross the blood brain barrier. Serotonin heavily relies on the production and transport of L-tryptophan to make its precursor 5-HTP. However, this production may be compromised secondary to a B6 deficiency, or a high cortisol level. This is where 5-HTP can be helpful to increase the production of serotonin in the brain. Evidence suggests that 5-HTP works to increase serotonin to reduce pathogenesis of mild to moderate depression and has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants. For optimal results, it should be paired with B6. Due to 5-HTP’s ability to increase serotonin, it interacts with several medications, and should never be used with antidepressants (ex: SSRIs).
5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are what I like to call “healthy anti-inflammatory fats”! Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to support neuroplasticity, neurogenesis, and biochemical pathways to decrease inflammation. The omega-3 fatty acid, EPA, has been found to be equally as effective as the SSRI, fluoxetine for major depressive disorder (4). Food’s high in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds (flax, chia, walnuts).
For more information on how to choose a fish oil, see here.
- Berry N, Sagar R, Tripathi BM. Catatonia and other psychiatric symptoms with vitamin B12 deficiency. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2003 Aug;108(2):156-9. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0447.2003.00089.x. PMID: 12823174.
- Lam JR, Schneider JL, Zhao W, Corley DA. Proton Pump Inhibitor and Histamine 2 Receptor Antagonist Use and Vitamin B12 Deficiency. JAMA. 2013;310(22):2435–2442. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.280490
- Jazayeri S, Tehrani-Doost M, Keshavarz SA, Hosseini M, Djazayery A, Amini H, Jalali M, Peet M. Comparison of therapeutic effects of omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid and fluoxetine, separately and in combination, in major depressive disorder. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2008 Mar;42(3):192-8. doi: 10.1080/00048670701827275. PMID: 18247193.
- Meyers S. Use of neurotransmitter precursors for treatment of depression. Altern Med Rev. 2000;5(1):64-71.
- Prousky, Jonathan. (2010). Understanding the serum vitamin B12 level and its implications for treating neuropsychiatric conditions: An orthomolecular perspective. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. 25. 77-88.
- Emerson Ecologics. 10 Essential Mood Nutrients. Element Issue # 6 2021. 26-30.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.