It’s important to speak with your doctor or a mental health provider if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, exhaustion, or anything else that’s making it incredibly difficult just to get through the day.
About 1 in 5 women will experience a mental health condition during pregnancy or in the first year postpartum, and awareness and education just aren’t where they need to be. Recently, Beli had the pleasure of attending the Pregnantish Reality of Infertility event. One of the presenters was mental health advocate Juri Watanabe, who also happens to be Miss Universe and Miss Japan. The focus of her talk? Mental health! “When I've shared about my mental health and my experiences, people have come up to me to share their experiences and the more you talk about it, the more you realize, wow, I really wasn't alone. There is not enough open safe space where you can talk about it for people to come up and say, 'I struggle, too,’ ” she said. Clearly, the conversation around mental health has begun, but the specific role vitamins and minerals play is often missing.
The fact is, the intrinsic link between our physical and mental health means supporting your mental health can also have physical pay-offs—think of it as a pretty incredible health and wellness twofer. There’s an essential connection between our minds and our bodies, and when we neglect one, it inevitably catches up with us through the other. For women becoming mothers especially, the body-mind connection is worth paying close attention to. Today, we’re taking a closer look at the role vitamins and minerals play on your mental health during different stages of your life, plus the best way to ensure you’re covering all your bases.
Managing Mental Health During Different Life Stages
Our bodies and minds benefit from steady supplies of key nutrients essentially from conception onward, in a million different ways. Just think about all the ways we grow and change over the course of our lives—doesn’t it make sense that those different stages of life affect our needs for specific nutrients? During the earliest days of pregnancy, for example, folate and choline are essential to support a new baby’s critical growth and development. Couples trying to conceive without success for months and months, meanwhile, can be at an increased risk for conditions like anxiety and depression–and that includes male partners, too. But in many cases, a healthy diet alone really isn’t enough.
Even those who really do their best to eat a varied diet with plenty of nutrient-rich foods are likely to be missing out on certain vitamins and minerals that are so essential to mental health. That’s why many experts advise supplementing with a high-quality multivitamin. Men and women in the reproductive years specifically benefit from the specialized nutrition of prenatal vitamins, which are formulated to support their fertility health. In a happy coincidence, all of the vitamins and minerals that support mental health are included in both Beli for Women and Beli Vitality for Men, along with additional nutrients handpicked for their myriad benefits both physically and mentally.
How do Nutrient Deficiencies Happen?
Inadequate diets are a common cause of nutrient deficiencies, and geography can play a role too. Before, during, and after pregnancy, women are at a far greater risk, simply because of all the demands on their bodies:
- A deficiency before pregnancy is likely to worsen, because that growing baby taps mom’s nutrient stores. That depletes all the vitamins and minerals she needs for her own physical and mental health.
- Morning sickness is no joke, and women who have a hard time eating are less likely to get all the vitamins and minerals they need. In fact, medical science suspects the placenta prioritizes growing babies when it comes to both micronutrients and macronutrients. “Whatever the baby needs, the mother supplies… often leaving her lacking enough for herself,” writes Dr. Oscar Serrallach in his book, The Postnatal Depletion Cure.
- The massive life change that occurs after pregnancy can’t be overstated, and coping mechanisms to manage life with a newborn (stress, caffeine, minimal sleep, not to mention the recovery and healing process) can also exhaust and deplete a mama’s nutrients.
There is evidence that the resulting micronutrient deficiencies are associated with an increased risk of mental health issues, including postpartum depression (aka the baby blues), “mommy brain,” and all the other ways new mothers find themselves feeling completely drained and exhausted.
Vitamins and Minerals to Support Mental Health
Specific vitamins and minerals–and, of equal importance, specific nutrient deficiencies–really do affect your mental state, which is more vulnerable when you’re navigating the journey to (and through) parenthood.
Iron is another element the brain requires to manage psychological behavior. And you guessed it–low iron levels are associated with health risks including anxiety, depression, and even sleep disorders, particularly for expectant mothers.
This trace element supports our immune systems, metabolism, and cognitive development and function. Mothers navigating postnatal depletion in particular should prioritize restoring zinc to minimize their risk of postpartum depression. It’s commonly found in meats, legumes, dairy products, and whole grains. When you don’t get enough zinc in your diet, you’re at a greater risk of behavioral disturbances and reduced brain function.
Zinc supplements have been shown to improve symptoms of depression, especially in women, and it’s also a great adjunct therapy in the treatment of ADHD. Pro tip–zinc and magnesium work particularly well together to combat mental health conditions, including depression.
B6, B12, and Folate
B vitamins are among the best vitamins for mental health. They directly impact mood and specific brain functions (think memory, focus, and concentration), and low levels of B6 and folate specifically are often linked to depression. Folate, or B9, is probably best-known for its non-negotiable role during early pregnancy (not to mention preconception and post-partum), but this vitamin wears many hats. In terms of mental health, research is clear that folate deficiencies have an enormous impact on mood.
Everyone knows this one, and you may even be able to point to its immune-boosting benefits. But vitamin C also supports mood and cognition, to the point that folks with sufficient levels actually report a better mood and a sharper mind when they get a little boost of this vitamin in their diets. Those without adequate amounts of vitamin C have the opposite experience, with higher incidences of chronic fatigue and depression.
Choline is one of the most underappreciated essential vitamins. Like folate, it’s absolutely critical during early pregnancy to support all that rapid growth, but its neuroprotective properties are also linked with lower rates of depression. In an analysis of adults in the U.S., dietary choline is inversely associated with symptoms of depression.
The sunshine vitamin (surprise, it’s actually a hormone) is strongly linked to mental health, thanks to its brain-boosting prowess. There’s a reason depression rates are higher in places like Seattle—people in this chronically overcast corner of the U.S. are more likely to have lower-than-normal levels of vitamin D. For women, research confirms adequate vitamin D is key in the prevention of postpartum depression, as well as anxiety and poor sleep quality during pregnancy.
Magnesium is another mineral we need to regulate the nervous system. Like other nutrients on our list, low magnesium levels are linked to depression, possibly because of the way this mineral regulates the gut microbiome, which is linked to the hippocampus in the brain (wild, right?). Boosting magnesium intake can help reduce both depression and premenstrual syndrome, among other conditions.
Usually, foods high in fiber are good sources of magnesium, so down those leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains!
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Found in oily fish like salmon and sardines, Omega 3 has a bevy of benefits for our bodies. For our minds, it’s just as impressive. After researchers identified that depression isn’t as common in countries with diets rich in fish, they took a closer look at the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on mood disorders—including postpartum depression—and early findings are promising. Current research suggests omega-3s could be helpful for symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder, thanks to a mood stabilizing effect.
The Bottom Line
Let’s be clear that nutrition is just one facet of supporting your mental health throughout the ups and downs of daily life, and it’s not a substitute for the right medication or psychotherapy. It’s important to speak with your doctor or a mental health provider if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, exhaustion, or anything else that’s making it incredibly difficult just to get through the day.
Still, it’s true that vitamins and minerals often make an excellent supplement to your other efforts. Just like making time to exercise consistently, finding healthy outlets to manage stress, and prioritizing sleep over Netflix, nutrition is one of the places where we really are able to exert some control, with big benefits. How fortunate that a high-quality prenatal vitamin like Beli for women and men makes supporting your health–physical and mental–so simple.
(2022). Launch of the WHO Guide for Integration of Perinatal Mental Health in Maternal and Child Health Services. https://www.who.int/news/item/19-09-2022-launch-of-the-who-guide-for-integration-of-perinatal-mental-health#:~:text=Almost%201%20in%205%20women,undertake%20acts%20of%20self%2Dharm
Malouf, R. et al. (2003). Vitamin B6 for cognition. https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004393/full
Young, S. (2007). Folate and Depression—A Neglected Problem. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1810582/
Marano, H. (2018). The Cognitive Benefits of Vitamin C. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201801/the-cognitive-benefits-vitamin-c
Li, J. et al. (2022). Dietary Choline is Inversely Associated with Depressive Symptoms: A Cross-Sectional STudy of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011 to 2018. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032722000131
(2023). What to Know about Vitamin D and Mental Health. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/what-to-know-about-vitamin-d-and-mental-health
Fallah, M. et al. (2020) Is Vitamin D Status Associated with Depression, Anxiety and Sleep Quality in Pregnancy: A Systematic Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7532825/
Schiopu, C. et al. (2022). Magnesium Orotate and the Microbiome-Gut-Brain Axis Modulation: New Approaches in Psychological Comorbidities of Gastrointestinal Functional Disorders. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9029938/
Petrilli, M. et al. (2017). The Emerging Role for Zinc in Depression and Psychosis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5492454/
Lee, H. et al. (2020). Psychiatric Disorders Risk in Patients with Iron Deficiency Anemia and Association with Iron Supplementation Medications: a Nationwide Database Analysis. https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-020-02621-0
(n.d.) Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/
(n.d.) Omega-3s. https://www.mhanational.org/omega-3s