Our brains have chemicals called neurotransmitters that send messages to other parts of our bodies and, work along with our hormones, regulate many bodily functions including mood and emotions.
The neurotransmitters serotonin and gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) regulate mood and keep us calm, while dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine excite and give us energy.
The balance of these neurotransmitters is essential for mood and emotional health, and chemical imbalances can increase the risk of mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
Our bodies rely on nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, as well as fiber and probiotics to feed these neurotransmitters so they can do their jobs properly.
10 Nutrients that Work to Enhance Mood
- Vitamin D, also called the sunshine vitamin, is essential for brain health and mood as it boosts serotonin levels. The best way to get vitamin D naturally is through direct exposure to the sun’s UV rays, although most of us do not get enough – between 40 and 60% of people have a vitamin D deficiency.
Lack of vitamin D is directly linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression many people experience in the wintertime when their skin is less exposed to the sun.
Besides sunlight, other sources of vitamin D include oily fish like salmon, mackerel and canned fish with the bones (like sardines), cod liver oil, eggs, and cheese. Many dairy products like milk are also fortified with vitamin D.
Taking a vitamin D supplement may be necessary if you aren’t getting enough vitamin D through diet and natural sunlight.
- Calcium is not only for bone health. Calcium is an essential mineral that works with serotonin to reduce stress and anxiety, and symptoms of PMS. Calcium deficiency can result in overall fatigue and sluggishness, as well as irritability and anxiety.
Calcium is found in dairy products, but also dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, oily fish, almonds, and chia seeds.
Women, especially those approaching menopause and beyond, may benefit from taking a calcium supplement. Since Calcium needs vitamin D to absorb, many calcium supplements also contain vitamin D.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids are important for maintaining healthy brain function and may reduce the risk of some depression, including postpartum depression. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosatetraenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).
DHA and EPA are mostly found in fish and fish oil, while ALA is mostly found in nuts and seeds, vegetables and grass-fed meat. All are necessary, but the most health benefits, including brain function and mood come from DHA and EPA.
- B Vitamins are the stress-relieving vitamins. B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), (B9) Folate, and B12 (cyanocobalamin) provide many added health benefits, including supporting brain function, stabilizing your mood, managing stress and increasing dopamine. Folate, the natural version of folic acid, is especially beneficial for reducing depression.
In order to get all of the necessary B vitamins, you should eat a variety of whole foods including eggs, fish and shellfish, meat and poultry, nuts and seeds, legumes, soybeans, and vegetables.
- Zinc not only assists with digestion and our immune system, but it also helps with concentration and memory. Deficiencies in zinc may increase the risk of mood disorders and ADHD.
Zinc is found in meat, oysters, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy, and potatoes, and dark chocolate.
- Magnesium, another essential mineral, also boosts mood and balances hormones. A magnesium deficiency may result in higher levels of anxiety and magnesium has been used since 1921 to treat depression.
Good sources of magnesium are fish including salmon, mackerel, and halibut, along with dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, avocados, dark chocolate, almonds, and cashews
- Selenium supports thyroid function and is essential for brain heath. The mineral has also been known to elevate mood and decrease anxiety by raising neurotransmitter levels. Selenium in fish increases the affects of omega-3 fatty acids.
Selenium is found in fish and shellfish, whole grains like oats and brown rice, brazil nuts, eggs, beef, chicken, dark chocolate, and shitake mushrooms.
- Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein and an essential nutrient. Amino acids like tryptophan, lysine, and tyrosine increase hormone and neurotransmitter levels associated with mood and stress. Deficiencies in the essential amino acids will increase the risk of mood disorders.
There are nine essential amino acids found in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, and bananas.
- Iodine is a necessary mineral for thyroid and brain function. Iodine is found mainly in shellfish and seaweed. It’s also added to table salt, as most people don’t get the recommended daily amounts in their diet. Low levels of iodine cause fatigue and brain fog.
Iodine increases levels of the neurotransmitter’s serotonin and dopamine, regulating mood.
Besides shellfish, other natural sources of iodine include whole eggs, milk, yogurt, and lima beans.
- Fiber is important for gut health. It’s the part of plant-foods that is not digested and passes through the intestines, taking out toxins and waste. Most western diets do not contain enough fiber as processed grains have the fiber stripped away.
Because the mood transmitters (serotonin, dopamine, and GABA) are produced in both the brain and the gastrointestinal tract, linking fiber and probiotic foods to improved mood. Fiber deficiency can decrease brain function and cause depression.
Fiber is only found in plants like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Foods That Decrease Neurotransmitters
- Simple Carbohydrates
- Processed Food
Sugar and foods that turn quickly into sugar can trigger mood swings and contribute to mood disorders.
Tying It All Together
Eating a whole food diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids is linked to balanced hormones and neurotransmitters which help to regulate emotions and mood.
Consume a variety of meat and poultry, fish and shellfish, nuts and seeds, legumes, and plenty of fruits and vegetables to make sure you’re getting all of the necessary nutrients to balance your mood and feel your best.