Today I’m going to share the three most important nutrients that have helped me recover.
Everyone should increase their intake of these because most people don't get enough of them and their brain function suffers as a result.
Plus, the health research in support of them is astounding.
Unfortunately, many conventional doctors don’t recognize the value in taking them, and therefore won’t tell you to do so.
If you suffer from depression or any mental illness, and take medication to deal with it, you’ll definitely want to take specific nutrients for your brain.
In fact, many medications can further deplete your body of vitamins and minerals – the very raw materials that your body and brain need to heal. Suzy Cohen, a naturally-inclined pharmacist wrote an excellent book that discusses this. In the long run, medication can make you worse and more deficient in certain brain-supporting compounds.
I experienced this first hand. The longer I took medication, the further my cognition declined. It wasn’t until I dropped my medication and started taking high-quality supplements (including these three brain nutrients) that I started to see significant progress in my mental health and performance. Luckily, I’ve been able to recover my brain and mental function. And you can too.
This is the most important nutrient. Every single person reading this should be supplementing with vitamin D (unless you live near the equator and spend most of your time outdoors).
Every tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system. This means your entire body needs it to function properly. Therefore, a deficiency can lead to a number of costly physiological and psychological consequences. Yet an estimated one billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient (1).
Vitamin D significantly affects brain function. It affects genes that support the production and release of dopamine and serotonin. Having an insufficient amount of these two neurotransmitters has been linked to anxiety and ADHD. Researchers have also found vitamin D receptors on brain cells and within regions of the brain linked to depression (2, 3). Even schizophrenia has been linked with abnormal levels of vitamin D (8).
In fact, 50% of psychiatric inpatients have vitamin D deficiency (9). And a number of other studies confirm the link between low vitamin D and mental illness, showing that the optimization of vitamin D levels improve psychological well-being (4, 5, 6, 7, 29).
And if you don’t have mental illness, low vitamin D levels are still linked to higher risk of cognitive impairment and dementia (10).
My recommendation: Take 1000 IU / 25 pounds of body weight, in the morning. I take 5000IU every day. I take this Vitamin D supplement. You can get it here or here. This all-in-one mental health supplement also has Vitamin D3.
Vitamin D levels above 40 ng/mL (100 nmol/L) can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment. Go to your doctor and ask to get tested. For some reason, you need to ask your doctor to test for Vitamin D here in Canada. Otherwise, they won't check it off on the blood test requisition form. You then have to pay an extra $20 out of pocket because it’s not part of the standard blood test. I wonder if that’s because of the amount of money the pharmaceutical industry stands to lose if everyone had proper vitamin D levels.
If you have trouble getting your doctor to test your Vitamin D levels, just do it yourself here. LetsGetChecked lets you check your own Vitamin D levels. They also have a number of other reliable and informative straight-to-consumer blood tests.
Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. This includes neurotransmitter, enzyme, and hormonal activity, all of which can have a huge effect on our mood and brain function.
Despite its importance, many people are deficient in the mineral today (17, 18, 19). There are a few reasons for such widespread deficiency today:
Modern soil depletion and poor farming practices
Frequent consumption of highly processed foods
Modern water treatment processes remove magnesium from the water supply
Magnesium is rapidly used up during times of stress –
Our ancient ancestors would have consumed tons of magnesium every day from organ meats, seafood and water. So if you have a physical or mental health condition, you should be taking magnesium every single day.
Inadequate magnesium levels contribute and worsen many neuropsychiatric problems. This includes depression, anxiety, insomnia, seizures, ADHD, pain, schizophrenia, irritability, premenstrual syndrome, drug abuse, and short-term memory and IQ loss. The list goes on and on. Not surprisingly, magnesium supplementation has been shown to reduce symptoms related to these conditions (12, 13, 14, 15, 16).
When it comes to depression, treatment with magnesium supplements has been shown to cause a reversal in depressive symptoms. Case histories have shown recovery in less than 7 days from major depression using 125-300 mg of magnesium (as glycinate and taurinate) with each meal and at bedtime (16).
Why is magnesium so powerful at combatting depression and a number of anxious disorders?
It can suppress your brain’s ability to stimulate the release of stress hormones
It reduces your body’s ability to respond to these stress hormones
It can act at the blood brain barrier to prevent the entrance of stress hormones into the brain.
Overall, it is nature’s chill pill, helping you turn down the dial on your fight or flight response (20).
If that isn’t enough, studies show that sufficient magnesium seems to protect the brain from depression and anxiety after traumatic brain injury.
Unfortunately, I was deficient in magnesium when I experienced multiple concussions in 2010. And if you happen to suffer from asthma like I used to, it’s important to know that low dietary intake and low magnesium serum levels are also associated with breathing problems (11).
Yet, when was the last time you heard your doctor even say the word “magnesium”? You probably never have. Unfortunately, billions of dollars have been spent on drug research for depression and other mental illnesses, yet a cheap and very helpful natural remedy has been available the entire time.
The good news is that you can easily correct magnesium deficiency yourself. Supplementation is cheap and can restore the nutrient to healthy levels, reversing many devastating health problems associated with a deficiency.
And what if you feel healthy and don’t think you’re deficient? A study shows that intake of magnesium above what is traditionally considered the normal dietary amount has a dramatic effect on improving multiple aspects of memory and learning (21).
My recommendation: I take 200-400mg daily before bed. I also take extra during the day when I feel more stressed than usual. Magnesium glycinate, magnesium malate, or magnesium taurate are the best forms. I take and recommend this one.
Krill oil is a special kind of fish oil that contains essential omega-3 fatty acids.
Just like vitamin D and magnesium, a large number of people are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. They are necessary for the proper functioning of your body and normal electrical functioning of your brain and nervous system.
Omega-3s can come from plants (alpha linolenic acid, or ALA) or from animals (eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA; and docosahexaenoic acid, DHA).
ALA from plants foods such as flax seeds and walnuts need to be converted to EPA before it can be used by the human body and brain. But the human body is not very efficient at converting ALA to EPA (only about 1-4%) (22, 23, 24). Therefore, it’s optimal to get higher potency EPA and DHA from animal products such as salmon, grass-fed beef and krill oil.
In particular, DHA plays a key role in proper brain and nervous system functioning, leading to improved mood and sleep. It’s also been shown to improve learning and memory, and protect against psychiatric disorders including depression, mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease (25, 26, 27, 28).
But most people don't eat enough high-quality salmon and grass-fed beef, so fish oil is often necessary. However, not all fish oil is created equal. The problem with most commercially-available fish oil is that it easily goes rancid. The DHA in fish oil is structurally instable and can oxidize very quickly.
But krill oil also contains astaxanthin – a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory carotenoid that protects DHA from oxidizing and going rancid. Astaxanthin is not found in typical fish oil. That’s why I recommend krill oil over regular fish oil. Oxidized, rancid fish oil is worse for you then having no fish oil at all.
Krill oil is also phosphorylated. This means the DHA in krill oil is bound to naturally-occurring phospholipids. Phospholipids help the body and brain more efficiently absorb DHA. This improves the delivery of DHA into your brain, leading to the repair and rejuvenation of the brain. Over time, this leads to better communication between different parts of your brain.
An interesting study examined regular fish oil vs. krill oil. In the 3-month trial, 70 patients received 2 g of krill oil or 2 g fish oil daily for one month. Evaluation at 45 days and three months showed that krill oil significantly improved depressive symptoms. The absence of significant effects of fish oil on mood suggests that the presence of the phospholipids may be responsible for the therapeutic effect of krill oil (26).
My recommendation: I personally take 1000 mg daily with dinner and before bed. I take and recommend this krill oil. You can also get very high-quality seafood and krill oil supplements here.
Vitamin D, magnesium and krill oil are the three most important supplements that I think everyone should be taking for their brain, even if you don’t suffer from mental health problems. My research suggests that everyone would benefit from them.
In upcoming posts, I’ll be exploring additional supplements that you should take if you’re suffering from mental illness or if you are looking for more of a boost in your cognitive function.
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11. Soutar A, Seaton A. Bronchial reactivity and dietary antioxidants. Thorax. 1997;52(2):166-170.
12. Eby GA, Eby KL. (2006). Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment. Med Hypotheses. 2006 67(2), 362-70
13. Pearlstein T, Steiner M. Non-Antidepressant treatment of premenstrual syndrome. Clinical Psychiatry. 2000; 61(12): 22-7.
14. Starobat-Hermelin B, Kozielec T. The effects of magnesium physiological supplementation on hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Magnes Res. 1997; 10: 149-156.
15. Nechifor M. Interactions between magnesium and psychotropic drugs. Magnes Res. 2008; 21(2): 97-100.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Fred Hui, MD, CCFP, CAFC