20 Nutrient Deficiencies That Can Make You Depressed

Being depressed doesn’t mean you’re weak.

It’s not a defect in your personality. 

As I’m sure you know, it’s often caused by physiological changes in your body and brain.

So you need to think of it like any other illness. 

If you have a broken bone, you need to wear a cast to stabilize the bone while it heals. 

And if you have depression, you need to be kind to yourself, as you seek and address the underlying root causes. 

The good news is that you’re not powerless. 

I used to think that I’d be depressed forever.

That my depression was simply genetic, and I couldn’t do anything about it. 

In fact, I accepted that notion for a while.

I felt defeated and hopeless, and thought I'd feel that way for my entire life.

I told myself I’d simply have to rely on drugs to survive because that’s just “how I’m wired”. 

But then one day, I changed my mind and decided that I’d had enough. 

And I was actually going to get to the bottom of it instead of just accepting it.

I took action and searched far and wide for safer and healthier solutions to deal with my depression.

I came across research that wasn’t even considered by my psychiatrist.

Therapies that they said wouldn’t work.

But then they did.

And I overcome my depression for good. 

One of my most important discoveries was that nutrient deficiencies can make your depression worse. 

And they could even be the root cause of it. 

It made so much sense.

But why hadn’t my doctors ever brought it up?

I delved deeper into the scientific literature, and I found MANY nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to depression.

I started increasing my intake of them.

And I got better.

Much better.

This new post includes 20 nutrient deficiencies that could be making you feel depressed.

It boggles my mind that many conventional psychiatrists ignore this research.

But that doesn’t mean you need to. 

Read on to learn more. 

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1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain and increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful actions you can take to fight depression.

Several studies have shown that depressive patients have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids (1-3).

Researchers even conducted a meta-analysis of 14 studies, and they found that levels of omega-3 fatty acids were significantly lower in people with depression (4). 

They concluded that having a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids is a “contributing factor to mood disorders” (5). 

It’s important to consume enough omega-3 fatty acids because they are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish, including:

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  • Salmon

  • Black cod

  • Sablefish

  • Sardines

  • Herring

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet.

That’s why I recommend supplementing with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids

I take this one.

I feel more depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.

This isn’t surprising because plenty of research shows that omega-3 supplements are effective at treating clinical depression – just as effective as antidepressants drugs – because they lower inflammation in the brain (6-10). 

2. Vitamin B12

Lack of understanding of B12 is one of the greatest tragedies of modern medicine.
— Dr. James Greenblatt, Integrative Psychiatrist

Having sufficient levels of Vitamin B12 is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.  

Unfortunately, a deficiency is very common, especially in older individuals and vegetarians and vegans.

And even if you eat meat and you’re young, you may still have a deficiency. 

Poor gut health and even psychiatric medications can cause a deficiency.

In fact, it’s estimated that almost 40% of Americans are deficient today.

Numerous studies have shown that having a deficiency in Vitamin B12 leads to symptoms of depression (16-22). 

And B12 levels tend to be significantly lower in people who are depressed (13). 

In one study, subjects with Vitamin B12 deficiency were 2 times as likely to be severely depressed as non-deficient subjects (15). 

Even a mild decrease in B12 levels is associated with mood disturbances (14). 

Luckily, there are steps you can take to make sure you’re not deficient. 

Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal foods, and beef liver is an excellent source. I take these beef liver capsules because I don’t like the taste of liver.

You may also want to supplement with Vitamin B12 because studies show that B12 supplementation significantly lowers homocysteine levels and reduces depressive symptoms (23-24). 

If you decide to supplement, avoid the semisynthetic version of B12 (cyanocobalamin) and instead take the methylated form (methylcobalamin or methyl-B12). 

Methyl-B12 is better absorbed and more biologically active.

I take this B complex supplement regularly, and it includes methyl-B12.

3. Vitamin D (and Vitamin K2)

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun.

Every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences, including depression.

Researchers have found a very strong link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression (27-28). 

The lower your Vitamin D levels, the more symptoms of depression you are likely to have (35). 

Unfortunately, reports indicate that Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and a major health problem globally (25). 

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Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (26). 

It’s best to get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sunlight.

It’s especially important to make sure you get some sunlight in the morning to set your circadian rhythm. 

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun, especially during the winter.

That’s why I recommend using a Vitamin D lamp. I use this one.

Or you can take a Vitamin D supplement

I now prefer sunlight and the lamp to get my Vitamin D, but research does show that taking a Vitamin D3 supplement is effective at reducing symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder (29-31). 

This is likely because Vitamin D increases the production of numerous neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine (32-34). 

Lastly, if you decide to supplement with Vitamin D3, you should consider taking it with Vitamin K2

A recent study found that Vitamin K2 reduces depression in animals (36). 

And Vitamin K2 is known to improve brain function in humans (37-38). 

4. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient in magnesium today.  

This is a shame because magnesium is absolutely essential for the proper functioning of your nervous system and optimal neurotransmitter activity. 

Research shows that low magnesium levels contribute and worsen many neuropsychiatric problems, including depression (42). 

In fact, researchers have found that people with depression have lower magnesium levels than healthy people (49). 

They’ve also found a significant association between very low magnesium intake and depression (43). 

On top of this, animal research shows that removing magnesium from their diet results in depressive-like symptoms (50). 

So if you’re struggling with depression, it’s very important to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium so that you don’t have a deficiency.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to do this. 

First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including:

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

Epsom salt baths are another great way to increase your body’s intake of magnesium

I also highly recommend a high-quality magnesium supplement

A number of studies have concluded that magnesium supplementation can reduce depressive symptoms in humans – sometimes within 7 days (44-48). 

I now take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed. It’s the best form of magnesium for the brain.

Since most people are deficient, magnesium is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should be taking.

5. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for mental health.

Like magnesium, it plays a key role in neurotransmission and nervous system functioning.

Mounting evidence suggests a link between zinc deficiency and the development and severity of depression (66-68, 76).  

Depressed patients tend to have lower levels of zinc. And as their zinc levels drop, their depressive symptoms get worse (81-84). 

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Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and several studies show that even subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (63-65). 

So, if you struggle with depression, it’s quite possible that you’re deficient, and you’ll definitely want to optimize your zinc levels. 

Some of the best food sources of zinc include:

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health.

However, if you’re deficient like I was, I recommend taking a high-quality zinc supplement, at least for a short period of time. 

A meta-analysis and several studies have concluded that zinc supplementation has antidepressant effects and significantly reduces symptoms of depression. One way it improves mood is by significantly increasing BDNF levels (69-75, 77-80).

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc levels are optimal. 

Check out my previous post all about zinc if you’re interested in discovering more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels.

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6. Folate

Folate (Vitamin B9) is an essential B vitamin that plays a key role in methylation, one of the most important processes in your body and brain for optimal energy and nervous system function.

Researchers have found that if you are depressed, you likely have lower levels of folate circulating in your blood, and people with low blood folate are at greater risk for developing depression (55-56). 

Good dietary sources of natural folate include: 

  • Leafy greens

  • Asparagus

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Strawberries

  • Avocado

  • Beef liver

  • Poultry

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health.

However, eating folate-rich foods sometimes isn’t enough. In fact, many people do not get enough folate from food because cooking and food processing destroy natural folates (54).

And supplementation is often needed. 

If you decide to supplement with folate, avoid synthetic folic acid, which is commonly found in standard multivitamins. Instead, you should take a biologically active form of folate (methylfolate or 5-MTHF). 

Methylfolate supplements are almost seven times more effective than synthetic folic acid at increasing folate levels. Regular synthetic folic acid has been shown to be quickly cleared from the central nervous system and poorly transported into the brain (51-53). 

On top of this, many people have genetic mutations in the enzyme that converts folic acid into methylfolate in the body. Therefore, folic acid is a waste and can actually cause harm if you have this genetic mutation.

And the research backs up the use of methylfolate.

In one study, patients with depression took methylfolate for 6 months, and they witnessed a significant improvement in their depressive symptoms (57). 

Researchers have even suggested that folate supplementation should be a first-line treatment for depression (58). 

Methylfolate can be effective at treating depression because it helps lower homocysteine levels, helps produce serotonin and dopamine, and stimulates serotonin receptors in the brain (59-62). 

Methylfolate is included in this B vitamin complex that I take regularly. Or you can take it separately if you’d like. 

7. Vitamin B6

Having a deficiency in Vitamin B6 can also contribute to your depression.

It’s a key nutrient that supports your entire nervous system.

It can boost your mood because it plays a key role in the production of neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin and dopamine. It also lowers homocysteine

Research shows that people with depressive symptoms tend to have low levels of Vitamin B6 (85-87). 

A Vitamin B6 deficiency also contributes to chronic inflammation, which is one of the main underlying root causes of depression (88). 

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Fortunately, consuming more Vitamin B6 can help. 

One study found that women that eat more foods containing Vitamin B6 have a lower risk of depression (89). 

Some of the best food sources of Vitamin B6 include potatoes, bananas and chicken. 

But supplementation is often necessary to see quick improvements. 

One study found that supplementing with Vitamin B6 can reduce depressive symptoms by lowering homocysteine levels (90). 

When I took antidepressants for depression, multiple functional and integrative doctors suggested I supplement with Vitamin B6.

This is because these medications can actually further deplete Vitamin B6, increasing depression in the long run. 

Vitamin B6 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.

8. Vitamin C

Having low levels of Vitamin C can also make you feel depressed.

Researchers have found that poor Vitamin C status is associated with increased symptoms of depression (105). 

Animal research also shows that a Vitamin C deficiency can lead to low levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which causes mice to act depressed (106-107). 

As you probably know, Vitamin C can be found in foods such as peppers, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, and berries. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 1 gram of this Vitamin C every day. 

I’ve experimented with taking up to 10 grams daily, and it definitely improved my mood and reduced my stress levels, especially when I was coming off antidepressants

Research backs this up, showing that supplementing with Vitamin C can actually improve mood in both unhealthy and healthy individuals (95, 102-103). 

Various other studies show that Vitamin C supplements reduce stress and anxiety and decrease the severity of depression (96-101, 104).

Studies even show that Vitamin C can increase the effectiveness of antidepressants (108-109). 

9. Thiamine

Thiamine, also known as Vitamin B1, is an essential water-soluble nutrient that cannot be made by the body. 

It’s used in nearly every cell in the body and especially important for supporting energy levels.

It’s also required by nerve cells and other supporting cells in the nervous system (167). 

Research shows that lower levels of Vitamin B1 are associated with a higher prevalence of depressive symptoms (168).

Vitamin B1 deficiency is also known to lead to irritability and symptoms of depression (170). 

Some doctors and researchers believe that postpartum depression is sometimes simply a Vitamin B1 deficiency (169). 

Luckily, consuming more Vitamin B1 can help.

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A randomized, double-blind clinical trial found that Vitamin B1 supplementation reduces symptoms of depression within 6 weeks (171). 

And another concluded that Vitamin B1 supplementation improves mood, reduces brain fog, and speeds up reaction time (172).

In fact, researchers have even found that subjects’ mood improves if the amount of Vitamin B1 in their blood increases, and that the opposite occurs if the amount of Vitamin B1 in their blood decreases (173). 

Benfotiamine is the best supplemental form of Vitamin B1. It’s included in this B complex that I take. 

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B1 include green peas, beef liver, asparagus, pecans, spinach, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, oranges, cantaloupe and eggs. 

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

10. Carnitine

Carnitine is an amino acid found in nearly every cell of the body. It plays a vital role in the production of energy.

Researchers have found significantly lower levels of carnitine in patients with depression. And their low carnitine levels are associated with the severity of their depression (11-12, 174-175). 

Carnitine is mainly found in meat, fish and poultry.

But you can also supplement with it. 

I recommend Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), an acetylated form of carnitine. It’s best supplemental form of carnitine. 

It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and provides support to brain cells.

But it’s also been shown to be very effective at quickly improving mood and treating depression (179-182). 

Six randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that ALCAR is better at treating depression than placebo (177). 

And two other studies found that ALCAR improved depressive symptoms in patients with chronic depression, and it was just as effective as antidepressant medications, but with less side effects (176, 178). 

ALCAR is included in the Optimal Brain supplement

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11. Iron

Iron is a trace mineral found in every living cell in our bodies.

It carries oxygen to all parts of your body, and low levels can leave you feeling tired, pale, irritable and foggy

Sounds like depression doesn’t it?

Several studies show that iron deficiency increases the risk of developing depression and increases the severity of depression (184-186, 188-190). 

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Researchers have also conducted a meta-analysis and found that high iron intake reduces the chance of developing depression (183). 

In one study, iron supplementation resulted in a 25% improvement in depressive symptoms (187). 

Despite this, I don’t actually recommend supplementing with iron though because some research suggests that too much iron can cause health problems.

It’s definitely preferable to get your iron from food. 

I make sure I get enough iron simply by taking these grass-fed beef liver capsules.

Beef liver is one of the best sources of iron, but I don’t like the taste, so I go with the capsules. You can get them here or here.

Other good sources of iron include:

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

12. Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is important for many bodily processes that affect your brain and mental health.

Researchers have found that depression is associated with low levels of selenium (191). 

But supplementing with selenium has been shown to significantly increase selenium levels and improve symptoms of depression (192). 

Other research shows that selenium intake is associated with a general elevation of mood (193). 

Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, but it can also be found in wild-caught seafood, pastured chicken and eggs, and grass-fed meat.

I also make sure I’m not deficiency in selenium by taking selenomethionine, which is a highly-absorbable form of selenium.

13. Riboflavin

Riboflavin, also known as Vitamin B2, plays a key role in energy metabolism throughout your entire body.  

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As a result, a Vitamin B2 deficiency can affect the entire body, leading to low energy, weight gain, and depression.

In fact, lower levels of Vitamin B2 have been found in people with depression (91). 

Researchers have also found that Vitamin B2 consumption decreases risk of postpartum depression (92). 

Healthy food sources of Vitamin B2 include pastured eggs, leafy vegetables, beef liver, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and almonds

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

If you’d like, you can also supplement with Vitamin B2.

Studies show that supplementing with Vitamin B2 helps lower homocysteine and reduces depressive symptoms (93-94). 

Vitamin B2 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement. 

14. Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a coenzyme and antioxidant located primarily in the mitochondria. It has numerous known health benefits and plays a critical role in producing energy for the body.

CoQ10 is produced within the body, but it’s also found within food and can be supplied to the body through food or supplementation. It resembles a fat-soluble vitamin.

Meat and fish are the richest sources of dietary CoQ10, including beef, pork, chicken heart, and chicken liver. Nuts and some oils also contain some CoQ10 (110). 

Research shows that CoQ10 levels are reduced in people with depression and chronic fatigue (111). 

One study also found that CoQ10 regulates serotonin levels and depressive symptoms in fibromyalgia patients (117). 

CoQ10 supplementation has also been shown to improve fatigue and reduce depression symptom severity (112-114). 

It also displays antidepressant-like activity in animals (115-116). 

Ubiquinol is the best supplemental form of CoQ10 that is absorbed by the body. It can be used if you have a CoQ10 deficiency. I took CoQ10 when I was on antidepressants and for a short while after coming off them. 

15. Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid

Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid (DGLA) is an uncommon fatty acid.

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It’s made in the body by the elongation of Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA).

But small amounts can also be found in animal products (118). 

Last year, researchers found that people with depression are more likely to have low levels of DGLA levels (121). 

And increasing DGLA levels may lower the risk of developing depression (122). 

DGLA also has anti-inflammatory effects in the body (119). 

So it makes sense that levels would be low in depressed individuals because an increasing amount of evidence suggests that depression is a chronic inflammatory disease. 

DGLA can be increased by supplementing with dietary GLA (120). 

GLA can be found in Borage Oil, Evening Primrose Oil and Blackcurrant Seed Oil (123). 

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16. Inositol

Inositol is a naturally-occurring molecule found in nearly all plants and animals. It plays a key role in various biological processes.

The brain has the highest concentration of inositol, where it plays an important role making neurotransmitters (124). 

Inositol can be found in many foods, particularly fruit, especially cantaloupe and oranges (125). 

It used to be considered a B Vitamin, called Vitamin B8. But it currently is no longer considered an essential nutrient because your body can produce inositol from glucose (126). 

But I’m including it in this list anyway because individuals with depression have very low levels of inositol in their brains (127-129). 

And inositol supplementation has been shown to increase inositol levels and help treat depression (130, 132). 

It can also reduce symptoms of depression in women with premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (131, 133). 

It’s even been shown to help patients who have discontinued their antidepressant medication (134). 

I took high doses of this inositol powder when weening off psychiatric medication.

I now take a normal amount found in this B complex.

Check out my full post about inositol to learn more about the benefits. 

Fun fact: Inositol is also used as a stand-in for cocaine in television shows and movies. 

17. Manganese

Manganese is an important trace mineral for human health. It acts as a cofactor, helping many enzymes carry out their functions in the body.

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Research shows that having low levels of manganese can contribute to the development of depression (135). 

One study found that depressed patients had significantly lower levels of “manganese superoxide dismutase”, which is a manganese-dependent enzyme (136). 

Researchers have also found that women with higher manganese intake had a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms (137). 

Hazelnuts and macadamia nuts contain high levels of manganese, while leafy green vegetables, tea, chocolate and some fruits contain moderate levels (139). 

However, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t consume too much manganese.

In excess, manganese is neurotoxic and can lead to manganism, a neurodegenerative disorder that causes dopaminergic neuronal death and symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease (138). 

So I definitely don’t recommend supplementing with large doses of manganese. 

The small amount of manganese in Optimal Antiox is fine though. It’s what I take. 

18. Glutamine

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body, suggesting that it’s very important.

It’s also one of the few amino acids that can directly cross the blood-brain barrier.

Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning the body can usually produce sufficient amounts of it. But sometimes the body uses up so much glutamine that it becomes necessary to obtain it from the diet or supplements, particularly during periods of illness, stress, inflammation and injuries (156-157). 

Researchers have found that depressed adults have reduced levels of glutamine (158). 

And glutamine deficiency has been shown to increase depressive-like behaviour in animals (159). 

But glutamine supplementation has “clear anti-depressive properties” and has been shown to improve mood (160-161). 

High levels of glutamine can be found in protein-rich foods such as beef, chicken, fish and eggs. Beets, cabbage, spinach, carrots, parsley, brussel sprouts, celery, kale and fermented foods like miso also contain some glutamine.

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.

Glutamine is also available in supplement form. 

Glutamine was one of the main supplements that helped me heal my leaky gut, but I no longer need to take it regularly. 

19. Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that cannot be produced by the body. It must be consumed through diet or by taking supplements. 

Some healthy foods that contain tryptophan include bananas, chicken, turkey and dark chocolate (140). 

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Tryptophan helps produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. It’s converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) in the brain, which then produces serotonin (141-142). 

Researchers have found that depressed patients have significantly lower levels of tryptophan in their blood than healthy control subjects (143-144). 

Studies also show that depressed patients have a decreased ratio of tryptophan to neutral amino acids in their blood. This suggests that tryptophan availability to the brain is likely reduced in depressed patients (145-146). 

Personally, supplementing with tryptophan never helped me. In fact, it always seemed to make me worse. It gave me asthma and acne and increased my depression.  

This is because depressed patients sometimes have problems creating serotonin from tryptophan. Instead, they create other metabolites from tryptophan, such as quinolinic acid, which can be toxic. For depressed patients like me, tryptophan supplementation won’t help, and may actually make their depression worse (150-151). 

However, some people do see their mood improve when they increase their intake of tryptophan. So it shouldn’t be completely disregarded. 

There are studies that show that consuming a high tryptophan diet and consuming additional dietary tryptophan can increase mood and lead to significantly less depressive symptoms (152-154). 

So supplementing with tryptophan is worth a shot if you’re struggling with depression and haven’t tried it yet. Just be aware of possible side effects. 

If you want, you can also try supplementing with 5-HTP instead of tryptophan. 5-HTP is the direct precursor to serotonin. 

5-HTP is included in this supplement

20. Glutathione

Glutathione is a small peptide made up of 3 important amino acids – glutamic acid, cysteine and glycine – each of which have several important roles in the human body.

Glutathione is found in the food supply and within the human body, where it acts as an antioxidant. It is used by every cell in the body.

It’s technically not an “essential nutrient” because the body can create it.

However, it’s still very important, and a glutathione deficiency leads to increased susceptibility to oxidative stress, which is thought to be involved in a number of diseases, including depression.

Studies show that patients with depression have significantly lower levels of glutathione. And the lower a person’s glutathione levels, the more depressed they are likely to be (162-164). 

Some practitioners and researchers have found that increasing glutathione intake and levels can successfully treat depression (165). 

Glutathione is also able to prevent behavioural depression in animals (166). 

It’s important to note that standard glutathione supplements are not very effective at increasing glutathione levels because they are not well absorbed by the body.

But I have found that high-quality liposomal glutathione supplements are effective. 

N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is another tried-and-true way of increasing glutathione levels because it’s the direct precursor to glutathione

Garlic, asparagus, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, can also help boost glutathione levels, but liposomal glutathione and NAC supplements are more powerful. 

Other supplements that have been shown to help increase and maintain optimal glutathione levels include Selenium, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and S-adenosyl-methionine (Sam-E)

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Fred Hui, MD, CCFP, CAFC

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The 25 Best Natural Supplements Proven to Reduce Depression

Eight years ago, I was prescribed an antidepressant and started taking it every day. 

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it. 

It helped a little bit. 

But then some serious side effects kicked in over time... 

Weight gain, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, emotional numbness, drowsiness, personality changes, and even cognitive decline

So if I could go back in time, I would rely on natural supplements first before jumping on pharmaceuticals.  

That’s not to say prescription antidepressants don’t help people.  

They do. 

They can save lives. 

But for some people (like me), they can end up doing more harm than good.  

So in this post, I want to share with you my favourite natural supplements for relieving depression.  

Research shows that there are many natural antidepressants that are just as effective as prescription antidepressants, but without adverse effects. 

After I came off medication, I relied on many of them to reduce depression and improve my mood and energy.  

Depression is complex, and there are often numerous underlying root causes.  

But these natural options will support you and prop you up while you seek and resolve the root causes of your depression.  

I’ve tried hundreds of natural supplements over the years, and these are the most effective ones for depression.  

They’ve really helped me, and I’ve seen other people get better with them as well. 

Read on to discover the best evidence-based supplements for treating depression. 

best-natural-supplements-proven-reduce-depression-in-2019-good-for-help-vitamins-fatigue-top-mood-enhancing-herbs-herbal-antidepressant-foods-boosters-quick-enhancers-list-happiness-that-work-against-ways-to-fight-anti-treat-research-ncbi-study-pubmed-stack-buy-deal-with-treatment-long-term-support-prevent-overcome-naturally-nutritional-neurotransmitters-improve-remedies-health-essential-diet-dietary-decrease-counter-battle-against-improve-stop.jpg
 

1. Probiotics

As you probably already know, the health of your gut (and the bacteria within it) significantly influence your brain and mental health.  

In fact, people who have been diagnosed with gut diseases are more likely to be diagnosed with depression (1).  

But luckily, there’s a solution. 

High-quality research shows that probiotic supplements can significantly reduce depressive symptoms in both healthy and depressed individuals (2-4).  

Studies also show that the neurotransmitter serotonin is produced in the gut.  

By taking a probiotic supplement, you can enhance the diversity of the bacteria in your gut, create a better environment for the synthesis of serotonin, and therefore increase serotonin levels and activity in your brain (5).  

Probiotics also reduce inflammation, which tends to be elevated in people with depression (6).  

The best probiotics for depression are Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus casei. 

All five of them are included in the Optimal Biotics supplement.  

Check out this post for five other ways to increase the good bacteria in your gut.  

And if you struggle with anxiety, here are 9 probiotic strains that can help. 

 

2. Rhodiola

Rhodiola, also known as golden root or arctic root, is a Traditional Chinese and Scandinavian herb.  

It’s one of the most popular adaptogens used to increase physical and mental stamina. 

It can also reduce depression (9).  

In one study, rhodiola significantly reduced symptoms of depression and emotional instability in people with mild and moderate depression (7).  

Another study found that it was almost as effective as Zoloft, a commonly prescribed antidepressant, but it was better tolerated and it didn’t cause nearly as many side effects (8).  

Plenty of animal research also shows that rhodiola has antidepressant effects by lowering cortisol, and restoring serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine (10-16).  

I personally take this rhodiola supplement. I don't take it every day, only when I need a boost in mood and energy.  You can get it here or here.  

Be sure to check out this post to learn more about the benefits of rhodiola, above and beyond just reducing depression. 

 

3. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is an acetylated form of the amino acid carnitine. It’s been shown to have neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects. 

It’s often used as a natural brain booster because it increases alertness and supports brain cells.  

Researchers have found that ALCAR is quite effective at alleviating chronic fatigue, improving mood and treating depression (17-18).  

In one study, supplementing with ALCAR for 1 to 2 months reduced depression in elderly individuals (19). 

And another study showed that ALCAR can reduce depression in people with chronic depression. Twelve weeks of supplementation reduced their depressive symptoms just as effectively as an antidepressant (20).  

It works because it supports mitochondrial function, and increases BDNF levels and serotonin levels in the brain (21-22).  

I find that ALCAR personally gives me a big boost in mood, motivation, mental energy and resilience. 

That’s why I included it in the Optimal Brain supplement

 

4. Theanine

green-tea-best-natural-supplements-proven-reduce-depression-in-2019-good-for-help-vitamins-fatigue-top-mood-enhancing-herbs-herbal-antidepressant-foods-boosters-quick-enhancers-list-happiness-that-work-against-ways-to-fight-anti-treat-research-ncbi-study-pubmed-stack-buy-deal-with-treatment-long-term-support-prevent-overcome-naturally-nutritional-neurotransmitters-improve-remedies-health-essential-diet-dietary-decrease-counter-battle-against-improve-stop.jpg

Theanine is a unique amino acid found in tea. It has a number of mental health benefits. 

I take theanine alongside my morning coffee. It definitely improves my mood. It also helps me focus and cancels out the jitters of caffeine. 

In one study, theanine supplementation reduced depressive symptoms and anxiety, and improved sleep and cognitive function in patients with major depression (23).  

Animal research also shows that theanine can alleviate depression in mice that are exposed to chronic stress (24).  

This mental health supplement contains theanine, along with several natural compounds that have helped me manage depression and anxiety over the years. 

Theanine can also be found in green tea, which has also been shown to help reduce depression (25). 

 

5. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.  

Unfortunately, a lot of people are deficient in magnesium.  

This is a shame because magnesium is absolutely essential for the proper functioning of your nervous system and optimal neurotransmitter activity

Research clearly shows there are links between low magnesium intake, magnesium deficiency, and depression and suicide (26-28, 34-35).  

Several studies also show that magnesium supplementation improves depressive symptoms in people with depression, including people with postpartum depression, premenstrual syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome (29-32).  

Sometimes even just one week of supplementing with magnesium can improve mood and reverse symptoms of depression (33).  

Since most people are deficient, magnesium is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should be taking every day. 

Epsom salt baths are another great way to increase your body’s intake of magnesium.  

You should also make sure you’re eating enough magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including: 

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.  

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6. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun.  

Unfortunately, Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and has become a major global health problem. Researchers estimate that 50% of people are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency

This is a huge concern because every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences, including depression. 

Research shows that there is a strong link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression and suicide (36-37).  

Thankfully, several studies shown that Vitamin D3 supplementation reduces depressive symptoms, treats seasonal affective disorder, and lowers suicide risk (38-40).  

Vitamin D helps fight depression because it plays a key role in the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, and protects against the depletion of dopamine and serotonin in the brain (41).  

Ideally, you should get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sun.  

I try to get sunlight every day during the spring and summer months.  

But most people still don’t get enough Vitamin D from the sun, especially during the winter.  

During the winter months, when there isn't enough sun, I use this Vitamin D sunlamp.

I also take this Vitamin D supplement as needed, depending on my blood test levels.  

Vitamin D is so critical for optimal brain health, so make sure to check your levels regularly. You can order a test here.  

If you decide to take a Vitamin D3 supplement, it’s a good idea to take it along with Vitamin K2. They are synergistic and mix well together. 

 

7. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for mental health, as it plays a key role in neurotransmission and nervous system functioning. 

Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and several studies show that even subclinical zinc deficiency impairs brain function (42-44). 

Researchers have also found that a zinc deficiency increases the likelihood of developing depression, as well as increasing the severity of depression (45).  

But zinc supplementation can definitely help.  

A meta-analysis concluded that taking a zinc supplement is an effective treatment for depression (46).  

In one study, 50 people took 30 mg of zinc for 12 weeks, and their mood significantly improved, and their BDNF levels increased as well (47-49).  

So if you struggle with depression, it’s quite possible you’re deficient, and you’ll want to consider taking a zinc supplement to optimize your levels. 

I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc levels are optimal. I created it because I want to give my clients and readers the very best zinc supplement so that they can experience superior results. I have found that many zinc supplements on the market fall short. Optimal Zinc includes several other nutrients (co-factors) that increase the absorption of zinc. 

Some of the best foods you should eat to optimize your zinc levels include: 

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health

Check out my previous post all about zinc for more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels. 

 

8. DL-Phenylalanine

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, meaning that your body cannot create it, and you must obtain it from your diet. 

It plays a key role in the production of dopamine, a critical neurotransmitter that can improve your mood (50).  

People struggling with depression have been shown to have low levels of phenylalanine in their blood and urine (55).  

You can find phenylalanine in from protein-rich foods, such as: 

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health

But I find that supplementing with DL-Phenylalanine (DLPA), a special supplemental form of phenylalanine, is much more effective than simply eating foods with phenylalanine. 

In one study, 23 depressed patients took DLPA every day for 15 days. At the end of the 15 days, 17 of them had completely overcame their depression, and they didn't experience adverse side effects (51).  

Another 3-week study found very similar results (52).  

Researchers have even concluded that DLPA is just as effective as prescription antidepressants. And people who don’t respond to pharmaceutical antidepressants often get significantly better when they take DLPA (53-54).  

Even if you take medication, research shows that combining DLPA with antidepressants leads to greater increases in mood than simply taking an antidepressant alone (56).  

Yet unlike antidepressants, you can feel the effects of DLPA quickly (within a few hours) and in some cases, it can “terminate depression within 2 to 3 days” (57). 

Not surprisingly, I absolutely love DL-Phenylalanine. It was probably the most important supplement that I took while I transitioned off of antidepressants

If you’d like to learn more about DLPA, read this post

 

9. N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)

N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) is a modified form of the amino acid cysteine.  

It’s also the precursor to glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant

Nowadays, we’re exposed to so many environmental toxins, which cause oxidative stress in the body and deplete our reserves of cysteine and glutathione.  

But supplementing with NAC can increase and normalize your cysteine and glutathione levels. 

This can combat and reduce oxidative stress in your brain, which can then help treat several mental illnesses, including depression.  

In one study, 149 people with moderate depression were given NAC or placebo for eight weeks. The individuals who received NAC experienced a significant reduction in their depression, as well as improvements in their overall functioning and quality of life (58).  

In another six-month study, NAC significantly reduced symptoms of depression in patients with bipolar disorder. It also significantly improved their social and occupational functioning. The researchers concluded that NAC is a safe and effective strategy for depressive symptoms (59).  

Several other studies have examined the effects of NAC on bipolar disorder and found that taking NAC daily can significantly improve and even cause a full remission of depressive symptoms (60-62).  

 

10. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s fatty acids are the highest quality fats for the brain and increasing your intake of them is one of the most impactful actions you can take to promote the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system. 

They have been shown in many studies to significantly reduce brain inflammation; improve memory, mood and cognition; and protect against mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer's disease

Researchers have also found that levels of omega-3 fatty acids are significantly lower in individuals with depression (63-64).  

It’s important to consume enough omega-3 fatty acids because they are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish, including: 

  • Salmon  

  • Black cod  

  • Sablefish  

  • Sardines  

  • Herring 

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.  

Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet. 

That’s why I recommend supplementing with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids.  

I take this krill oil supplement.  

I feel more depressed when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference. 

Studies show that omega-3 fatty acid supplements are effective at treating clinical depression. They also improve mood in people who haven’t been diagnosed with depression, but have depressive symptoms (65-66. 68-69).  

One way they work is by reducing inflammation in the brain, which is strongly linked to depression (67).

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11. Ginseng

Ginseng is known for its anti-stress effects. 

But it also has antidepressant effects (70).  

More than one study has shown that ginseng reduces depression and increases quality of life (71-72).  

Ginseng has been shown to work because it reduces inflammation and increases dopamine, serotonin and BDNF in the brain (73-76).  

Ginseng is one of my favourite herbal supplements for brain function and depression.

 

12. S-adenosyl-L-methionine

S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM-e) is a compound that naturally occurs in the body.  

It’s also available as a supplement.  

It’s most commonly used for treating depression because lowered SAM-e levels are associated with depression. 

Researchers have concluded that SAM-e is an effective and safe option for the treatment of depression. It has beneficial effects similar to conventional antidepressants (77-78, 82-83).  

In one study, people who hadn't responded to SSRI antidepressants took SAM-e for six weeks, and it significantly reduced their symptoms of depression (79).  

In another study, 20 healthy individuals received infusions of SAM-e or a placebo for seven days. The researchers scanned and studied the brains of the participants during the study. And it was confirmed that SAM-e is an antidepressant because it targets and supports brain regions involved in depression (81).  

It has also been shown to increase serotonin and dopamine activity in the brain, and inhibit the reuptake of norepinephrine (80).  

The great thing about SAM-e is that it works fairly quickly, as people usually notice benefits within the first few days of taking it, and it doesn’t cause severe side effects like pharmaceutical antidepressants (83).  

I took this SAM-e supplement after coming off psychiatric medication and it significantly helped me by improving my mood and energy.

 

13. Curcumin

best-natural-supplements-proven-reduce-depression-in-2019-good-for-help-vitamins-fatigue-top-mood-enhancing-herbs-herbal-antidepressant-foods-boosters-quick-enhancers-list-happiness-that-work-against-ways-to-fight-anti-treat-research-ncbi-study-pubmed-stack-buy-deal-with-treatment-long-term-support-prevent-overcome-naturally-nutritional-neurotransmitters-improve-remedies-health-essential-diet-dietary-decrease-counter-battle-against-improve-stop.jpg

Curcumin is the most heavily researched compound within turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow colour.  

It’s one of my favourite natural compounds for the brain

Researchers have repeatedly found that curcumin reduces depressive symptoms in patients with major depression (84-86). 

In one study, curcumin reduced depression in more than 100 people after six weeks of supplementation (87).   

It also reduces inflammatory markers and cortisol levels, and increases BDNF levels, all of which are involved in depression (87). 

 

14. Methylfolate

Folate (Vitamin B9) is an essential B vitamin that plays a key role in methylation, one of the most important processes in your body and brain for optimal energy and nervous system function.  

Researchers have found that if you are depressed, you likely have lower levels of folate circulating in your blood, and people with low blood folate are at greater risk for developing depression (88).  

Good dietary sources of natural folate include: 

  • Leafy greens  

  • Asparagus  

  • Broccoli  

  • Cauliflower  

  • Strawberries  

  • Avocado  

  • Beef liver  

  • Poultry

These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health

However, eating folate-rich foods sometimes isn’t enough. In fact, many people don't get enough folate from food because cooking and food processing destroy natural folates (103). 

People with depression often need to supplement with methylfolate to get the full benefits.  

In one study, six months of methylfolate supplementation reduced symptoms of depression in patients with clinical depression and schizophrenia (92).  

Research also shows that taking methylfolate alongside an antidepressant makes the antidepressant more effective (93).  

Researchers have even suggested that folate supplementation should be a first-line treatment for depression (104). 

Methylfolate works because it lowers homocysteine levels, stimulates serotonin receptors in the brain, and plays a key role in the production of dopamine (94-102).  

Whatever you do, avoid synthetic folic acid, which is commonly found in standard multivitamins. Instead, you need to take the biologically active form of folate (methylfolate or 5-MTHF). 

Methylfolate supplements are almost seven times more effective than synthetic folic acid at increasing folate levels. Regular synthetic folic acid has been shown to be quickly cleared from the central nervous system and poorly transported into the brain (89-91).  

On top of this, many people have genetic mutations in the enzyme that converts folic acid into methylfolate in the body. Therefore, folic acid is a waste and can actually cause harm if you have this genetic mutation.  

I take this B vitamin complex, and it includes methylfolate. Or you can take methylfolate separately at a higher dose.  

 

15. Vitamin B12

Lack of understanding of B12 is one of the greatest tragedies of modern medicine.
— Dr. James Greenblatt, Integrative Psychiatrist

Having sufficient levels of Vitamin B12 is necessary for optimal brain and mental health.  

Unfortunately, a deficiency is very common, especially in older individuals and vegetarians and vegans.  

Even if you eat meat and you’re young, you may still have a deficiency.  

Poor gut health and even psychiatric medications can cause a deficiency

In fact, it’s estimated that almost 40% of Americans are deficient today. 

Numerous studies have shown that having a deficiency in Vitamin B12 leads to symptoms of depression (136-142). 

But supplementation can help. 

Research shows that supplementing with Vitamin B12 for six weeks can reduce depressive symptoms in depressed patients (143).  

In one study, Vitamin B12 supplementation lowered homocysteine levels and reduced depression in more than 200 people (144).  

If you decide to supplement, avoid the semisynthetic version of B12 (cyanocobalamin) and instead take the methylated form (methylcobalamin or methyl-B12).  

Methyl-B12 is better absorbed and more biologically active. 

Besides methyl-B12 and methylfolate, you should also consider supplementing with the rest of the B vitamins. 

There is evidence to suggest that many people with depression are also deficient in Vitamin B1, B2, B3 and B6, and supplementing with them can help reduce, prevent and lower the risk of depression (145-151).  

I take this B complex supplement, which includes all the bioactive forms of the B vitamins, including B9, B12, B2 and B6.  

Vitamin B12 is also found in animal foods, and beef liver is a really good source. I take these beef liver capsules because I don’t like the taste of liver. 

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16. St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) is a natural medicinal herb with antidepressant effects. It's often prescribed for depression in European countries.  

Researchers have concluded that it’s as effective as pharmaceutical antidepressants for treating depression but has fewer adverse effects (105-107). 

A double-blind, randomized control trial showed that St John’s Wort can prevent depression from developing, and delay relapses in depression (108).  

It's been found to work by increasing dopamine signaling and increasing serotonin receptors (109-111). 

I took this St. John’s Wort supplement years ago for my depression. It helped me, but I eventually stopped taking it and working on fixing the true, underlying causes of my depression instead. 

In my experience, it’s best for people who are struggling with mild or moderate depression.  

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t take St. John’s Wort if you’re already taking antidepressant medication. They don’t mix well.  

 

17. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain. You can also take it as a supplement.  

It helps control your circadian rhythm, and adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night. 

Researchers have found that people with depression often have low levels of melatonin and a compromised circadian rhythm (257-259). 

Studies also show that supplementing with melatonin at bedtime can lower symptoms of depression. It can also improve the circadian rhythm of various neurotransmitters that are disturbed in people with depression (260-261).  

You can get melatonin here.  

Or you can take this sleep supplement. It contains magnesium and other natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to promote the production of melatonin. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount. 

 

18. Uridine

beer-uridine-best-natural-supplements-proven-reduce-depression-in-2019-good-for-help-vitamins-fatigue-top-mood-enhancing-herbs-herbal-antidepressant-foods-boosters-quick-enhancers-list-happiness-that-work-against-ways-to-fight-anti-treat-research-ncbi-study-pubmed-stack-buy-deal-with-treatment-long-term-support-prevent-overcome-naturally-nutritional-neurotransmitters-improve-remedies-health-essential-diet-dietary-decrease-counter-battle-against-improve-stop.jpg

Uridine is a natural compound commonly found in beer.  

I definitely don’t recommend drinking beer, but supplementing with pure uridine can protect the brain, enhance cognition, and increase mood and motivation. 

Uridine supplementation has been shown to reduce depression in young people with bipolar disorder (113).  

Animal studies also show that uridine supplements alleviate depression and increases dopamine in the brains of rats (114-115).  

It’s important to note that uridine in food is not bioavailable, and no food has been shown to increase blood levels of uridine (112). 

So you’ll need to supplement with it.

 

19. Sarcosine

Sarcosine is an amino acid derivative that is naturally found in egg yolks, turkey, ham, vegetables and legumes. 

Supplementing with sarcosine has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of depression without side effects (116, 119).  

In one study, sarcosine was found to be significantly more effective at treating major depression than citalopram (a common SSRI antidepressant). 

Patients who received sarcosine were much more likely to improve, improved much more quickly, and were less likely to drop out of the study than patients that received citalopram (117).  

Animal research also shows that sarcosine has antidepressant effects (118).  

You’ll have to supplement with sarcosine for it to improve your mood. The amount of sarcosine in food is too small to have a beneficial effect. 

I take this sarcosine powder.  

It has impressive antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects, but without any of the nasty side effects that are common with pharmaceutical antidepressants and benzodiazepines.  

 

20. Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine is a fat-soluble amino acid that is known to support cognitive function.  

High amounts of phosphatidylserine are in the brain, and supplementation has been shown to improve attention, learning and memory

But researchers have also found that phosphatidylserine can also reduce depression. 

In one study, supplementing with phosphatidylserine induced consistent improvement of depressive symptoms, memory and behaviour in elderly individuals with depression (121).  

Animal research also shows that phosphatidylserine has antidepressant effects. In fact, the antidepressant effects are more prominent in rats than the cognitive-enhancing effects (122).  

I personally take phosphatidylserine every day. It's included in the Optimal Brain supplement

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21. Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Hericium Erinaceus – better known as lion’s mane mushroom – is an edible mushroom with numerous health benefits.  

It’s another one of my favourite supplements for brain health because it reduces inflammation and has antioxidant effects

One study found that it reduced depression in 30 women after 4 weeks of supplementation (120).  

This lion’s mane mushroom supplement is the highest-quality that I could find. I spent a lot of time researching and looking into different sources because not all lion's mane supplements are high-quality and effective, and I settled on this one.  

You can get it here or here

 

22. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a plant that has been used in China for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems. 

It’s one of the top-selling natural supplements in the world, and it’s even a prescription herb in Germany. 

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health because it increases brain blood flow and improves memory, mental energy and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

But researchers have also found that Ginkgo Biloba reduces depression in elderly individuals (123-127).  

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

 

23. Saffron

saffron-best-natural-supplements-proven-reduce-depression-in-2019-good-for-help-vitamins-fatigue-top-mood-enhancing-herbs-herbal-antidepressant-foods-boosters-quick-enhancers-list-happiness-that-work-against-ways-to-fight-anti-treat-research-ncbi-study-pubmed-stack-buy-deal-with-treatment-long-term-support-prevent-overcome-naturally-nutritional-neurotransmitters-improve-remedies-health-essential-diet-dietary-decrease-counter-battle-against-improve-stop.jpg

Saffron is a spice derived from the Crocus sativus plant.  

It has a number of health benefits due to the medicinal compounds within it. 

Researchers have found that saffron is effective at reducing depression in people with mild to moderate depression (127-128).  

More than one study shows that saffron works just as well as SSRI antidepressants, reducing depression without side effects (129-131).  

Saffron has also been shown to inhibit the reuptake of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, similar to pharmaceutical antidepressants (132). 

 

24. Pregnenolone

Pregnenolone is a steroidal hormone naturally manufactured by the body, but it can also be taken as a supplement.  

It’s the precursor to almost all other steroid hormones, including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogens, and cortisol.  

It’s been shown to enhance memory and reduce fatigue. 

But researchers have found that it can also reduce depression.  

Depressed patients often have low pregnenolone levels, but replenishing pregnenolone levels with supplementation significantly reduces symptoms of depression (133-135).  

Whenever I take pregnenolone, it gives me a big boost in brain function and mental energy. It definitely has an effect. But it doesn’t really improve my mood. In fact, if I take it every day, it starts to make me irritable. So I save it and only take it when I need it.   

Plenty of other people have excellent, consistent results with it though. 

If you want to try it, you can get it here

 

25. Dehydroepiandrosterone

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is one of the most abundant circulating steroid hormones in humans. It’s produced in the adrenal glands, the gonads, and the brain, and it’s a precursor to other hormones, including estrogen and testosterone. 

It's also available as a supplement

Research shows that low DHEA levels are significantly associated with increased depressive symptoms, and low DHEA levels are often found in depressed patients (270-271).  

And in multiple studies, supplementing with DHEA has been shown to improve mood and reduce depression (272-273).  

Researchers have found that it works because it impacts the activity of several neurotransmitters involved in depression, including dopamine, serotonin and GABA (274).  

 

26. BONUS: Other Natural Supplements That Can Reduce Depression

Natural_Supplements_For_Depression.jpg

Here are numerous other natural supplements that have also been shown to reduce depression and improve mood in humans.

I didn’t include them in the main list because they aren’t my favourite “go-to” solutions for depression.

Plus, they can be “hit-and-miss” and don’t always work for everyone in every situation.

But research still shows they can be quite effective, so they’re worth considering and giving a shot.  

 

Enjoy This Article? You Might Also Like My FREE Food Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health!

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Fred Hui, MD, CCFP, CAFC

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13 Proven Ways Saunas Can Improve Your Mental Health

When it comes to improving your mental health, some of the simplest strategies can have a huge impact.

Using a sauna regularly is one of them.

Infrared saunas in particular are becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason. 

They have a number of brain and mental health benefits, as discussed in the book Sauna Therapy by Dr. Lawrence Wilson.

However, you don’t necessarily need an infrared sauna to experience health benefits. Even traditional saunas – available at most public gyms, spas and health centres – have a number of beneficial cognitive and psychological effects. 

Once you start using a sauna, you should listen to your body to determine how much time you should spend in it. Start out slowly and increase the length of your sessions over time. Also make sure to drink lots of water before and after each session, and never consume alcohol in combination.

Read on to learn about the 13 ways traditional and infrared saunas can improve your brain and mental health.

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

1. Saunas Improve Mood and Reduce Depression

Saunas can really help people that struggle with depression.

Lots of research shows that they can make you feel euphoric. Saunas are somewhat stressful on the body, so your brain produces and releases more euphoric hormones to deal with it (53-55).

And these changes appear to be semi-permanent (56). 

So if you use a sauna regularly, you'll end up being consistently happy. 

Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, has completed two studies in which he had people with major depression sit in an infrared sauna.

improve-mood-reduce-depression-13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

In his first study, the participants had just one infrared sauna treatment and it reduced their symptoms by about 50%.

In his follow-up study, he found that a single session caused a rapid and powerful antidepressant effect, and the benefits continued for six weeks, which was unexpected. 

He concluded that whole-body hyperthermia holds promise as a safe, rapid-acting, antidepressant treatment with a prolonged therapeutic benefit (57-58). 

Other researchers have looked at the effects of infrared sauna therapy on mildly depressed patients with fatigue, appetite loss, and mental complaints. They found that sauna treatment significantly increased their appetite and reduced their mental complaints (59). 

Whole-body heat therapy has also been shown to reduce depression in cancer patients (60-61).

And other research shows that sweating increases mental satisfaction and energy (62). 

2. Saunas Reduce Anxiety and Stress

Not surprisingly, saunas can also reduce stress and anxiety.

Several studies have shown that regular sauna use lowers levels of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone (49-52). 

In one study, researchers found that using a sauna can reduce both state and trait anxiety (48).

And other research shows that sweating increases relaxation, and reduces feelings of frustration and anxiety (62). 

Here are 21 other ways to reduce cortisol and increase your resilience to stress.

3. Saunas Increase Beta-Endorphins, Relieve Pain and Help Treat Fibromyalgia

Beta-endorphins are pain-relieving compounds that originate within your body. 

Your brain produces and releases these natural painkillers during times of strenuous exercise, emotional stress and pain.

Since saunas are a stressor, the release of endorphins are increased when you spend time in one.

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

Several studies have shown that heat stress and heat exposure in a dry sauna cause a significant increase in beta-endorphin levels (28-32). 

This may explain why research shows that sauna therapy can lessen the pain experienced by patients with fibromyalgia, a chronic syndrome characterized by widespread pain with tenderness in specific areas.

In one study, people with fibromyalgia experienced a 33 to 77 per cent reduction in pain after using an infrared sauna regularly. Six months after the study was done, the participants still reported a 28 to 66 per cent reduction in pain (35). 

Other researchers have found the same thing and concluded that infrared sauna therapy is effective for the treatment of fibromyalgia (33-34). 

Another way to relieve pain is by taking DL-Phenylalanine. It’s an amino acid that inhibits the breakdown of endorphins. I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it here.

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4. Saunas Increase Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a naturally-occurring protein in the brain that lowers your risk of mental disease and improves your mood. It does this by protecting and repairing your brain cells and increasing the growth of new brain cells. Many researchers consider it a natural antidepressant because it can reduce anxiety and depression (5-13, 15).

Research suggests that if you struggle with mental illness, you likely have reduced levels of BDNF. But luckily, there are ways to boost it.

Using a sauna is one of the ways. 

Research shows that heat exposure increases the expression of BDNF (14). 

I previously provided 21 other ways to boost BDNF in this post

5. Saunas Increase Norepinephrine Levels and May Help Treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Norepinephrine, also called noradrenaline, is a hormone and neurotransmitter in the brain that can help with focus and attention.

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

Numerous studies have found that sauna use significantly increases norepinepherine levels (39-42). 

In one study, women spent 20 minutes in a sauna, two times each week, and researchers witnessed an 86% increase in norepinephrine (43). 

In another study, men that stayed in a sauna until exhaustion increased their norepinephrine levels by 310% (44-45). 

Besides increasing norepinephrine, heat stress also increases your body’s ability to store norepinephrine for later release (46). 

Medications that increase the reuptake norepinephrine are often prescribed to people with ADHD, so researchers believe that sauna therapy should be considered as an alternative treatment (47). 

6. Saunas Encourage the Growth of Myelin

Myelin is a fatty, white substance that wraps around the end of many nerve cells. It forms an electrically insulating sheath that increases nerve condition speeds.

In other words, it allows your brain to send information faster and more efficiently, making it absolutely essential for the optimal functioning of your nervous system.

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

Heat stress increases prolactin, a hormone that promotes the production of myelin (16-19). 

In one study, researchers had healthy young men stay in a sauna until they were exhausted, and they reported a 10-fold increase in prolactin (20-11). 

In another study, women spent 20 minutes sauna, two times each week, and researchers witnessed a 510% increase in prolactin (22). 

I previously provided 25 other ways to promote the growth of myelin in this post

Other than using a sauna, my favourite way to increase myelin is by taking this lion’s mane mushroom supplement. It’s helped me a lot. You can get it here or here

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7. Saunas Reduce the Risk of Dementia

Dementia is obviously a major concern today. 

It’s the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cardiovascular disease and cancer, and by 2050, it’s estimated that 13 million Americans and 160 million people globally will be affected by the disease (63).

There is currently a lack of effective treatment options, so simple tools to help with prevention are crucial.

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

It turns out that sauna therapy may be one of these tools.

Researchers tracked the health of more than 2,300 men in Finland for about 20 years. The men who used a sauna four to seven times each week had a 66 percent lower chance of developing dementia than men who used a sauna just once a week (64-68). 

We have taken into account other lifestyle factors, like physical activity and socioeconomic factors. There is an independent effect of sauna.
— Dr. Jari Laukkanen, Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Eastern Finland

I previously provided some other ways to reverse cognitive decline and dementia in this post

Intranasal insulin can also help. 

8. Saunas Reduce Psychological Symptoms of Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa, or simply known as anorexia, is an eating disorder characterized by a low weight, fear of gaining weight, a strong desire to be thin, and food restriction.

Researchers have examined the effects of sweating on anorexia and reported positive effects on hyperactivity, depression, and stress levels (27). 

9. Saunas Reduce Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex, incapacitating illness. It affects millions of people around the world and may affect up to 4 million people in the United States alone. 

People struggling with this disorder not only have unrelenting fatigue lasting for 6 months or more, but also memory and concentration deficits, sleep disturbances, headaches, joint and muscle pain, and gastrointestinal and immune system dysfunction.

13-proven-ways-saunas-can-improve-your-mental-mealth-dry-hot-benefits-depression-anxiety-stress-endorphins-pain-fibromyalgia-bdnf-neurogenesis-norepinephrine-adhd-myelin-dementia-anorexia-chronic-fatigue-tension-headaches-heavy-metals-mercury-sleep-thyroid-hypothyroidism-study-sitting

One study found that infrared sauna sessions significantly reduce fatigue in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. It also significantly reduced their anxiety and depression (23). 

I've had some clients with chronic fatigue say that their doctor recommended they stay out of the sun and avoid exposing themselves to too much heat. But the above study didn't find any negative effects in chronic fatigue patients from regular infrared sauna sessions (23). 

Another study found that daily infrared sauna sessions dramatically improved symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, including fatigue, pain and sleep disturbances. The patients in the study didn’t improve with prednisolone, a steroid medication, but did improve with sauna therapy (24).

So if you struggle with chronic fatigue, infrared sauna therapy is definitely worth looking into. 

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10. Saunas Reduce Tension Headaches

"Chronic tension-type headache" is a syndrome characterized by frequent headaches that occur more than 15 days every month. 

The intensity and duration of the headaches can be very distressing and disabling and affect a person's well-being.

But research shows that regular sauna use is a simple, self-directed treatment that is effective for reducing headache pain intensity (26). 

11. Saunas Help Eliminate Heavy Metals

Some of the benefits of sauna usage occur because of increased sweating. 

Many people don’t sweat very much, and this can cause problems because your skin acts as an important route of detoxification and helps you excrete heavy metals that are so prevalent in your modern environment. Common heavy metals in our environment include cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury (36, 37). 

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Lack of sweating may actually result in increased toxic load over time, which can negatively affect your brain and mental health.

Research shows that mercury poisoning from dental amalgam affects the mind and emotions and plays a role in the development of mental illness (1). 

But by sweating frequently in a sauna, you can enhance your detoxification pathways and help your body remove mercury (2, 4). 

In fact, studies show that high mercury levels can be reduced to normal levels by using a sauna repeatedly (3). 

Researchers have concluded that “sweat-inducing sauna use can provide a therapeutic method to increase elimination of toxic trace metals and should be the initial and preferred treatment of patients with elevated mercury levels” (38). 

Sweating offers potential and deserves consideration to assist with removal of toxic elements from the body.
— Researchers writing in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health

12. Saunas Increase Deep Sleep

Getting high-quality deep sleep is critical for optimal brain function and mental health. 

And using a sauna regularly is one way to improve it. 

Researchers in Finland report that sauna use is one of the factors that can result in deeper, more restful sleep (25). 

Some other ways to promote sleep include blocking out blue light before bed, taking this sleep supplement, lying on an acupressure mat, supplementing with magnesium, collagen and melatonin if necessary, and blacking  out your room with curtains or wearing a sleep mask.

13. Saunas Support Thyroid Function

Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck below your Adam’s apple, and lots of research shows that thyroid dysfunction can contribute to mental health problems

One of the main threats to the health of your thyroid is non-biological halogens. These include bromine, fluorine, chlorine, and perchlorate, which are often found in tap water.

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Your thyroid doesn’t know the difference these halogens and iodine, a trace mineral necessary for proper thyroid function.

Your thyroid soaks up the halogens and uses them like iodine. By occupying iodine receptors, they inhibit the production of your thyroid hormones, and contribute to thyroid dysfunction.

But don’t worry – sauna use can help your body excrete halogens (69). 

The more you can excrete the halogens, the more your body will be able to use iodine to produce thyroid hormones.

I also recommend reducing your exposure by filtering your drinking and shower water. Brita filters aren't enough because they don’t remove fluoride. I use this Berkey water filter to make sure I’m drinking the purest water available. It filters everything out of the water. I also use this filter to remove chlorine from my shower water. 

Check out this post for more ways to support your thyroid. 

Conclusion

As you can see, saunas have a number of beneficial effects on the brain and can help you manage and overcome your mental health challenges. 

I’ve been doing a lot of research into saunas recently and have concluded that infrared saunas have additional benefits and are much more gentle and effective than the traditional “hot rock” saunas.

Unfortunately, most infrared saunas emit unsafe levels of electromagnetic fields (EMFs).

However, I did find a company that has a patent on low-EMF infrared saunas. Their saunas are also very well built and have a lifetime warranty. So I'm going to go with one of their saunas. You can get one here

Enjoy This Article? You Might Also Like My FREE Food Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health!

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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(18) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17314279

(19) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00691246

(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553

(21) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2830109

(23) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25748743

(24) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15992574/

(25) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3363395

(26) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25636135

(27) http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0041851

(28) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553

(29) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(30) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3002937

(31) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8061252

(32) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3218898

(33) https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/internalmedicine/47/16/47_16_1473/_pdf

(34) https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/internalmedicine/47/16/47_16_1473/_article

(35) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21742283

(36) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/184745/

(37) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/184745/

(38) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/184745/

(39) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(40) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2830109

(41) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00691246

(42) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15234248

(43) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2830109

(44) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553

(45) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(46) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4008413

(47) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12621106

(48) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18396259

(49) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3788622

(50) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(51) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553

(52) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081

(53) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3002937

(54) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8061252

(55) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3218898

(56) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9103537

(57) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27172277

(58) http://blogs.webmd.com/mental-health/2016/07/can-sitting-in-a-sauna-ease-depression.html

(59) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16046381

(60) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1607735

(61) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/02656739209021785?journalCode=ihyt20

(62) http://digital.library.okstate.edu/etd/umi-okstate-1543.pdf

(63) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24598707/

(64) https://academic.oup.com/ageing/article-abstract/46/2/245/2654230/Sauna-bathing-is-inversely-associated-with

(65) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161216114143.htm

(66) http://www.foxnews.com/health/2017/01/20/sweating-in-sauna-might-help-keep-brain-healthy-finnish-study.html

(67) http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/studies-show-saunas-can-protect-against-heart-brain-diseases-1.3232765

(68) https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201612/frequent-sauna-use-may-reduce-risk-dementia-study-finds

(69) http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2016/09/09/sauna-bathing.aspx

(70) http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/05/04/detoxification-program.aspx

Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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