5 Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Mental Health Problems

Nutritional Deficiencies

By Karen Mayo

Mental and physical health can be dramatically improved with a nutrient-dense, healthy diet. Many times, deficiency of essential vitamins and minerals can compromise brain function and increase symptoms of depression, irritability, anxiety, and more.

Understand the Signs of Nutritional Deficiencies

Mental health disorders can be caused by various factors such as psychological, biological, genetic, environmental, and circumstantial. Nutritional deficiencies are the most overlooked biological element to someone’s mental well-being.

Nutritional deficiencies are the most overlooked biological element to someone’s mental well-being. Click To Tweet

Getting a complete blood panel is the best way to know because deficiencies are extremely unique to each person. Healthy eating and nutritional care increase mental and physical health. If a patient or client’s diet doesn’t comprise nutrient-rich foods, consider suggesting nutritional supplements for the following top 5 nutrients needed for optimal brain function.

5 Nutrients Needed for Optimal Brain Function

Vitamin D regulates the production of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine, and plays a vital role as an important hormone for brain function. Vitamin D deficiency manifests in a variety of ways including fatigue, muscle weakness, hair loss, back pain, poor skin healing, bone pain, and mood changes.

Foods to Recommend: A diet rich in vitamin D natural sources such as eggs, fatty fish (such as sock-eyed salmon or trout), mushrooms, fortified foods (like brown rice), goat cheese, and gluten-free oats should be consumed.

Vitamin B deficiency (B1, B6, B7, B12, B complex) can contribute to depression, anxiety, and mood swings. It is associated with a disruption in the nervous system as well as the circulatory system. B12/B9, or folate, is at the forefront of mood management. People fighting depression tend to have lower levels of folate (B12/B9) in the blood.

Foods to Recommend: Folate is present in dark green vegetables, beans, peas, citrus fruits, and legumes (such as lentils and garbanzo beans).

The deficiency of magnesium is known to increase many symptoms related to mental disorders, such as agitation, anxiety, irritability, confusion, insomnia, headache, hallucinations, and depression.

Foods to Recommend: Include magnesium-rich foods, such as pumpkin seeds, dark organic chocolate (plus 72%), and almonds, into the diet at least three times a day to help alleviate some stress.

Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for brain function, supporting mental sharpness, and positive mood. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation.

Foods to Recommend: Oily fish (such as sock-eyed salmon or cod) are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats can also be found in flaxseeds and walnuts; this is the work of divine intervention—walnuts look like the brain.

Probiotic is by far the most ignored deficiency that creates the worst symptoms that affect millions of people worldwide. Probiotics are a mix of live bacteria and yeast that live naturally in the human gastrointestinal tract that promote healthy digestion, support a healthy response to stress, promote positive mood and emotional balance. Mental health issues that have been linked to an unhealthy gut include ADD/ADHD, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Physical issues include autoimmune problems (such as thyroid issues and arthritis disorders), digestive issues (such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, or bloating), sleep issues, skin rashes, allergies, and the rollercoaster of sugar cravings.

Foods to Recommend: Probiotics support the important gut/brain connection. Probiotic foods are organic yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, non-GMO miso, kombucha (be aware of sugar content), and pickles.

Just like anything else please do due diligence, more is not always better.

Karen Mayo is an Amen Clinics Integrative Nutritionist, a board-certified integrative nutrition health and lifestyle coach, the author of three books including the international bestseller Mindful Eating, a natural foods chef, and a certified hypnotherapist.

Nutrition suggestions are an important part of the Amen Clinics Method and are included in your full evaluation, yet we also offer comprehensive, one-on-one nutrition consultations, facilitated by trained dieticians and nutritionists at Amen Clinics. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Surprised you didn’t mention zinc!

    Comment by Susan — May 19, 2022 @ 11:36 AM

  2. What kind of pickles? Branston pickle? Pickled onions? Pickles themselves?

    Comment by Amanda — June 24, 2022 @ 3:59 AM

  3. Very surprised that you did not explain that as people get older and have poor digestive systems or take proton pump inhibitors or just plain age that they do not absorb these nutrients from their food as well as many others. Also you did not suggest how much food would be needed to bring a deficient person up to an optimal not minimal range. Supplementation was ignored and should be clarified that it must be high quality not big box garbage.

    Comment by Roberta Marten — June 24, 2022 @ 7:48 AM

  4. I am allergic to all fish, nuts and seeds. How do I get omega 3??

    Comment by Ellie Hardister — June 24, 2022 @ 1:46 PM

  5. The article is a great start to figuring out your basic deficiencies. I have shared this article plenty. I would love to see a follow up article with a follow up list of the next most important vitamins and minerals missing from our diets and food. Thanks

    Comment by Amie B — November 30, 2022 @ 12:19 PM

  6. I would like to see what supplements are recommended for those who cannot eat certain foods along with what probiotics to focus on.

    Comment by Kelly — January 1, 2023 @ 3:08 AM

  7. Interesting

    Comment by Theresa Okon — January 3, 2023 @ 2:27 AM

  8. Hello Kelly, thank you for reaching out. For information about Dr. Daniel Amen's recommended, brain-directed supplements, please visit https://brainmd.com/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 9, 2023 @ 9:23 AM

  9. Taking the right probiotic is crucial. Also the foods you listed are high in histamines. So if thete is an unbalance of histamines in the gut you want to stay away from food, drink with histamines until the gut is healed, balanced. Correct? Taking a probiotic that doesn't have histamines or trigger histamines. I've been researching the gut for family members. And how silly we are to just throw stuff down our throats. What is beneficial for one person is NOT for another. Thoughts?

    Comment by Kathy Johnson — March 28, 2023 @ 9:43 AM

  10. Help With My Nerves

    Comment by Darlene Campbell — May 12, 2023 @ 7:38 AM

  11. Hello Darlene, if you'd like more information about brain SPECT scans and our services please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 19, 2023 @ 10:41 AM

  12. Do you know of any specific B complex brands that will ensure I can get all of the B vitamins mentioned in a one or two pill dose?

    Comment by Laverne — June 24, 2023 @ 10:57 AM

  13. Thank you for reaching out. For more information about Dr. Daniel Amen's recommended supplements, visit https://brainmd.com/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 26, 2023 @ 2:08 PM

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