Minerals are inorganic micronutrients that are required for normal growth and function. This includes brain function as well and therefore mood! It is hard to find rock-solid scientific evidence to support minerals for the treatment of depression, but I did a dive into the literature and found what I could. Most of the vitamins and minerals seem to have a “Goldilocks” effect. Too little of a vitamin or mineral is bad, but too much can be bad as well. Staying in the middle is just right for optimal health.
Chromium is a mineral that the body needs in small amounts. It is used to enhance the effects of insulin and is involved in macronutrient metabolism.
A trial compared placebo to chromium in atypical depression. 15 patients were included in the study. The patients were asked to stop their regular antidepressant medications before the trial. 70% of the chromium patients responded compared to 0% in the placebo group. The HAM-D depression scale was used and some patients had huge drops in depression symptoms. One patient went from a score of 35 (very severe depression) to 3 (normal)!
Before you go to the store to find Chromium, a larger trial of 113 patients compared Chromium picolinate 600mug/day vs placebo and found no difference in improvements on the HAM-D score between groups.
Foods with Chromium:
Broccoli, grape juice, English muffin, potatoes, garlic, basil (via the National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements)
Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland does not produce as many hormones as it normally should. One of the symptoms of hypothyroidism is depression. In fact, one of the most famous trials on depression (STAR-D), with multiple arms and stages, had a thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine, as one of the treatments of depression. So how does iodine come into play? The thyroid takes iodine and converts it into thyroid hormones such as thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
I could not find trials to support iodine supplementation for the treatment of depression, but proper thyroid health does play a role in depression and the thyroid needs iodine to work properly.
Foods with Iodine:
Seaweed, cod, yogurt, iodized salt, milk (via the National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements)
Iron is essential for the function of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen through the blood to all parts of the body. For this reason, one of the most common symptoms of anemia is fatigue. Iron deficiency anemia is linked to depression but, too much iron can promote free radical production.
A study subjected rats to chronic stress. The rats were treated with different strengths of iron. The moderate dosing group showed smaller decreases of BDNF levels and prevented depressive-like behaviors in the stressed rats. BDNF is short for brain-derived neurotrophic factor and can be thought of as a fertilizer for brain cells.
Foods with Iron:
Fortified breakfast cereals, oysters, white beans, dark chocolate, beef liver, lentils, spinach, tofu, kidney beans (via the National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements)
Lithium is an old treatment for mental illness. In fact, really old to still have survived as an accepted treatment. I see its use as a prescription medication for bipolar disorder in doses from 300 to 900mg all the time. Lithium orotate is also available over the counter at a small dose of 5mg.
References for the use of lithium go back to the 1800s. In 1870 a Philadelphia neurologist used lithium as an anticonvulsant and a hypnotic. In 1894, a Danish psychiatrist used lithium to treat melancholic depression. Lithium is still used today. Mostly it is used for bipolar disorder, but sometimes it is used in depression as well. In fact, the famous depression study, STAR-D, had a lithium augmentation treatment arm.
Foods with Lithium:
Lentils, tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers, cabbage
Selenium is a trace element that is needed by the body. It is required for the functioning of several proteins and is involved in proper antioxidant defense.
A study looked at Selenium levels and depression in young adults. 978 people aged 17-25 were reviewed. The patients with the lowest Selenium and to a lesser extent, highest Selenium, had more depressive symptoms than those with normal Selenium levels.
Foods with Selenium:
Brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, sardines, ham, shrimp, cottage cheese, brown rice, eggs (via the National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements)
Zinc is a mineral that is used by over 100 enzymes in the body for various reactions. It is needed for immune function, protein synthesis, DNA synthesis and more.
An interesting trial out of Iran looked at treating depression in overweight patients. The patients either received 30mg of Zinc or placebo daily. Depression scores were tracked with the Beck Depression Inventory. After 12 weeks, serum Zinc and BDNF levels increased in the Zinc treated group. Also, depression scores decreased significantly more in the Zinc group compared to the placebo group.
Foods with Zinc:
Oysters, beef, crab, fortified breakfast cereals, baked beans, yogurt, cashews (via the National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements)
How I found and addressed my own dietary issues
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1. Davidson JR, Abraham K, Connor KM et al. Effectiveness of chromium in atypical depression: a placebo-controlled trial. Biol Psychiatry. 2003 Feb 1;53(3):261-4.
2. Docherty JP, Sack DA, Roffman M, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, exploratory trial of chromium picolinate in atypical depression: effect on carbohydrate craving. J Psychiatr Pract. 2005 Sep;11(5):302-14.
3. Mehrpouya S, Nahavandi A, Khojasteh F, et al. Iron administration prevents BDNF decrease and depressive-like behavior following chronic stress. Brain Res. 2015 Jan 30;1596:79-87.
4. Shorter E. The history of lithium therapy. Bipolar Disord. 2009 Jun; 11(Suppl 2): 4–9.
5. Conner TS, Richardson AC, Miller JC. Optimal serum selenium concentrations are associated with lower depressive symptoms and negative mood among young adults. J Nutr. 2015 Jan;145(1):59-65.
6. Solati Z, Jazayeri S, Tehrani-Doost M, et al. Zinc monotherapy increases serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels and decreases depressive symptoms in overweight or obese subjects: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Nutr Neurosci. 2015 May;18(4):162-8.