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Nutritional Therapy | Role of Minerals for Mental Health

This entry was posted in Mental Health and tagged on by .
Medically Reviewed Fact Checked

Last Updated on March 6, 2023 by Diane Ridaeus

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

While there are many other components of recovering mental wellness holistically, one that is commonly overlooked is nutritional therapy. Minerals, in particular, play some vital roles in the support of natural mental health.

Our independently documented success at Alternative to Meds Center, demonstrates clearly that nutrition, including vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients can play vital roles in recovery after prescription drug use, in the recovery from addiction, and in improving mental health without drugs. We’ve been doing it for about 20 years and we are happy to see the trend of nutritional therapy replacing drugs as highlighted more and more in the current medical literature.

nutritional minerals for mental health

Mental Health Requires Adequate Minerals & Other Micronutrients
It is ironic that mineral deficiencies associated with mood, energy, or depression, are often overlooked by professionals often turned to, but who lack the training to know how to help.
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Nutritional Therapy — Minerals Maximize Mental Health Naturally

Minerals are inorganic (non-living) materials that come from the earth. And we can’t live without them! There are about 10,000 known types of minerals, and while some of them are prized for their monetary value, like diamonds and gold, others are prized for maximizing mental health and are vital for supporting physical health. Minerals used for nutritional purposes are needed in very small amounts, measured in milligrams or micrograms. Minerals measured in micrograms are often referred to as trace minerals.

“Micronutrients” refers generally to the entire class of these naturally found substances, including vitamins, amino acids, minerals, trace minerals, and others. The body is designed to absorb and convert micronutrients into bioavailable nutrients, often assisted by co-factors that are used in the production of neurotransmitters, hormones, bones, muscles, red and white blood cells, used to manage cellular interchanges, including hydration and neurotransmission, and many other functions. Every internal system has its own “recipe” for its exact needs for optimum human health. Macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) plus micronutrients including trace minerals provide the full spectrum of nutrition for the human body.

A deficiency of micronutrients may manifest in an incredibly wide range of negative health outcomes that can be discovered by careful testing, and remedied by adjusting their intake. A person can maximize recovery in mental health naturally by ensuring their intake of essential minerals and other micronutrients is sufficiently satisfied with diet and supplementation.16

Minerals, the Microbiome, & the Mechanics of Absorption

The mechanics of absorption should be considered when strategizing how to get the most out of your diet and supplementation planning. Below are some tips to enhance the bioavailability of micronutrients and maximize their mental health benefits.

  • microbiome & mental healthThe microbiota in the gut facilitates the metabolism and bi-directional transport of nutrients. Probiotics (yogurt, fermented foods, sauerkraut, and probiotic supplements) can help ensure the gut has the most beneficial environment needed to efficiently metabolize, absorb, and transport nutrients.3,4,6,9
  • The addition of 1-2 grams of Omega-3 oils has a positive effect on the gut microbiota as well as protecting the integrity of the intestinal lining. Omega-3s have been found therapeutically beneficial both in maintaining a healthy gut and also in the holistic treatment of symptoms such as depression 8,47
  • Drink your orange juice. Citrus juice can enhance the absorption of calcium, and iron is also made more bioavailable with citrus juice.10
  • Vitamin D also plays a major role in maximizing calcium absorption intestinally.11
  • Calcium at 300mg can block about 50% of iron absorption, but the effect is short-lasting. If taken as supplements, this phenomenon can be reduced by taking them at different times.44
  • If you are supplementing with both zinc and copper, take these at different times as zinc can block copper absorption.33
  • “Anti-nutrients” in grains, beans, and legumes can block micronutrient bioavailability. This can be remedied by choosing how these otherwise nutrient-dense foods are prepared. Boiling, pressure cooking, fermenting, soaking, roasting, and sprouting can significantly reduce the inhibitory effects of factors like phytic acids, lectins, and others, that block the absorption of their nutritional micronutrients like calcium, iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, and macronutrients.43
  • Low intake of copper, zinc, and manganese is particularly associated with depression and anxiety symptoms. With proper food choices, as well as the most beneficial food preparation methods, and supplementation where needed, adequate absorption of these micronutrients can be easily obtained.46

14 Essential Minerals Used in Nutritional Therapy for Mental Health

There are about 10,000 different minerals and trace minerals found on earth, of which 14 examples are listed below. These have been studied to discover their roles in human health and mental well-being. These are not being shown as diagnostic or treatment recommendations, but for educational purposes only. Since the science of nutrition is largely ignored in mainstream medical training, it seems constructive to learn as much as possible about this important topic that is so relevant to our modern circumstances.1-3.5-7

At Alternative to Meds Center, testing is used to determine many pre-treatment factors, and nutritional status is a significant pillar used in designing a client’s program. Below is a list of some minerals that you probably have heard of, and perhaps would like to know a bit more about. Further in the article, you can find a more detailed description of each one, including how they work, what they are designed to do, and how to tailor your daily diet to help make sure they are working optimally for you!

These are 14 minerals considered essential for good health, including:
  • minerals essential for mental healthCalcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Sulfur
  • Chloride
  • Sodium
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Selenium
  • Zinc
  • Iodine
  • Manganese
  • Molybdenum

Nutritional Therapy & Minerals for Mental Health — the Wider Picture

While there are many factors to include in mental health support, the importance of a correct diet and a thorough nutritional analysis as effective strategies should not be overlooked. Minerals and other micronutrients are in themselves, an extraordinary and intricate set of working pieces — but only part of the overall picture. The body itself is an extraordinarily astonishing complexity of molecules, chemistry, cells, organs, and systems that somehow all aim to cohere into a functioning human body. When these interactions are not supported by the proper “fuel,” both physical and mental health problems can arise with some measure of predictability where nutrition is concerned. Below is a very brief description of some of the essential pieces of the puzzle that are considered vital for human health, and their roles in supporting mental health naturally, in today’s world.1-5,7

Minerals — The Mechanics of How They Benefit Mental Health Naturally

Calcium and Neurotransmission

The essential mineral calcium regulates neurotransmission synthesis and release, which is a key factor in mood regulation. For example, calcium is needed for the production and release of serotonin and its precursor, melatonin. Bioavailable calcium from dairy products is an excellent choice. Supplementation of 1000mg of calcium daily in women was found associated with a 46% decrease in colon and other cancers. Negative mood, irritability, stress, rumination, poor psychological resilience, and anxiety are associated with inadequate calcium intake. A cautionary note from clinical studies shows that for men, in particular, too much calcium may contribute to cardiac issues.22,23

Magnesium:  One of the Most Essential Minerals

magnesium food sourcesMagnesium is considered one of the MOST essential minerals for human health. The NIH recommends an adult consume between 300-400mg daily. Magnesium regulates the fluidity of neuronal membranes which is thought related to why other deficiencies (i.e., potassium, calcium) are sometimes associated with a deficiency in magnesium. Many conditions are seen to improve when such a deficiency is remedied, including premenstrual tension, migraines, alcoholism, seizures, nausea, and personality changes, such as agitated depression. Although the exact mechanisms of action are not yet understood, it is known that magnesium is a co-factor that interacts with about 300 enzyme systems that play important roles in neuronal health and proper function.

Foods high in magnesium include pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, spinach, cereals, and potatoes. Over-consumption of magnesium may lead to diarrhea and abdominal cramping but is rarely of great concern as the kidneys flush out excess magnesium in the urine.24

Phosphorus:  The Work Horse of Minerals

Phosphorus functions in the construction of cellular membranes and other structures of the body. It is also a key source of ATP, or the body’s energy fuel for anything that requires movement, from muscle contractions to the movement of blood, to chemical synthesis.

Phosphorus is rarely found deficient because so many foods supply it, such as milk, yogurt, and other dairy products, meats, other animal products, breads and baked goods, vegetables, fish, eggs, nuts, and other common foods. Fruits provide some phosphorus, but not as much as vegetables. Phosphorus contained in unleavened bread and raw seeds is not very bioavailable. Animal products provide the highest level of absorption. For example, 90% of the phosphorus in milk is absorbed by infants, compared to between 40-70% of that from vegetables. Though processed foods are not recommended for other reasons, even these are high in phosphorus, which is frequently added during processing. Phosphorus is highly bioavailable from most of the aforementioned food sources, and only in cases of severe malnutrition or prematurely born infants, might supplementation be required.

Where overconsumption occurs, cardiovascular disorders have been reported as a risk, however, deficiency is rarely seen. And thank goodness because phosphorus is so vital for LIFE! 25

Potassium:  Essential in Many Aspects Affecting Mental Health

Another essential mineral is potassium which works in tandem with other minerals like sodium, in regulating some of the most vital functions of a healthy body including hydration, preventing blood clotting, transporting nutrients into the cells, and many others. Adults need about 2500-3500mg daily, which can be achieved through diet and supplementation if needed.

Potassium is highly bioavailable in a wide range of foods including fruits, dried fruits, meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, beans, and nuts. Despite it being so prevalent in the normal diet, deficiency is quite common, especially during pregnancy, or after physical exertion that causes loss through excessive sweating. A severe deficiency, called hypokalemia, may cause decreased brain function, memory impairment, confusion, muscle weakness or paralysis, irregular heartbeat, and even first-episode psychosis, and other undesirable conditions. Protect your mental health by ensuring an adequate daily intake of potassium.26,27

Sulfur:  The Master Conductor

Sulfur is like the conductor of the body’s complex orchestra of enzymes. It is the seventh most abundant essential nutrient found in the healthy human body. It is found in both plant and animal proteins, and a deficiency is considered a common risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke where insufficient levels of protein are consumed. Vegetarians should aim for sufficient plant-based proteins from foods such as legumes, seeds, and nuts. Eggs and dairy are other good options for some who follow a meatless diet.

Enzyme regulation is an important area of human health that is being researched for impacts on mental wellness.  Dysregulation in enzymes is associated with psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety and depression, according to a number of interesting studies published in the 2014 BMC Journal of Psychiatry, and in the 2020 The Cells Journal.28,48

Chloride and Synaptic Response

Dietary chloride is partially available from common food choices including meats, vegetables, and dairy. However, daily needs are most reliably obtained through sodium chloride or table salt. The mechanisms of action of chloride include proper synaptic response, cellular osmosis, (the distribution of fluids and nutrients between cells), muscular and nervous system regulation, and many other vital functions in balance with sodium, potassium, and electrolytes. Keeping chloride in balance is a function of a healthy gut.

Chloride dysfunction has been implicated in some psychiatric and neurologic disorders and is an important essential nutrient for mental health. Rarely is it found insufficient in the West. In countries where chloride levels are insufficient, diarrhea and gastrointestinal disorders, slow growth, lethargy, and irritability are more prevalent, especially in infants breastfeeding from chloride-deficient mothers.30,31

Sodium (salt)

salt required for mental healthSalt is an essential mineral that regulates fluids in the body. Too much or too little can be problematic. Hyponatremia is a health emergency condition, as in “heat exhaustion,” where too little salt is present and can cause neurologic symptoms such as swelling in the brain, seizures, and coma.

Too much salt, on the other hand, can injure vital organs such as the kidneys, the immune system, the brain, and the heart. Table salt and sea salt contain equivalent amounts of sodium. However, sea salt also contains trace amounts of calcium, magnesium, and potassium, and though lacking the aforementioned bonus minerals, table salt is usually fortified with iodine, as a preventative measure against goiter. For non-iodized salt lovers, consider adding foods or supplements that can bridge any iodine gap. More on food sources for iodine can be found below in the section on Iodine.

Salt has historically been called “white gold,” and was considered highly valuable for barter and trade. It was used to preserve food and in the healing of wounds. Wars were fought over access to salt. Roman soldiers were sometimes paid a “salarium,” or salt allowance. This is thought to be where the modern word salary comes from. How fortunate we are today that salt is so easily procured.17-21

Iron:  Notes on Vitamin C and Absorption

Though dietary iron is a trace mineral that is needed only in very tiny amounts, it is essential for healthy blood, and for producing hormones. While most people get enough iron from a good daily diet, a deficiency is not uncommon for certain populations such as pregnant women, infants born to mothers with deficient iron, and those who are suffering from certain chronic or severe conditions such as cancer. People who frequently donate blood or those with hereditary conditions that block iron absorption are also sometimes iron deficient. Notable symptoms of a deficiency include gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, mental confusion, and anemia. Iron is normally warehoused over time in the muscles and bones, providing a reliable supply for when it is needed. A varied selection of foods in the daily diet such as meats, fish, poultry, spinach, and other greens, beans, lentils, and cereals fortified with iron, can maintain adequate stores of dietary iron. Iron is more easily absorbed along with foods containing vitamin C, such as citrus fruit, strawberries, and broccoli. Calcium may block some iron absorption, so if you are taking both iron and calcium supplements, they should be taken at different times.32,44

Copper and the Nervous System

Dietary copper is another important trace mineral. Trace minerals are measured in tiny fractions of a milligram called micrograms. One microgram is 1/1000th of one milligram. Though only very small amounts are required, you may be surprised at how many vital functions copper is responsible for in a healthy body. Copper is needed for energy production, building connective tissues and blood vessels, activating genes, and supporting both the immune system and the nervous systems.

Copper is also needed for brain development. Though rare, a severe deficiency of copper can result in neurological conditions, such as the loss of balance and muscle coordination. Skin disorders and other health problems arising from a copper deficiency may include susceptibility to infection and weakened bones. Persons with celiac disease and those with certain genetic disorders may be at greater risk of deficiency because of malabsorption. Very high levels of zinc supplements may also block copper absorption. Some examples of dietary choices that provide copper include liver, shellfish, beef, potatoes, tofu, avocados, mushrooms, nuts, and chickpeas.33,34

Selenium:  Trace Mineral in Nutritional Therapy

Selenium is another powerful trace mineral that is only needed in small amounts. An adult might need 55mcg daily, and a pregnant or nursing mother may need 60-70mcg daily. But this microscopically tiny amount has a wide range of functions including DNA production, protection against free radicals and infection, as well as reproduction and proper thyroid function. A deficiency of selenium can dysregulate these systems and can also induce cognitive decline.

Just by including eggs, dairy, meats, seafood, breads, and grains, you can provide the body with adequate selenium daily.35

Zinc:  Powerhouse of Healing

zinc essential in mental healthZinc and selenium have similar protective properties throughout all the cells of the body, but zinc requirements are measured in milligrams, not mcg. Adults need around 8-10mg per day. Zinc provides protection against infectious bacteria and viruses, and is used in building DNA, supporting growth, building protein, and helping in the healing of wounds. For the common cold, taking zinc at the beginning of onset can help you get better quicker. That is why zinc is commonly available in over-the-counter lozenges for sore throat and other cold symptoms. Zinc supplements are used to help lessen the risk of pneumonia in children, and have been used in lowering health risks in HIV patients.

Besides its role in physical health, zinc is an important mineral for mental health. Published studies authored by Cope and Levenson show that zinc deficiency is prevalent in the development of depression and mood disorders, but also that zinc has demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of depression and mood disorders.45

A deficiency of zinc is associated with the loss of taste and smell, reproductive issues, chronic diarrhea, hair loss, and frequent infections. An ample supply of zinc can be obtained from dietary sources such as shellfish like lobster, oysters, and crab, as well as from grains, breads, meat, fish, beans, eggs, nuts, and poultry. Where needed, supplementary forms are readily available.36,37

Iodine and Neurological Health

Iodine is a dietary-sourced essential mineral that is found in foods grown in iodine-rich soils, as well as tuna, shrimp, cod, and others, Milk, yogurt, eggs, and other dairy products are also good sources of dietary iodine. Other sources include iodized salt and over-the-counter supplements. Trace amounts are needed to ensure proper cognitive development and for the production of thyroid hormones that are essential for neurological health, proper metabolism, reproductive health, growth, and many other functions.

Where soils are depleted of iodine, or for those who do not use iodized salt, or eat dairy or other foods as listed above, supplemental iodine is readily available as a food-grade oral supplement. Himalayan salt, Kosher salt, and salt used in much of today’s processed foods contains no iodine.

A deficiency of iodine (especially in childhood or severely deficient cases) may result in neurological deficits, hypothyroidism, enlarged thyroid gland, intellectual disability, lower-than-average IQ, and other developmental problems. Iodine is used in topical antiseptics for minor cuts and wounds. A version of iodine called potassium iodide (not the iodine used topically as an antiseptic for minor cuts and wounds) can be taken orally in tablet form to block thyroid damage due to radiation exposure. Because accidental radiation exposure may occur unexpectedly, it would be advisable to keep some on hand for protection against such an unpredictable event.38,39

Manganese (Diet-sourced)

Manganese is needed for growth, development of bone structure, blood clotting, and to support a strong immune system.

Manganese is another essential mineral that is measured in milligrams, but only very low doses are needed. An adult dose of 1-2mg/day is recommended. Diet-sourced manganese or manganese obtained from supplements has never been associated with ill effects. However, non-dietary manganese exposure at high levels such as from breathing in the dust during mining, welding, or other industrial exposure can result in tremors, spasmodic muscle movements, depression, insomnia, and other problems. Nutritional therapy and minerals for mental health improvement would never bring about such undesirable outcomes as delivery is safely achieved through diet or micronutrient supplementation. 

A deficiency in manganese may present as weak bones, slow growth, rashes, loss of hair color, mood swings, and menstrual difficulties. Foods such as whole grains, shellfish, nuts, seeds, leafy greens like spinach and kale, black pepper, pineapple, blueberries, and tea are good sources of this mineral.40

Molybdenum:  Nutritional Therapy and Holistic Detox

Molybdenum is an essential nutrient that is instrumental in breaking down toxins such as drugs and other poisons from the body. After prescription drug use, the body can detox (get rid of) neurotoxic residues and adequate molybdenum can help. An adult only needs a very small amount, around 45-50mcg daily. Molybdenum interacts with a number of enzymes, which the body uses in the production of energy, proteins, and DNA.

Dietary sources of this amazing mineral include dairy, beef, chicken, eggs, and legumes such as lima beans and black-eyed peas, as well as bananas, leafy veggies, whole grains, rice, and potatoes.

Deficiency of molybdenum has only been recorded in the rare case of a genetic disorder called molybdenum co-factor deficiency, which blocks the body’s use of molybdenum. This condition has only been recorded in infants and results in death within a few days of birth. Otherwise, molybdenum deficiency is virtually nonexistent. Through a varied selection of food choices and supplementation where needed, adequate levels of molybdenum play an essential role in the process of detox and other important functions.41

Nutritional Therapy & Minerals for Mental Health Naturally at Alternative to Meds Center

For nearly 20 years, Alternative to Meds Center has been a leader in providing holistic, nutritional therapy for our clients. Whether you are suffering from symptoms like depression, anxiety, insomnia, or other undesirable conditions, or whether prescription drug use left you in limbo and still suffering, we are here to help.

Please call us today for more information about how nutritional therapies are some of the most popular at the center including correcting deficiencies in micronutrients and minerals to maximize mental health naturally. You can find out more about lab testing and the many individual components of the program on our services overview pages. You will find a wealth of holistic therapies from neurotoxin removal to equine therapy, CBTIV therapy, and much, much more. Our services are delivered inpatient in a pristine facility that is designed for a comfortable and pleasant stay with us. Be sure to ask us about insurance coverage that may make your entry to the program very affordable. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Originally Published March 6, 2023 by Diane Ridaeus

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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Nutritional Therapy | Role of Minerals for Mental Health
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