The Connection Between Diet And Mental Health: Part 2

In Part 1 of our Diet and Mental Health series, you learnt how the dietary choices you make have a strong impact on your mood by affecting inflammation, blood sugar regulation and hormone balance.

This week, we look at some causes of mood disorders that involve more of a genetic or inherited component, but can still be modified by nutrition.

Keep in mind – in most cases genetics have only been found to influence a person’s risk of developing a mood disorder by 30-40%. The other 60-70% goes back to environmental influences on mood and health.

This is a positive and empowering finding as it confirms that we can significantly affect our mental wellbeing through dietary and lifestyle choices!


What Is A Mood Disorder? 

Australia’s national Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing in 2009 found that 20% of Australian adults aged 16-85 had suffered a mental health issue in the previous 12 months.

That means a staggering 1 in 5 Australians has been affected by a mental health condition, and these figures are likely to be reflected worldwide.

Mood disorders are mental health conditions which significantly affect an individual’s emotions and ability to function in everyday life. They are more severe than general ups and downs in emotion many of us experience on a day to day basis.

Common types of mood disorder include anxiety, depression, dysthymia (mild but chronic depression) and bipolar disorder.



Pyroluria is a genetic blood disorder in which there are elevated amounts of kryptopyroles in the body, formed as a byproduct of haemoglobin synthesis.

Although kryptopyroles appear to be inactive compounds they reduce vitamin B6 and zinc absorption and block their receptor sites leading to deficiency.

As these nutrients are essential for the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and other mood disorders are common in pyroluria.

Testing for pyroluria is affordable and easy, and nutritional supplementation can effectively manage the condition in most cases. Find out more here.

Diet Dos

Increase your intake of Vitamin B6 and Zinc from sources such as organic meats, poultry and eggs, wild fish, legumes, gluten-free whole grains and soaked nuts and seeds – particularly pumpkin seeds.

Additional nutrients such as magnesium, vitamin C, manganese, and vitamin B3 and B5 may also be beneficial for pyroluria, read more about this here. 

Diet Don’ts

Avoid processed, stimulating and high-sugar foods such as alcohol, coffee, soft drinks and packaged foods.

These foods and beverages will cause depletion of nutrients involved in nervous system health and pyroluria management, as well as increasing the oxidative and inflammatory load on the body.


Methylation Abnormalities

Several research studies have found that high levels of homocysteine are related to depressive disorders, cerebrovascular disease and disturbances of neurotransmitter levels.

Supplementation with vitamin B12, folate and B6 helps to restore the normal balance of homocysteine in the body as these nutrients are vital for the processing of homocysteine to less harmful compounds in a process known as methylation.

Homocysteine levels can be determined via blood testing. 

Genetic mutations to the MTHFR gene can also disrupt folate metabolism resulting in elevated homocysteine levels. These mutations are becoming more commonly recognised, and can be detected through a simple genetic test.


Diet Dos

Enhance methylation pathways by including Vitamin B6, B12 and folate-rich foods in your daily diet. These include green leafy veggies, legumes and organic or grass-fed meats and algae such as spirulina for Vitamin B12.

Choline from eggs, organ meats (eg. liver), dairy and lecithin is a methyl-donor which also assists with homocysteine metabolism and helps to reduce the harmful effects of stress on the body.

Supplementation with the nutritional compound, SAMe, shows significant benefits in depression as it is involved in methylation, may help to enhance neurotransmission in the brain and influences the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters. Speak to your Healthcare Practitioner before supplementing with SAMe.


Diet Don’ts¬†

Again, it’s essential to avoid processed, stimulating and high-sugar foods such as alcohol, coffee, soft drinks and packaged foods.

B-Vitamins are water soluble, so are easily depleted drinking a lot of diuretic beverages, regular or intense exercise and sweating. They are also used up more rapidly during periods of stress.

Vegetarian diets may not provide adequate amounts of all of the methylation nutrients, particularly B12 so if you are vegan or vegetarian, consider supplementing with a B-Complex and get your nutrient levels tested yearly.


The Monoamine (Neurotransmitter) Theory

The monoamine theory of mood disorders is widely researched and forms the current medical model for depression in particular.

It is based on the hypothesis that depression is caused by depletion of one or more monoamines (neurotransmitters) responsible for mood regulation, namely serotonin, dopamine or noradrenaline.

It has been found that deficiency of specific nutrients involved in neurotransmitter synthesis can lead to the clinical features of depression and associated mood disorders, including poor concentration and memory, fatigue, aggressiveness, anxiety, stress, insomnia, irritability and poor motivation amongst others.

Therefore, correction of nutritional deficiencies plays an important role in the recovery from depression and other monoamine associated mood disorders.

Limitations of the Medical Treatment Model

Antidepressant drugs (SSRIs, SNRIs, MAOIs) are developed to target the way the body processes mood-regulating neurotransmitters, by slowing their rate of breakdown and reabsorption, thereby enhancing their effects in the brain.

However not all of these drugs have been found to be clinically effective, with some showing even less efficacy than placebos in trials.

They can also cause a long list of dangerous and unpleasant side effects.

In some cases antidepressants may provide acute relief for mood disorders but their positive effects will wear off over time as they do not address the underlying causes of neurotransmitter deficiency or imbalance.

This may be why many individuals find they need to continually increase their antidepressant dose over time for it to remain effective, or why relapse of mood disorders is common after ceasing pharmaceutical antidepressant treatment.

In severe or non-responsive cases of depression and mood disorders, the use of antidepressant medications may definitely be warranted, however for mild to moderate mood disorders, dietary modification and targeted natural supplementation may be sufficient to promote real improvements in mood.


To find out more about nutritional regulation of neurotransmitters as well as Neurotransmitter testing, stay tuned for our next article on Diet and Mental Health.


Further Reading: