3. Amino acids
Amino acids are the building blocks for creating proteins, from which brain circuitry and brain chemicals are formed. Some amino acids are precursors of mood-modulating chemicals; tryptophan, for instance, is needed to create serotonin. Another example is cysteine, a sulphur-based amino acid that can convert into glutathione – the body’s most powerful antioxidant.
When given as a supplement, an amino acid form known as N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) converts into glutathione in the body. We have evidence that it’s helpful in bipolar depression, schizophrenia, trichotillomania and other compulsive and addictive behaviours. Another amino acid-based nutrient known as S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) has antidepressant qualities.
Amino acids are found in any source of protein, most notably meats, seafood, eggs, nuts and legumes.
Minerals, especially zinc, magnesium and iron, have important roles in neurological function.
Zinc is an abundant trace element, being involved in many brain chemistry reactions. It’s also a key element supporting proper immune function. Deficiency has been linked to increased depressive symptoms and there’s emerging evidence for zinc supplementation in improving depressed mood, primarily alongside antidepressants.
Magnesium is also involved in many brain chemistry reactions and deficiency has been linked to depressive and anxiety symptoms. Iron is involved in many neurological activities and deficiency is associated with anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as developmental problems. This is, in part, due to its role in transporting oxygen to the brain.
Zinc is abundant in lean meats, oysters, whole grains, pumpkin seeds and nuts, while magnesium is richest in nuts, legumes, whole grains, leafy greens and soy. Iron occurs in higher amounts in unprocessed meats and organ meats, such as liver, and in modest amounts in grains, nuts and leafy greens, such as spinach.