Nutritional psychiatry: Treating depression with nutrients, not pills

It’s a radical thought for many of us that we can cure ourselves. After all, we’re not doctors, right?

But when it comes to mental illness, especially depression, we should probably take another look at this statement.

We should also examine the influence of Big Pharma on our willingness to explore treatment options outside of popping a daily pill (which often doesn’t work, or makes things worse).

There is SO much scientific evidence supporting a different way to go. One that works with our bodies, not against them. One that can have a positive effect not only on our mental health but on our long-term, overall well-being.

Are you ready to take a look at an alternative to antidepressants that’s as close as your kitchen cabinet or refrigerator?

Head for the pantry, not the Prozac

When the antidepressant Prozac was introduced in the late 1980s, Time Magazine called it “mental health’s greatest success story.”

And a clinical trial on another antidepressant, Paxil, reported that it demonstrated “remarkable efficacy and safety.”

It wasn’t long, though, before the dark side of Prozac became apparent. The FDA called the Paxil study a “failed trial,” and in 2015, the British Medical Journal published a re-evaluation that reported 481 adverse reactions to the original study’s 265.

Many users of SSRIs like Prozac and Paxil began reporting side effects like blunted emotions and reduced sexual function, even after they stopped taking the drugs. And when they report these side effects, the solution offered is often another drug.

Professor David Healy, director of the department of psychological medicine at Cardiff University and author of 22 books on psychopharmacology, believes that antidepressants are overprescribed.

“If you go into your average doctor – if you’ve been off the drug for half a year or more – and you complain [of a range of symptoms] and say, ‘I think it’s caused by this pill I was on’, he or she would say, ‘It’s been out of your body for months. You’re neurotic, you’re depressed. All we need to do is put you on another pill.’”

There is a way off of this merry-go-round, but it’s one that most doctors are not trained in or, more often, are brainwashed out of believing by the companies that peddle antidepressants.

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Helping the mind through the gut

Dr. Eva Selhub is a Clinical Associate of the world-renowned Benson Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Selhub compares our brain to an expensive car. It can be damaged if we feed it anything other than “premium” fuel in the form of nutrient- and vitamin-rich foods. Once low-grade fuel in the form of processed foods gets to our brain, it’s hard to get rid of.

SSRIs are a part of the “junk fuel.” And, depending upon the shape of your brain’s neurons, they may or may not work for you at all.

A better alternative is found in the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry. Just as the name implies, it deals with healing depression and other mental illness through the gut.

Which makes perfect sense, when you understand that about 95% of your serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates mood and energy, is produced in your gut.

Related: The serotonin diet: Putting natures appetite suppressant to work

Your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million neurons that make sense of what goes on in your gut and communicate this to your brain. The work of your digestive system isn’t just digesting food; its job is also to guide your emotions.

The billions of “good” bacteria that make up your microbiome provide a barrier against “bad” bacteria that cause inflammation. What’s more, they activate the pathways that travel the gut and the brain.

So, rather than trying to cure depression with more and more drugs, why not look to the amazing amount of research that shows us all the different nutrients, vitamins and minerals that can play key roles in our mental health, without the side effects.

Vitamins and minerals that beat back depression

Here’s just a partial list of foods you can eat and supplements you can take to provide your body with that “premium fuel” that will guide your brain away from depression and toward a more balanced, healthy state of mind.

Magnesium. Seaweed, nuts, greens and beans are rich sources of magnesium. Unfortunately, these are foods that many people never eat. One study found that a daily magnesium citrate supplement led to a significant improvement in even severe instances of depression and anxiety.

Omega-3 fatty acids. A lack of these fatty acids found in salmon, flaxseed, walnuts, oysters and sardines, omega 3 is critical for the health of the central nervous system. A lack of them is associated with low mood and cognitive decline.

Probiotics. Probiotics are “good” bacteria living in your gut that contribute to elevating your mood in several ways.

  • They help produce neurotransmitters that can affect mood and sleep habits.
  • They reduce inflammation in the body, which can contribute to depression
  • They affect cognitive functioning and your response to stress

You can help things along by eating foods that are probiotic-rich. Yogurt, buttermilk, and fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, and pickles are good examples.


  1. Why nutritional psychiatry is the future of mental health treatment — The Conversation
  2. Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trialPLOS ONE
  3. Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the treatment of depressionCritical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition
  4. ‘I don’t know who I am without it’: the truth about long-term antidepressant use — The Guardian
  5. Nutritional psychiatry: the present state of the evidenceProceedings of the Nutrition Society
  6. Nutritional therapies for mental disordersNutrition Journal
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.