Micronutrients for mental health

Nadia Tarazi of MicroNourish discusses the rising use of broad-spectrum micronutrients to support mental wellness and brain-gut health

Nadia Tarazi, Founder, MicroNourish

Once limited to naturopaths and natural health practitioners, broad-spectrum micronutrient supplementation has matured from an alternative mental health solution to an empowered choice for doctors and consumers seeking to foster both brain and gut health. As a recent entrant into the micronutrients space, MicroNourish has embarked on a mission to catalyse this paradigm shift and support the wider education about the role that micronutrients can play in supporting mental wellness.

From clinical practice to empowered consumers

During the last 30 years, a quiet revolution has been taking place: an increasing number of health practitioners have experienced success by placing micronutrients at the heart of support programmes for patients facing mental health issues — from mood swings and lows (typically associated with bipolar and depression) to distractibility and anxiety (typically associated with ADHD and eating disorders). Practical results have been so promising that they have spurred numerous field studies, clinical trials and tracked case studies that point to a steady intake of a wide range of micronutrients as being key to a balanced mind, not only for those struggling with mental health issues, but also for those seeking everyday brain health and a positive outlook.

Micronutrients: a legitimate key to mental wellness

The study of micronutrients in mental health has ranged from scientists exploring the application of singular micronutrients, such as the link between zinc and vitamin D deficiencies, and depression, to the study of complementary sets of nutrients, such as B complex vitamins for mood balance, and the use of broad-spectrum micronutrients in people with ADHD.1–4

Meanwhile, organic growth has continued through practitioner successes. In her book, The Mood Cure, Dr Julia Ross documents her experiences using micronutrients, including amino acids, at her holistic health clinic in San Francisco (California, USA) as part of biochemical rebalancing plans — or nutritherapy — for people struggling with mood problems and eating issues.5

The scientific team behind MicroNourish have seen similar results from open label trials and case studies: individuals and health practitioners have reported an increase in focus, better digestion, calmer stress responses and less mood swings when taking the broad-spectrum micronutrients found in the flagship micronutrient product, MicroNourish Core. The goal in launching MicroNourish Core was to combine the scientific studies, clinical experiences and latest research into nutrient ratios for bioavailability; the end result being a flagship formulation whose synergistic whole is more efficacious than the sum of its parts.

Rise of the superfood lifestyle

Inquisitive consumers are making the connection: if micronutrients can improve symptoms in people struggling with mental health, could the decline of micronutrients in the daily diet be contributing to an increase in everyday stress, mood swings and difficulty focusing? Indeed, in a recent survey conducted by MicroNourish, 39% of respondents said they believed that a lack of nutrients contributed to their stress levels.6

These insights reflect a new wave of consumers who are empowered to take health decisions into their own hands by understanding what they are absorbing. You only have to look at the hottest lifestyle and dietary trends — from the rise of superfoods and nutrient-rich products to the increase in plant-based diets and veganism — to notice they are all styled around the promise that increasing micronutrient absorption is the key to achieving optimal physical and mental health.

Converging factors are, no doubt, contributing to the emergence of these investigative consumers. A host of books and documentaries, such as In Defense of Food and Food, Inc., have shone a spotlight on how challenging it can be to absorb a wide variety of nutrients from the Standard American Diet (SAD), because of modern lifestyles, an increasingly complex supply chain and the sharp decline of minerals in fruits and vegetables (as documented by the US Department of Agriculture).7–9 The coincident rise in the registration of Health Coaches at schools, such as the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, along with the growth of celebrity health blogs, are further bringing the benefits of live micronutrition to everyday conversations and consumers.

The most likely factor of all, though, is that people just want to feel better. In the MicroNourish stress study mentioned earlier, 69% of respondents said they experience stress levels above 60% on a daily basis, with 43% saying they eat more when stressed, and 50% saying their digestion is impacted by stress. It’s no wonder that ambitious individuals are seeking ways to take stress management and digestive health into their own hands.

You are what you absorb

As more people derive benefits from taking high-quality micronutrients, it stands to reason that they will become more discerning about absorbing wisely in general. MicroNourish customers ask increasingly pertinent questions about the ingredients: examining the label before purchase, enquiring about whether there is gluten and lactose in the formulations and, most notably, increasingly asking about the form of nutrients used.

These consumers are educating themselves about the benefits of choosing methylcobalamin, methylfolate (MTHF) and cholecalciferol — the active and more bioavailable forms of B12, folic acid and vitamin D — and are willing to pay for the upgrade. They are reading about the importance of minerals being chelated with (bound to) amino acids to optimize transportation through the digestive lining and are thus less willing to settle for low-grade minerals.

MicroNourish prioritises bioavailability and gastrointestinal absorption as reflected aptly in its tagline, 'You Are What You Absorb.' After all, micronutrients can only kick-start your brain and body if they make it to your cells. That’s why the MicroNourish flagship micronutrient formula is blended with high-performance chelated minerals and bioavailable vitamins, and enhanced with amino acids such as L-glutamine and herbal extracts: to help increase the synergistic benefits of the nutrients for brain health while simultaneously nourishing the gut for optimal absorption and gut-brain balance.

To further aid micronutrient absorption and a strong gut-brain connection, it is recommended that individuals take two digestive supplements alongside the flagship micronutrient formula — Active Plant Enzymes and Superfood Probiotics and Prebiotics — as part of the MicroNourish System. Together, the three products help to feed the brain and stabilize the gut for a balanced state of mind.

The gut–brain connection

Indeed, with mounting evidence showing that the gut plays a key role in mental wellness, it would be amiss to tackle brain health without simultaneously addressing the gut. The scientific community has long referred to the gut as the 'second brain,' acknowledging the impact that digestive health and the enteric nervous system (ENS) have on emotions.

However, recent breakthroughs strongly linking the health of the microbiome — which we already know helps to utilise micronutrients — to state of mind indicate that more tailored nutrition for the gut could further improve mental health outcomes. The Micronutrient Information Center at Linus Pauling Institute recently announced the results from its latest study, just one of many presently exploring the relationship between changes in diet to the gut microbiome and how that impacts cognitive flexibility.10 The results suggesting 'changes in the microbiome may contribute to cognitive changes associated with eating a Western diet,' indicate: this is just the beginning.

As MicroNourish Adviser, Ali Ardati, PhD, explains: 'A large body of evidence exists in the literature linking the microbiota to wellness. Indeed humans receive their daily micronutrients through diet and the microbiota to maintain a balanced brain-gut axis. The new clinical trials under way will serve to educate us all on how we can further nourish the gut through targeted nutrition to advance cognitive function, focus and mood balance.'

While the science of the microbiome may be in its early stages, it is widely agreed that individuals seeking inner balance can benefit from starting with a nourished gut and well-fed brain. As Dolores Baretta, an Acupuncturist and Digestive Health Specialist, told MicroNourish in a recent interview: 'When patients talk about stress and difficulty focusing, they inevitably have bloating and digestive issues as well. It's a cycle wherein each impacts the other: we have to tackle them together.'

Figure 1: The four pillars of MicroNourish

That’s why MicroNourish invites customers to track and strengthen the four pillars that together support both brain and gut balance: state of mind, eating, digestion and energy (Figure 1). When one of the pillars is out of balance, the others tend to follow. For example, when someone is going through a stressful few days, they are more likely to eat erratically, have digestive issues and have poorer sleep. Likewise, most people will notice that if they eat too much sugar and caffeine, they will be distracted and have gut complaints and energy swings. That’s why the MicroNourish System targets brain and gut health with premium micronutrients, probiotics and enzymes simultaneously.

A clear future

It is an exciting time to be in the world of micronutrients and brain-gut health. Scientists, doctors and consumers are paying attention. The mounting body of research connecting micronutrients and gut health to mental wellness will no doubt lead to a future where personalised micronutrient formulations will target the needs of the brain and the microbiota, and even be tailored to each person’s unique rate of nutrient absorption. This increasing emphasis on broad-spectrum micronutrient supplementation as a legitimate key to brain health will help to set a new standard for what it means to feel mentally well: where focus, mood balance and calm will become the norm, not the exception.

References

1. W. Swardfager, et al., 'Zinc in Depression: A Meta-Analysis,' Biological Psychiatry 74 (12), 872–878 (2013).

2. D.C. Kerr, et al., 'Associations Between Vitamin D levels and Depressive Symptoms in Healthy Young Adult Women,' Psychiatry Research 227(1), 46–51 (2015).

3. D.O. Kennedy, et al., 'Effects of High-Dose B Vitamin Complex with Vitamin C and Minerals on Subjective Mood and Performance in Healthy Males,' Psychopharmacology (Berl). 211(1), 55–68 (2010).

4. J.J. Rucklidge, et al., 'Broad-Spectrum Micronutrient Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Rationale and Evidence to Date,' CNS Drugs 28(9), 775–785 (2014).

5. J. Ross, The Mood Cure (Penguin Books, New York, New York, USA, 2003).

6. MicroNourish administered this survey online to an anonymous cohort of male and female participants older than 18.

7. M. Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Easter’s Manifesto (Penguin Books, New York, New York, USA, 2009).

8. R. Kenner (Producer), Food, Inc. (2008): www.imdb.com/title/tt1286537.

9. D.R. David, et al., 'Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999,' J. Am. Coll. Nutr. 23(6), 669–682 (2004).

10. K.R. Magnusson, et al., 'Relationships Between Diet-Related Changes in the Gut Microbiome and Cognitive Flexibility,' Neuroscience 300, 128–140 (2015).

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