Best supplements for anxiety and depression

Best supplements for anxiety and depression

Anxiety and depression are rated by the World Health Organisation as the leading causes of disease burden amongst high income countries. In England, 1 in 6 people experience anxiety and/or depression in any given week [1].


We live in challenging times with many of us living with tiredness, anxiety, stress, depression and sleep problems.

It seems that this rise in mental health issues over the past years has coincided with a radical change in diet. Our diets are no longer the nutrient dense ones of yesteryear but are often made up of processed and refined foods which lack the essential nutrients for our minds and bodies to function optimally.

Along with this change of diet, we have experienced a change in our environment, and are exposed to more pollution both chemical and social, which our minds and bodies have to process and deal with on a daily basis.

Anxiety is characterised by agitation, restlessness and a racing mind, and it’s common to experience these feelings when under stress. Anxiety can be one of the symptoms of depression, along with feelings of worthlessness or guilt, poor concentration, loss of energy, fatigue, thoughts of suicide or preoccupation with death, loss or increase of appetite and weight, a disturbed sleep pattern, and slowing down (both physically and mentally).

Depression and anxiety can be caused by a variety of factors such as psychological issues, hormone imbalances or disrupted brain chemicals, and may be triggered by major stress or traumas.

Hormone imbalances and disrupted brain chemicals can be caused by nutritional deficiencies, and there are specific nutrients that play a positive role in cognitive health. So, let’s look at the best supplements for anxiety and depression.



Magnesium, which is found in green leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate, plays an important role in the body and is involved in over 300 different chemical reactions. With many diets now lacking magnesium due to food processing, it has been shown that a deficiency in magnesium contributes to several mental health problems, including anxiety [2].

Magnesium is a nature’s muscle relaxer [3], which can immensely help with anxiety. Besides relaxing muscles, it calms the nervous system too, assisting with fear, irritability, and restlessness, all common symptoms of anxiety. Our muscles hang on to so much tension, which makes magnesium a super-healthy and easy way to create a feeling of calm.


B-Vitamins are some of the most commonly researched vitamins for anxiety. They can be found in a variety of foods including whole grains, meat, fish, dairy, eggs and dark green leafy vegetables. Many experts argue that these vitamins are powerful tools for anxiety relief, and that supplementation may reduce anxiety symptoms. B vitamins work best in conjunction with one another, but each vitamin helps anxiety in a slightly different way.

Fluctuating blood sugar levels can affect our mood and have a significant impact on stress, but vitamin B1 is particularly important for balancing blood sugar [4] and plays a powerful factor in anxiety levels. Low blood sugar levels will cause the body to produce cortisol, a stress hormone.

Vitamin B3, or niacin, helps us naturally relax and get to sleep quicker at night. This is because it plays a crucial role in the synthesis of serotonin [5], the ‘happy neurotransmitter’, which itself is a precursor to melatonin, a hormone the body produces to help us fall asleep.

Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid is known to elevate mood and reduce anxiety as it is required for the manufacture of stress and sex hormones produced in your adrenal glands [6], and is often referred to as ‘the anti-stress vitamin’.

Taking vitamin B6, in combination with magnesium, can lead to a significant reduction in anxiety as well nervous tension, irritability and mood swings associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) [7].



Omega-3 fatty acids are needed for normal brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids are known as essential fats because our bodies can’t make them, and so we need to include them in our diet. It has been known for some time that depression has been linked with a diet low in omega-3, and countries that consume a lot of these fats have lower incidence of this condition.

Research has shown that fish oil, which is rich in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA can be as effective as antidepressants in the treatment of depression [8]One theory as to why omega-3 essential fats are able to lift mood is that DHA primarily plays a role in developing neurons, while EPA is crucial for chemical signalling between brain cells and can influence levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin [9].


It has always been good advice to ‘eat your greens’, because dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach, chard and spring cabbage contain high amounts of folate. It has been demonstrated that people with depression tend to have lower blood levels of folate and lower dietary intake of folate compared to people without depression [10].

The way in which it works is not fully understood, but it is thought that folate deficiency may impair the metabolism of the 'feel good' neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline [11].


Zinc is often lacking in processed foods and vegan diets as major sources of this essential mineral are meat, fish and poultry. Although it is present in plant foods, its uptake by the body may be compromised when compared with zinc derived from animal produce.

In the body the highest amount of zinc is found concentrated in the brain, and it has been found that zinc deficiency can lead to symptoms of depression [12]. Zinc plays a part in modulating the brain and body’s response to stress.


Iodine, which we obtain in our diets from fish, shellfish and iodised salt, is critical for the optimum functioning of the thyroid gland. The thyroid affects the body in many ways; affecting our energy levels, our immune function and our brain performance.

Iodine is required for the production of thyroid hormones, and it is found that people with under functioning thyroid glands can often feel very depressed [13].


Just like iodine, selenium is important for thyroid function. With one of the best food sources being Brazil nuts, it’s another essential mineral that people can be deficient in. Selenium is a necessary mineral to activate thyroid hormones to manage the body’s metabolic rate, as well as heart and digestive function, muscle control, mood and bone maintenance.

Changes in what we eat, hormone imbalances, disrupted brain chemicals and the pace of life underlie the majority of mental health problems including anxiety and depression. By addressing the deficiencies of the essential fats, vitamins and minerals through diet and supplementation, as well as seeking emotional support and making other lifestyle changes, we can go some way to reducing the mental health issues that plague present day society.

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[1] McManus, S. Bebbington, P. Jenkins, R. et al. (2016) ‘Mental health wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014’ Leeds: NHS digital.

[2] Sarton, S. Whittle, N. Helzenauer, A. et al. (2012) ‘Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety an HPA axis dysregulation: Modulation by therapeutic drug treatment’ Neuropharmacology 62(1);304-312.

[3] D’Angelo, E. Singer, H. Rembold, C. et al. (1992) ‘Magnesium relaxes arterial smooth muscle by decreasing intracellular Ca2+ without changing intracellular Mg2+’ J Clin Invest 89(6);1988-1994.

[4] Nath, A. Tran, T. Shope, T. et al. (2017) ‘Prevalence of clinical thiamine deficiency in individuals with medically complicated obesity’ Nutrition Research 37;29-36.

[5] Muss, C. Mosgoeller, W. & Endler, T. (2016) ‘Mood improving potential of a vitamin trace element composition – A randomised, double blind, placebo controlled clinical study with healthy volunteers Neuroendocrinology Letters 37(1).

[6] Huskisson, E Maggini, S. Ruf, M. et al. (2007) ‘The influence of micronutrients on cognitive function and performance’ J Int Med Res 35(1);1-19.

[7] De Souza, M. Walker, A. Robinson, P. et al. (2000) ‘ A synergistic effect of a daily supplement for 1 month of 200mg of magnesium plus 50mg of B6 for the relief of anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms’ J Womens Health Gender Based Med 9(2);131-139.

[8] Jazayeri, S. Tehrani-Doost, M. Keshavarz, S. et al. (2008) ‘Comparison of therapeutic effects of omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid and fluoxetine, separately and in combination, in major depressive disorder’ Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 42(3);192-198.

[9] De Vries, S. Christophe, A. and Maes, M. (2004) ‘In humans the seasonal variation in polyunsaturated fatty acids is related to the seasonal variation in violent suicide and serotonergic markers of violent suicide Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 71(1);13-18.

[10] Bender, A. Hagan, K. and Kingston, N. (2017) ‘The association of folate and depression; a meta-analysis’ Journal of Psychiatric Research 95;9-18.

[11] Bottiglieri, T. Laundy, M. Crellin, R. et al. (2000) ‘Homocysteine, folate, methylation and monoamine metabolism in depression’ Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 69;228-232.

[12] Szewczyk, B. Kubera, M. and Nowak, G. (2011) ‘The role of zinc in neurodegenerative inflammatory pathways in depression’ Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry’ 35(3);693-701.

[13] Wu, H. Zhong, H. Xu, Y. et al. (2016) ‘ Psychological and behavioural intervention improves the quality of life and mental health of patients suffering from differentiated thyroid cancer treated with post-operative radioactive iodine-131’ Neuropsychiatric Disease Treatment 12;1055-1060.

Post author

Shona Wilkinson

Shona Wilkinson is a Registered Nutritionist who works as an independent consultant and health writer for national magazines and broadsheet newspapers as well as frequently being invited to speak on national radio. She advises nutritional brands and retailers on the health industry market, compliance and product development.