How Deficiencies in Trace Elements Can Cause Psychological Imbalances
The Gut-Brain Connection
Malnourishment in 1st world countries seems paradoxical. It is however a major problem rooted in high yielding, GMO foods that lack the nutrients and trace elements the original crop provided. While many believe they eat healthy, eating fast food for our fast life style just to satisfy hunger as opposed to nourish is common today. This, together with the fact that the actual food carries few nutrients, has caused deficiencies to be on the rise.
Trace elements are chemical elements that are needed in minute amounts. Although they are minute they are nevertheless essential and without them disease is inevitable. There are many physical symptoms that arise from a deficiency in trace elements, however there are psychological symptoms too, which further reiterates the strong bond between the gut and brain.
1. Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency, essential for brain development, is the world’s most common single nutrient deficiency. There are many forms of iron deficiency anaemia and therefore while very common among women, it can also affect both men and children alike. Studies show that infants with a long standing iron deficiency can also have long lasting developmental problems, not only in motor functioning but also intellectually.
A research done on children with ADDH concluded that iron deficiency also contributes to this disorder, particularly those with a very low ferritin level, where children were very inattentive, impulsive and hyperactive.
Studies have also revealed that mothers with low iron levels are more likely to be affected with postpartum depression. Pregnancy too puts a high demand on the mother as well as the foetus, as they both require substantial amounts of essential nutrients. If this demand is not met, particularly during the critical developmental periods in growth, then the foetus can be exposed to hypoxia. There is furthermore extensive literature linking mental disorders with foetal hypoxia and malnutrition. This literature also supports cognitive, motor and behavioural deficits in children born to a mother with iron deficiency or a child born with its own deficit.
Iron is furthermore a co factor in the production of certain neurotransmitters. These include serotonin, nor adrenaline (essential for our fight or flight response) and most importantly dopamine. Both nor adrenaline and dopamine are responsible for mood and behavior. While nor adrenaline acts mainly in stress responses it is also involved in pain, cognition, mood, emotions, movement and blood pressure. Dopamine plays a major role in pleasure, delusions, psychosis and drug abuse. As iron is necessary for the production of dopamine, a deficiency can be also be related to behavioral issues associated with low levels of dopamine.
2. Magnesium deficiency
Another trace element which can affect your mental state is magnesium. A deficiency can affect men, women and children, and the link between this and depression has been well documented. There has also been a direct link made with magnesium deficiency and exaggerated changes in mood, apathy and mental retardation. Moreover, studies have shown that low magnesium levels can cause symptoms of depression such as with bi-polar syndrome, anxiety and PMS, agitation, headache, insomnia and drug abuse.
It has been proposed that this lack magnesium can come from a variety of causes such as from stress, excess calcium in the diet, but also from the removal of magnesium from wheat and water. Dark coloured carbonated drinks use phosphates. These phosphates bind with magnesium, therefore making it unavailable for the body to use. Unrefined sugars will also help you to excrete magnesium from the body.
Stress nevertheless is one of the big disturbers of magnesium, deleting the bodies’ reserves. We can however use magnesium supplementation against stress, as it acts on the hormonal axis, preventing stress hormones entering the brain and therefore protecting it. I’ve heard magnesium being referred to as the ‘original chill pill’.
3. Chromium deficiency
A less well-known but equally important trace element is chromium. Chromium, along with insulin, is involved in the breakdown of glucose. In the presence of chromium less insulin is needed. The problem today is highly refined carbohydrates contain little or no chromium, and it is exactly this type of food that requires increased insulin.
Chromium has been successfully used for ‘atypical’ depression which is associated with carb cravings, weight gain, mood swings and excessive sleepiness. Furthermore, as chromium improves Insulin, it then allows Insulin to help transport tryptophan (the precursor for Serotonin- our ‘feel-good’ hormone) across the blood-brain-barrier into the central nervous system, making it available to be transferred into Serotonin.
The type of foods we take into our body dictate how our body is being nourished. Foods that are lacking in trace elements will leave us malnourished, causing psychological symptoms. As the stress of deficiency further drains our reserves we find ourselves in a vicious circle. From my experience without supplementation psychological and physiological symptoms will persist.