Top 5 nutrition strategies to optimize mental health

Author: Dr. Michelle Durkin on 16 June 2020

Back in the fall I wrote about taking care not only of your physical health, but your mental and emotional health as well.

I also shared a few strategies that work for me. Today I want to dig a little deeper into some of those strategies and maybe even share a few more.

If we look at the brain through the lens of neurotransmitters, there are important nutritional considerations to make.

Our brain has five main neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, norepinephrine, and GABA. They are made from amino acids, which are derived from protein, and require certain vitamins or minerals as co-factors in their production.

TIP #1: a diet deficient in protein will reduce the number of amino acids available for neurotransmitter production.

TIP #2: methylated B vitamins and magnesium are the most important co-factors for neurotransmitter production.

All of these neurotransmitters are like pressing the gas pedal, except GABA, it is like pressing the brake.

Most people need GABA support first, but over time will need support for other neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

Disruptions in sleep may be your first indicator that your body needs more nutritional support.

TIP #3: L-theanine is a GABA agonist but it also provides overall neurotransmitter balance with serotonin and dopamine. It works best given twice a day as it has a short half life.

Neurotransmitter secretion is also influenced by inflammatory markers called cytokines.

Inflammation in the brain is what we call silent inflammation and sometimes it will manifest itself as anxiety and/or depression. This is because of the gut/brain connection via the nervous system.

TIP #4: Identifying and addressing inflammation in the gut is an essential component of any treatment plan because of the gut-brain connection (if you have never heard this before check out my previous article).

TIP #5: Fish oils like EPA and DHA are neuromodulatory, anti-inflammatory, and exhibit antidepressant effects.

Your brain is over 60% fat. So just like dietary protein, dietary fat is a key component of the cells in your brain. If you are eating the wrong fats they become part of your cell membranes. Vice versa if you are eating the right fats, like omega 3's, they become part of your cell membranes.

Structure will influence function. So make sure you are giving your brain the right building blocks for optimal function.

Now I would love to hear from you! What is one thing that you learned from this article? Leave a comment below and I'll be back next week with another edition of Doctor as Teacher Tuesday. If you found this article beneficial don't be shy to share.

5 Replies to “Top 5 nutrition strategies to optimize mental health”


Is there one supplement that would cover all these needed nutrients?

Dr Michelle Durkin ND

Not that I have come across Janet.


Found this article very interesting and useful. Thank you. And love that you used a pic of a woman of colour to go along with it.

Dr Michelle Durkin ND

Thanks Myriam!

I heard GABA mentioned before, but never really understood it’s function. The way you explain it is simple and make it easier to understand. Thank you! Can’t wait for our next meeting to talk about my sleep (or lack there of 😉).

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