Functional Nutrition for Mental Health

March 7, 2024

Tired of struggling and watching your loved ones fight mental illness? It can be a damning sentence to hear someone you deeply care about say they have been feeling depressed, and being all-too-familiar with your rock bottom isn’t a fun, fuzzy feeling either.

But sorting through therapists trying to find the best one for you, and constantly wondering if anything will ever change can be exhausting. These conventional methods are tiring and often lead to eventually giving up all hope.

So what if there was an easier way to soothe mental health? An easier-to-manage, more independent approach than talk or shock therapy? Something more cost-effective, without side effects, that doesn’t need as much personal investment?

You’re in luck, because there is. Let’s talk about the role of Functional Nutrition in mental health.

Mental Health through a Functional Lens

Mental health is a complex and intricate system. It affects how you live your life, and dictates your interpersonal relationships, your behavior, and your health.

It may seem like something “just in your head”, but it is a lot more than that.

Mental conditions could be the symptom or the cause of something physiologically wrong in your body, or they could be a standalone psychological issue, or they could be an indication that something is wrong in your social environment.

Using an approach that addresses all these biopsychosocial factors while nourishing and nurturing your mind and body back to health is the best way to go. Some methods include –

Get Moving

Functional nutrition urges one to incorporate movement into their daily life. Whether it's yoga asanas or a daily workout regimen, movement has been proven to help improve blood flow and stimulate the release of endorphins, uplifting your mood and being utterly beneficial for your physiology simultaneously.

Bask in the Sun

Warm, bright, positive sunlight helps improve our mental health – no, really. It’s not just the comfort of warmth, but at a physiological level, sunlight makes our body release serotonin – the happy chemical that your body craves when you are depressed.

A lack of serotonin has a major role in mental conditions like depression, anxiety, mania, insomnia, aggression, and a lot more. It’s a crucial neurotransmitter for mental health, and sometimes your body just doesn’t have enough of it. Options like sun exposure are easy and efficient ways to boost your serotonin levels without spending a dime.

Advanced Tests

Functional Nutrition encourages the use of advanced tests to get a thorough understanding of one’s health profile. Using various tests like the GI MAP (Microbial Assay Plus) or the Organic Metabolomics Test (OMX) offered by state-of-the-art laboratories helps to get a picture of your health that ordinary tests just don’t provide. These tests go deeper, and scan your body for pathogens (viral, bacterial, parasitic) and other GI or Autoimmune issues, alongside a dozen other parameters which help to understand what is causing the mental dysfunction.

Innumerable research reports that have been peer reviewed by the scientific community acknowledge that gut health and inflammatory conditions impact mental health, and advanced tests help get an understanding of the underlying physiological conditions that could be contributing to one’s mental issues.

Nurturing the Mind

Functional nutrition uses the restorative abilities of food to assist the body in returning to proper, healthy function. It doesn’t cure your ailments for you, because your body is more than capable of doing that – it just gives your body the right boost, through nutrition.

The neurotransmitters involved in regulating emotions largely depend on nutrition for stimulation. As explored in this blog, certain nutrients help your systems to function better and produce the right neurotransmitters in the right amounts, helping to improve your mood and motivation.

It can be hard to force yourself to seek help or reach out to people. But making small changes to your diet to include these nutrients just might help you find the willpower to take on a new day and talk to your loved ones about seeking the help you need.

Eating to Heal

Food contains the essence of what makes life function – nutrients.

Nutrients are known for their many health benefits, and while we learn from a young age that they are essential for ideal health, not many of us follow the kind of lifestyle that really highlights that fact.

Besides not eating healthy meals, many also engage in smoking and drinking which further inhibit proper nutrient absorption.

But that doesn’t mean it’s too late – cleaning up your diet and adding the food that will help nurture your mental health can still make a difference. Nutrition and depression can go hand in hand, with improper nutrition leading to the deprivation of essential chemicals and neurotransmitters needed to feel “happy”.

Here are a few tips to address mental conditions like depression and anxiety using a healthy diet –

Diet for Mental Health

A healthy diet for mental health includes some important nutrients, like…

Nutrients for Mental Health

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • Vitamin D
  • Magnesium
  • B-Complex
  • Probiotics

Most of these nutrients are easy to source from food, except Vitamin D which is naturally produced in our body only when we are exposed to sunlight.

There are very few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D, and most people aren’t eating those foods regularly enough to meet their Recommended Dietary Allowances(RDA). Probiotics are also abundant in foods that people with certain health issues may avoid, like those with thyroid conditions who avoid cabbage.

Many people can’t access nutrients like high quality protein, B-Complex, heme iron, and Omega-3s because they follow restrictive diets like veganism or vegetarianism.

That’s where supplements come in handy. While we emphasize the importance of meat and animal foods for health, if you cannot change your diet for any reason – supplements help. They are a good option to consider as they’ll help you meet your RDAs without going against your diet.

Why Those Nutrients?

The nutrients mentioned above have innumerable benefits for mental and physical health, including but not limited to stimulating neurochemicals like serotonin, aiding mood stabilisation and cognitive regulation, improving cognitive function, and boosting your physical health.

If you’re wondering why a gut health nutrient like Probiotics was listed, it’s because of the little-known fact that your GI system plays a major role in regulating your mental health, too. Not only does the GI system also stimulate serotonin, GABA, norepinephrine, and many more neurotransmitters, but it also hosts what is called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS).

This ENS, alongside your Autonomic Nervous System and Central Nervous System, regulates your mental health. One way to care for it is to maintain a healthy gut microbiome – basically, to have a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut. It affects a lot more than you’d think!

What Foods are Best for Mental Health?

Naturally, foods containing those nutrients would be the way to go.

This includes foods like…

  • Seafood and fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel, cod, Rohu, etc.
  • Shrimp
  • Walnuts (soaked overnight to remove the harmful antinutrients)
  • Supplements: while fish oil or fish liver oil supplements are more commonly used, we recommend krill oil supplements as they are more biologically available for the body to use, and contain additional antioxidants like Astaxanthin which provide extra health benefits to the body.

It should be noted that Vitamin D naturally occurs in a few foods and those that do contain vitamin D have very low amounts of this essential nutrient, and your body has difficulty breaking that down as well, so you end up falling short of the RDA by quite a bit. The best source is sunlight, or a bioavailable supplement.

  • Fatty fish
  • Dark Chocolate (in restricted amounts since it contains antinutrients)
  • Bananas
  • Magnesium Supplements (We recommend Magnesium Bisglycinate because it’s easily absorbed and leads to very little or no side effects as compared to other forms of magnesium supplements.)

Combining Functional Strategies

Making the best use of functional nutrition to assist mental health recovery means using a combination of various holistic, functional strategies like eating the right foods, getting enough sunlight, grounding barefoot in nature, moving your body – connecting with the world around you.

Getting in touch with loved ones and being surrounded by the company that makes you feel safe, secure, and peaceful is key to good mental health, as well.

It may seem like an impossible battle to overcome the hurdles of your mental health; but know that you only need to take the first step in front of you – before you know it, you’ll have come a long way from where you started. Good luck, you can do this!


An Integrative Approach to Mental Health | Rupahealth

Functional Medicine and Mental Health Care: What’s The Link? | Orchestratehealth

Nutrition and Mental Health | The Institute for Functional Medicine

The Role of Functional Medicine in Mental Health Care | Psychology Today

Functional Medicine and Depression: Identifying the Root Cause - Chris Kresser

A Functional Medicine Approach to Anxiety, Depression & Related Mood Disorders

The Diagnosis and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders - PMC

Mind Matters: Nutrients for Mental Health – iThrive Essentials

Amisha Jha

Amisha is an Economics graduate with a passion for languages, art, and writing. She is a strong advocate for mental and physiological healthcare accessibility and strives to bring more attention to the rising mental health crisis. Her personal discovery of how mental and physical ailments work together sparked a passion to learn more about health and wellness, and she enjoys writing about the same to educate those who are unaware. In her free time, you can find her writing poetry and relaxing with cats.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.