Think zinc: The mind mineral
Questions answered in this article:
- What's the connection between zinc and mental health?
- Can zinc deficiency cause depression?
- What's the relationship between zinc and Alzheimer's?
- Can zinc deficiency be linked to schizophrenia and psychosis?
- Can bipolar be treated naturally?
- What role does copper play in mental health?
- How can I optimize my mental health through nutrition?
Zinc is found in every cell of the body, but its role in the brain and central nervous system deserves special attention. This amazing mineral is vital for cognitive function and mood balance, making the connection between zinc and mental health undeniable.
Zinc's role in the brain
We can think of zinc as the sparkplug of the brain. The past decade of research has seen an explosion of interest in zinc's ability to raise Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), the "Miracle-Gro" protein that promotes increased neuroplasticity and the growth of new brain cells (neurogenesis). Simply put, we need zinc to think!
Psychiatric conditions linked to low zinc levels
Zinc and zinc-dependent enzymes are involved in virtually every aspect of nervous system signalling, so it's not surprising that our neurons cannot continue to function or communicate properly without a balanced zinc supply.
Abnormal zinc imbalances are associated with a range of mental health diagnoses, including:
- Depression and anxiety
- Bipolar disorder
- Alzheimer's disease
- Anger and violence
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Parkinson's disease
Zinc deficiency and depression
Zinc deficiency doesn't cause depression directly, but low zinc status and depression routinely go hand in hand. Moreover, supplemental zinc has shown profound potential for treating symptoms of depression on its own or as an adjunct to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications.
The emerging role of zinc in depression and mood disorders
A recent meta-analysis of 9 studies including 27,296 participants confirmed that supplemental zinc monotherapy without SSRIs was clearly effective in significantly reducing the risk and severity of depressive symptoms. One study on rats found that a combination of zinc and vitamin B6 was more effective for treating depression than fluoxetine (Prozac).
There is an abundance of research that indicates the mood-lifting abilities of zinc. But the exact mechanism of its action in that context, or how it fights off depression, is not as clear. Zinc's multifaceted identity as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and hormone regulator, combined with its effects on NMDA receptors, neurogenesis, neural plasticity, and cellular immune responses, may all contribute synergistically to its antidepressant power.
A pilot study examining the effects of zinc supplementation on mood compares a group of 30 young women taking only a multivitamin, with another group taking a multivitamin, with another group taking a multivitamin and 7 mg of zinc daily for 10 weeks. In the latter group incorporating zinc supplementation, significant reductions were observed in both anger-hostility scores and depression-dejection scores, in a Profile of Moods State (POMS) survey.
Zinc's relationship to dementia and Alzheimer's
Zinc plays a pivotal role in learning and memory, brain functions that degenerate irreversibly in the course of dementia. Alzheimer's patients exhibit unusual zinc-copper patterns, and low zinc intake can worsen the condition.
Since zinc is required for nervous signal firing and to prevent the premature death of brain cells, it is an irreplaceable mineral for maintaining cognitive abilities that decline naturally as we age. But for Alzheimer's and dementia, it is of particular concern. While the cause of the disease remains unknown, a Zinc Dyshomeostasis Hypothesis has emerged to potentially explain Alzheimer's pathology and associated zinc imbalances.
Zinc's role in schizophrenia and psychosis
A clear pattern has been observed from comparisons of serum levels of zinc between schizophrenic patients and healthy control groups – those who suffer from schizophrenia have significantly less zinc in their blood. Also, studies have shown that zinc status decreases as schizophrenia advances.
Exciting clinical trials have recently shown that zinc supplementation can be a useful adjunct therapy in treating psychotic behavioural patterns among schizophrenic patients including violence and aggression. This is certainly an area where any help is appreciated, and zinc, whether supplemental or dietary, may offer safe benefits, free of side effects, as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for clinical schizophrenia management.
Can bipolar be treated naturally?
Bipolar disorder presents differently between genders and as of yet, does not seem to be characterized by any predictable biomarkers. However, it is known that the progression of bipolar symptoms is associated with an imbalance of antioxidant enzyme activity. Bipolar groups, just as with other psychiatric conditions, also present with significantly lower serum zinc than control groups.
Among these patients, zinc levels are seen to fluctuate during periods of acute mania. More study is needed to evaluate the potential of zinc as an adjunctive or monotherapy for bipolar disorder, but given its therapeutic power for depression and schizophrenia, such research is clearly warranted.
The nutrient power of copper and zinc for mental health
Copper plays a major role in influencing communication within the brain by moderating the activity of the neurotransmitters – GABA, and glutamate. GABA and glutamate comprise the majority of all neurotransmission as primary "volume down" and "volume up" controls, accounting for the overall level of excitation across different brain regions.
Zinc is also a key neuromodulator, affecting various cellular receptors, channels, and transporters. Anything moving in the brain, chemical or electrical, is likely to involve zinc, which competes with copper for absorption and opposes it naturally in a see-saw relationship. These two essential minerals are needed in proper proportion for healthy signalling and a balance of excitement and inhibition across the neural network.
Dietary zinc and mental health
We've learned that zinc is vital for mental health, but how do we make sure we're getting enough? Incorporating zinc-rich foods into our diet is a great place to start.
Great sources include:
- Grass-fed beef
- Sesame seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Dietary zinc intake can help to naturally raise levels. However, if you aren't able to get enough through diet alone, supplements are a great way to go.
Zinc Bis-Glycinate 25 is suitable for everyday use because it is gentle and absorbed easily. In addition to improving cognitive health, this zinc supplement will also support immunity, vision, and wound healing!