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Elevating Mood with Nutraceuticals: A Functional Medicine Perspective

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Elevating Mood with Nutraceuticals: A Functional Medicine Perspective

Life can be full of emotional highs and lows, with roughly 21% of Americans dealing with mood disorders at any given time. While depression and anxiety are the most common mental health conditions worldwide, there are also many individuals looking to improve their mood just to offset chronic stress or hormonal changes that have impacted overall well-being. There’s a growing interest in the use of nutraceutical supplements in addition to diet and lifestyle changes to improve mood and mental health, an industry poised to continue to grow over the next decade. A functional medicine approach to mood disorders considers each person’s unique health history and goals, using functional medicine lab testing to help guide the use of nutraceuticals in a safe and effective way.


What Are Nutraceuticals?

Nutraceuticals are nutrient-rich substances made from whole foods or parts of food sources that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition, including prevention and treatment of disease. Research indicates that taking nutraceutical supplements can improve overall health, postpone the aging process, reduce chronic disease risk, and promote longevity.

They are different from pharmaceuticals, which are FDA-approved medications designed to treat specific diseases and provide immediate symptom relief.  Pharmaceuticals undergo specific, rigorous testing to ensure their efficacy, while nutraceuticals aren’t officially recognized in the same way.  In the US, nutraceuticals are subject to regulation as food ingredients and dietary supplements but do not require testing documents as pharmaceuticals do.

Nutrition and supplements are often parts of comprehensive treatment plans in functional medicine, especially for mental health support. Several nutrition deficiencies, including B vitamins, vitamin D, and omega-3s, have been linked to a higher risk of depression and other mental health symptoms, and dietary choices have been associated with mental health outcomes as well. Supporting mental health with dietary changes and strategic, personalized supplements can help alleviate symptoms and promote overall well-being, as nutrition is intimately connected with mood regulation.  

The Connection Between Nutrition and Mood

Poor nutrition may be a causal factor contributing to mood changes and depression, likely due in part to inadequate intake of nutrients needed for metabolic regulation of mood. Eating styles such as the Mediterranean diet have been associated with better mental health outcomes than more inflammatory eating styles such as the standard American diet. Another important reason why nutrition can impact mood is the role of the gut-brain axis in overall health. The gut and brain are constantly communicating, with the gut microbiome influencing brain chemistry and mood and signals from the brain contributing to digestive efficiency and activity. Anxiety and depression, for example, often go hand in hand with alteration of the gut microbiome and changes in gastrointestinal function. Additionally, the composition of the gut microbiome can influence cognitive function and neurotransmitter production. Since diet can influence the gut microbiome, it makes sense that our nutrition can impact our mood via the gut-brain axis, for better or for worse.  

Studies have identified several specific nutrient deficiencies and imbalances that can negatively impact mental health. Deficiencies in B vitamins, omega-3 fats, vitamin D, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and iron may all contribute to symptoms, likely due to their significant impact on the function of the brain and nervous system. Additionally, deficiencies in protein or carbohydrates may also contribute to changes in mental health, making it important to eat a balanced diet that meets individual needs for macronutrients.  

Key Nutraceuticals for Mood Enhancement

Several nutraceuticals have been found to have a positive influence on mood and well-being, including omega-3 fats, B vitamins, magnesium, certain probiotics, and vitamin D.

Omega 3s

Omega-3 supplements have been well-studied for their beneficial impacts on mental health, especially with symptoms of depression and depressive phases of bipolar disorder. These long-chain fatty acids can help reduce inflammation, which may help relieve depression, and they can also interact with mood-related neurochemicals inside the brain to influence mental health positively.  

B Vitamins

B vitamins can be used as nutraceuticals to support both anxiety and depression. They have been found to play an important role in brain chemistry, specifically related to mood, by serving as cofactors in the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.  


Magnesium is an important mineral for brain function and mood. It plays important roles in nerve signal transmission and the overall functioning of the central nervous system, and levels of magnesium have often been found to be low in studies on depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and addiction. Just six weeks of consistency with magnesium supplementation can improve mental health symptoms and elevate mood.


Probiotics are another useful group of nutraceuticals for elevating mood. Dysbiosis has been observed in depression and may also contribute to symptoms of anxiety. Specifically, a class of probiotics referred to as psychobiotics have been studied for their potential impact on boosting mood and overall cognitive function. Psychobiotics have antidepressant effects as well as anxiolytic effects via brain-bacteria communication along the gut-brain axis. 

Some specific psychobiotic strains that can help elevate mood include:

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a prohormone and nutraceutical that may be particularly helpful in cases of depression where vitamin D deficiency is also present. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to a higher likelihood of mood disorders, with supplementation helping to reduce symptoms.

Functional Medicine Approach to Using Nutraceuticals

Functional medicine practitioners will often select and use nutraceuticals strategically for patients based on personalized health assessments and functional medicine lab testing. These recommendations are typically made alongside diet and lifestyle changes to address the root cause of the patient’s symptoms. While it’s important to directly address symptoms of mood imbalances to provide relief, a functional practitioner will also make sure to investigate and identify any underlying imbalances contributing to a patient’s symptoms, such as dysbiosis or inflammation.  

A functional medicine approach to nutraceuticals also prioritizes patient safety when choosing a supplement plan. Medical-grade supplements, which are typically tested for safety, efficacy, and consistent dosage, can be recommended by practitioners more so than over-the-counter supplements. Considering a patient’s medication use and overall health status is also important when selecting nutraceuticals, as some supplements may interact with medications.  

Nutritional Assessment in Mood Disorders: Functional Medicine Lab Tests

There are various nutrient imbalances that may contribute to mood disorders and functional medicine lab testing can help identify any deficiencies or imbalances that can be corrected with nutrition and targeted supplementation. Using testing can help ensure that any supplements taken are actually needed and can help with dosage recommendations. Optimizing micronutrient intake as well as overall nutrition is a crucial step in improving mood and overall mental well-being, as our nutrition directly impacts our mental health. 

Micronutrient Panel

A micronutrient panel such as the Cellular Micronutrient Assay by Cell Science Systems evaluates levels of vitamins and minerals (including those mentioned above as key nutraceuticals for mood) as well as a variety of amino acids that are important to metabolism and overall health as a whole. Identifying any deficiencies or imbalances in micronutrients helps guide therapeutic nutrition and nutraceutical use based on individual test results.  

Omega-3 Index

The Omega-3 Index by Ayumetrix shows the levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the body, helping to bring to light the fat quality of the diet and to guide if any nutritional adjustments or omega-3 supplementation would be beneficial to elevate mood and decrease inflammation.  

Amino Acid testing

Amino acid testing from Doctor's Data can help identify any imbalances in amino acids, which are essential building blocks of mood-impacting neurochemicals and hormones. Sometimes imbalances can occur due to low dietary protein intake or malabsorption, amongst other reasons, and testing can help identify the root cause that may be contributing to low mood symptoms.  

Neurotransmitter testing

Neurotransmitters by ZRT Laboratory looks at levels of various neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, GABA, and dopamine, to provide a bigger picture of the connection of the body’s physical health to the brain’s wellbeing. Understanding where neurotransmitter levels are can help personalize a plan and nutraceutical use to target neurotransmitters in need of support, helping to rebalance and elevate mood.


Integrating Nutraceuticals with Lifestyle Modifications

Combining nutraceutical recommendations with lifestyle changes helps improve the overall efficacy of a patient’s treatment plan and ensures that supplements aren’t just being used to mask symptoms. Considering stress management strategies, a sustainable exercise plan and sleep optimization are all essential to elevate mood and help nutraceuticals be even more effective.  

Physical activity has been shown to decrease depression risk, and studies show that regular exercise helps to reduce anxiety, depression, and negative moods while also improving self-esteem, confidence, and overall well-being.  

Prioritizing quality sleep is also crucial for enhancing mood, as the impact of sleep on mood has been found to be more significant than the impact of mood disorders on sleep. Ensuring patients have consistent sleep-wake times and improving sleep hygiene is vital for a holistic approach to improving mood.  

When it comes to stress management, it’s chronic stress that typically leads to anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation, depression, and generally feeling overwhelmed. While nutraceuticals can be extremely helpful for quality of life and to mitigate the impact of stress on mood in stressful seasons, it’s important to consider working on stress management techniques and one’s overall relationship with stress for long-term success. 

Potential Risks and Considerations

It’s important to work with your healthcare providers when incorporating nutraceuticals into your wellness routines. Many nutraceuticals can have interactions with medications or even other supplements, and timing and dosage often need to be personalized on a case-by-case basis. Nutraceuticals are not always regulated and tested the same way pharmaceuticals are, and quality control does matter when it comes to standardized dosing. There’s also a potential for side effects of supplements, including gastrointestinal symptoms, unwanted mood changes, fatigue, or changes to sleep.

Having professional guidance can help determine which nutraceuticals are the best fit for your unique needs when it comes to elevating mood, taking into consideration your personal health history, use of other supplements or medications, diet, and lifestyle. Many nutraceuticals are not intended for long-term use and are meant to fill gaps in diet and lifestyle while addressing the root causes of mood dysfunction.  


Using Nutraceuticals For Mood Support: Key Takeaways

Nutraceuticals can be an extremely helpful intervention when it comes to elevating mood and overall well-being and have the power to be part of an effective treatment plan that considers all aspects of a person’s life in pursuit of improving symptoms like anxiety, depression, or overwhelming. A functional medicine practitioner can help you identify which nutraceuticals may be a good fit for your needs and can help uncover the root cause of mood dysfunction. It’s essential to work with your provider when it comes to supplement use, as interactions with medication or other supplements can occur, and providers will prioritize patient safety above all else.  

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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