With the stresses we have to deal with these days, there is an increase in the prevalence of depression. Some are clinically diagnosed, whereas others may not be in such advanced stages. Whatever the case – we ALL probably need a pick-me-up from time to time. Those who need to go on medication should definitely do so, but we can also turn towards certain foods for assistance.
THE NUTRITION CONNECTION TO DEPRESSION
One wouldn’t first think that nutrition is linked to depression, but certain nutrients play a vital role in the manufacturing of our mood hormones, so if there is a deficiency in these nutrients or a defect in the manufacturing process there can be a resultant decrease in mood. There is considerable evidence to say that achieving optimal nutrition in depressed patients can be highly effective in bringing about an improvement1.
Excessive consumption of refined sugar can contribute to depression. In order for sugar to be processed for energy, it requires certain vitamins and minerals, but sugar itself does not provide any of these vitamins and minerals. Thus the consumption of large quantities of sugar depletes the stores and increases the demand for vitamins and minerals1.
Omega-3 fatty acids may improve the production and reception of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine also known as happy chemicals1.
The neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline are thought to influence mood and motivation. An imbalance in these neurotransmitters has a direct link to depression. Certain vitamins and minerals are involved in the manufacturing of these neurotransmitters, where if there is a deficiency there would be resultant low levels of the neurotransmitters.
As demonstrated in the diagram alongside, B-vitamins are instrumental in creating balance of neurotransmitters. The B-vitamins that are especially important are: B3, B6, B12 and folic acid1. Interestingly folate deficiency is exceptionally common in patients that are depressed.Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 13.34.02
In this figure you will also see that other vitamins and minerals play a role, these are:
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The Mediterranean diet is characterised by a high intake of fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, wholegrains, olive oil and fish; a moderate intake of alcohol; and a low intake of meat and dairy products2. Adhering to this dietary pattern ensures an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals that are involved in the manufacturing of mood hormones, along with multiple other benefits.
Poor control of blood glucose levels often underlies depression. The symptoms experienced due to poor control of blood sugar levels include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, dizziness, poor concentration, forgetfulness, crying spells and depression1.
ENVIRONMENT & LIFESTYLE CONNECTION TO DEPRESSION
Sunlight also stimulates the production of mood hormones, and some may not be getting enough of it, especially those that spend most of their time indoors1.
Stress rapidly decreases serotonin levels. That being said, altering our stress levels is easier said than done. You may have to employ various methods to help decrease stress, such as yoga, meditation or physical exercise. Exercise improves our stress response and can thus reduce stress-induced depletion of serotonin it also leads to the release of other “happy” hormones, endorphines1.
THE BOTTOM LINE: RECOMMENDATIONS
Decrease consumption of refined sugar (eaten alone) and stimulants like caffeinated drinks and cigarettes.
Increase intake of fruits and vegetables – aim for at least 5 servings per day.
Aim to eat oily fish, such as mackerel, tuna, salmon and herring, at least twice a week, if you are not reaching this an Omega-3 supplement becomes increasingly important.
Make sure that you are consuming enough protein which is found in foods like meat, fish, eggs, beans and lentils.
Understand the principles of the Mediterranean Diet and try to follow them.
Sometimes it may be difficult to achieve the desired intake of micronutrients through diet alone, so then it would be advisable to take a supplement. Look for one where the nutrients are chelated or in “food form” to ensure optimal absorption:
Vitamin B-complex, including 10mg of B6, 400mg Folate and 10mg of B12.
Additional Folate – 400 to 2000mg a day.
Omega-3 capsules, providing at least 400mg of EPA.
Make sure that you are getting safe and direct exposure to sunlight. Dermatologists recommend about 10 minutes exposure in the morning between 07:00 and 09:00.
Make sure that you are exercising regularly, read this article for more on the topic http://futurelife.co.za/need-lift-spirits-get-moving/.
Depression arises from various different factors. Medication may be needed, and it is important to accept and adhere to the regime. However, food can help to improve the condition, especially if the depression is due to a deficiency of a certain nutrient. So include the foods mentioned above, along with physical activity and sunlight exposure to give your happiness a boost!
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1. Depression: the nutrition connection. Holford, Patrick. London : Primary Care Mental Health, 2003, Vol. 1.
2. Mediterranean diet and depression. A Sa´nchez-Villegas, P Henrı´quez, M Bes-Rastrollo and J Doreste. 8A, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria : Public Health Nutrition, 2006, Vol. 9.