Depression is a very common mental disorder affecting more than 350 million people of all ages globally. It is different than usual, short-lived mood fluctuations and emotional responses that occurs in everyday life. Depression goes well beyond temporarily feeling blue or sad; it affects one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors that interferes with daily life.
It is believed to be caused by a combination of factors such as genetic, biological, environmental, and psychosocial. There are different types of depression and depending upon severity, a person is generally treated with combination of options such as medications, psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy, and other brain stimulation therapies.
Depression, if left untreated can take a serious toll on physical health, increase risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, and suicidal thoughts. It is highly recommended for anyone diagnosed with depression follow their care plan strictly but in addition to the professional treatment, there are a few dietary factors that are beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of depression. While there is no specific diet to treat depression, several studies have looked into different nutrients that could potentially help regulate chemical imbalances in the brain and boost one’s mood.
Increase your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are an essential fats, a substance that can’t be manufactured by our body and must be obtained by our diet. There are two types of Omega 3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA and are commonly found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, trout, mackerel or seeds such as flax or pumpkin. It can also be obtained via supplements such as Buddha’s Herbs One A Day-Mega Omega with 700 mg. EPA have been shown to be the most potent natural anti-depressant and surveys have shown that the more fish the countries eats the lower is their incidence of depression.
A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that people suffering from severe depression who were already on anti-depressants found a significant improvements in their mood when they were given a highly concentrated form of omega 3 fat, called ethyl-EPA versus a placebo (3). Additionally, a meta-analysis showed that omega-3 fatty acid reduced depressive symptoms by an average of 53% and that there was as correlation between dose and depressive symptom improvement, meaning that higher dose omega-3 was more effective than a lower dose.
Get adequate sunshine
There is a growing number of research that shows a relationship between vitamin D and depression although the results are inconclusive at this time. One theory is that vitamin D affects the amount of chemicals called monoamines (such as serotonin) and how they work in your brain. Many anti-depressant medicines work by increasing the amount of monoamines in your brain. Therefore researchers have suggested that vitamin D may also increase the amount of monoamines, which has an effect on depression. At this time research is not able to clearly show whether low vitamin D levels cause depression, or whether low vitamin D levels develop because someone is depressed (3). However, it is highly recommended to get your vitamin D levels (25-hydroxyvitamin D) checked and get treated for it. Staying outdoors in the sun is the best way to get vitamin D but it can also be obtained by food fortified with vitamin D such as milk, cereals, juices, and yogurt. Additionally, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, mushrooms, egg yolks, and beef liver are good sources of vitamin D. There are two forms of vitamin D supplements available: Ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). In the past, both forms of vitamin D were thought to be equivalent but now research strongly suggests the use of vitamin D3 for oral supplements – the same type of vitamin D created in our body when exposed to sunlight (6). Buddha Herb’s currently has Vitamin D3 1000 IU and Calcium Citrate with D3.
Balance your Blood Sugar
The effect of sugar on one’s mood is well established by many research studies. Our brain feeds primarily on glucose (sugar) and prefers an even supply of glucose throughout the day rather than sudden peaks and troughs. Highly refined carbohydrates such as white flour, white bread, cakes, sugary beverages and other processed foods are broken down into sugar rapidly thus creating a havoc on the blood glucose level. It is therefore important to eat unprocessed, whole foods on a daily basis as they are metabolized at a slower rate thus providing a better blood sugar control. All highly refined carbohydrates and food with high glycemic index food affect insulin release, hypo/hyperglycemia and subsequent mood swings.
A study published in British Journal of Psychiatry (7) found that diet with a lot of processed food had a 58% increased risk for depression, whereas those whose diet could be described as containing more whole foods had a 26% reduced risk for depression. It is also important to note that food with lots of refined carbohydrates are linked with depression because these foods not only supply very little nutrients but also use up the mood enhancing B vitamins and also divert the supply of another mineral chromium which is important for the proper functioning of insulin.
Get enough B vitamins
Vitamin B-12 and other B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Low levels of B-12 and other B vitamins such as vitamin B-6 and folate may be linked to depression and are less likely to get positive results from anti-depressant drugs. Although the role of B vitamins isn’t very clear, it is very important to get adequate B vitamins and get your blood checked for deficiencies. An elevated level of homocysteine is an indicator of an inadequate intake of B vitamins, as well as genetic factors that affect the body’s absorption and use of folic acid. Therefore, in addition to B vitamins, get your homocysteine levels checked as well. One population based study suggested that only vitamin B12 deficiency was associated with depressive symptoms but folate deficiency and hyperhomocystemia were not related to depressive symptoms.
Poor eating habits and inability to absorb vitamins due to health conditions such as Celiac disease, Crohns disease, bariatric surgery are some reasons for low vitamin B levels. It is important to incorporate B vitamin rich whole foods – whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables in your everyday diet. Folic acid is particularly rich in green vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, while B12 is only found in animal foods meat, fish, eggs and dairy produce.
Boost your Serotonin Levels
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is a key to mood regulation, gastrointestinal function including the sensation of hunger, satiety, pain perception to name a few. Our body can make serotonin from an amino acid called tryptophan by converting into amino acid 5-Hydroxy Tryptophan (5-HTP), which in turn is converted into serotonin. Tryptophan is generally found in protein rich foods such as meat, fish, beans and eggs.
Studies have shown that both tryptophan and 5-HTP to have an antidepressant effect in clinical trials, although 5-HTP showed significant improvement. Serotonin supplements such as 5-HTP made from the seeds of an African plant called Griffonia simplicifolia is available but it is extremely important to check with your health care provider before taking any supplements. One can also increase the level of serotonin by getting more sunlight, massage, exercise, and reducing stress levels.