A Diet For Depression

Depression affects around 1 in 10 adults with estimates that up to 50% of the population will experience at least one episode of depression during their lives. Mainstream medicine still relies upon psychoactive drugs that are variable in their effectiveness.

Yet current research suggests depression is actually linked to an array of underlying factors including inflammation, insulin resistance, oxidative stress, poor methylation and hormone imbalances. Its complex nature means for long term resolution you need to make proactive lifestyle and dietary changes, behavioural therapy and include regular exercise.

Are you Suffering?

Most of us feel low from time to time. But if you are struggling on a daily basis with some of the following symptoms you may benefit from some targeted intervention to help boost your mood.

Emotional symptoms

  • Ongoing feeling on sadness, emptiness or anxiety

  • Irritability, short temper

  • Feeling of hopelessness, worthless

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy

Physical symptoms

  • Sleep problems – you may be sleeping too much or too little

  • Low energy

  • Weight changes – either loss of appetite or constant need to eat even when not hungry

  • Difficulty staying focused on tasks, concentrating

  • Difficulty making decisions

Is Stress playing a role?

For some people ongoing stress and worry can lead the constant activation of our adrenal glands and the production of cortisol. Elevation of cortisol can actually change the physical structure of the brain affecting the function of dendrites and leading to the depression of serotonin, our feel good neurotransmitter.

DHEA is an important steroid hormone which helps counter the effects of cortisol.  DHEA levels decrease with age and stress, and people with depression often have low levels of DHEA.

Stress can also interfere with our sleep and with it the production of melatonin. Melatonin decreases with age and some studies link low levels of melatonin with symptoms of depression.

Therefore reducing stress, improving sleep and taking supplements to help with resilience and anxiety may be helpful. Seek support from your practitioner for the best types for your symptoms.

Hormone Havoc

Thyroid function directly affects metabolism and brain function, and low thyroid activity can contribute to depression – often due to its effects on serotonin levels. If you are concerned request a full thyroid screen that includes FT3 and FT4.

Sex hormones also influence mood and depression. Women are more susceptible to anxiety than men and also experience more depression when they are pregnant, postpartum, premenstrual and menopausal than at other times in life.  When oestrogen levels are high, women produce more serotonin and experience improved mood. When oestrogen declines during the premenstrual period or menopause, serotonin levels drop, contributing to low mood. Focusing on balancing hormones and including phytoestrogenic foods may be helpful. These include flaxseed, fermented soy products, oats, sesame seeds and yams.

Men can also be affected by hormone changes. Testosterone deficiency has been linked with depression in men, which is not surprising since testosterone plays an important role in brain function, including mood regulation.

Getting the right Nutrients

In order to produce neurotransmitters like serotonin which help boost our mood the body needs certain nutrients. Insufficient levels may contribute to low mood. For example, inadequate levels of B-vitamins, especially folate, vitamin B12, niacin, and vitamin B6, can disrupt the production of serotonin. If you are taking a supplement, then its worth knowing the form of supplemental folate is important since a considerable number of people have genetic polymorphisms that impair folate metabolism.  Taking supplemental 5-MTHF directly, which can cross the blood-brain barrier, may be more effective in boosting mood.

If you are following a vegan or vegetarian diet or suspect malabsorption due to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, then a B12 supplement may also be helpful.

L-tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) are immediate precursors to serotonin. L-tryptophan is essential for the brain to synthesize serotonin which is why some people find supplements of either 5HTP or L tryptophan helpful.   Tryptophan can be found in the diet; it’s in many protein rich foods such as meat, fish, shellfish, beans, soy and eggs.  So to boost mood aim to get these tryptophan rich foods in your diet daily. For tryptophan to reach the brain combine these foods with a little carbohydrate as this helps shunt it across the blood brain barrier – so scrambled eggs with oat cakes may be a good mood boosting snack.

Foods rich in Tryptophan

  • Game meat

  • Shellfish

  • Fish

  • Soy protein

  • Spirulina

  • Sesame seeds

  • Seaweed

  • Egg

  • Poultry

  • Pork

  • Beef & Lamb

  • Cottage Cheese

  • Spinach, Watercress, Asparagus

Fatty acids are critical components of nerve cell membranes and play an important role in neuronal communication. Fatty acid imbalances can impair the transmission of messages between nerve cells, leading to cognitive changes. For many people insufficient levels of omega 3 fats (found in oily fish) compared to levels of omega 6 fats may influence mood. You can easily find out your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids with a home spot blood test.  Including more oily fish may be beneficial (salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, prawns).

If you particularly struggle with low mood during the winter months make sure you check your levels of vitamin D.  Vitamin D receptors are present in the brain and vitamin D appears to play a key role in numerous body processes including hormone balance and lowering inflammation.

Magnesium is another important nutrient. It helps with blood-sugar regulation, and has a calming effect on the nervous system.  For helping with stress you may wish to consider soaking in a bath of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) several times a week. Our bodies absorb magnesium through the skin and this can help calm the body aiding sleep. However, for a more direct effect on the brain try a supplement of magnesium-L-threonate.

Inflammation and blood sugar balance

Some studies suggest a link between insulin resistance and depression.  We all know that feeling of irritability when we haven’t eaten for a long time and blood sugar levels plummet.  Making sure your blood sugar remains stable through the day can therefore  be helpful.   Cut out refined white carbohydrates, added sugars and sweeteners, increase protein and healthy fats at each meal and cut back on caffeine.  You may also benefit from blood sugar supporting supplements and / or chromium. Inositol is another supplement thought to be helpful in certain types of depression. It has important cellular communication functions in the nervous system and also helps with insulin resistance.

An i

Inflammation may also be linked to low mood so if needed consider supplements targeted to lowering inflammation and add in plenty of antioxidants to your diet. This may be why the Mediterranean Diet may help prevent or manage depression – it is  typically rich in omega-3 fatty acids (oily fish), monounsaturated fats (olives and avocado) and polyphenolic antioxidants (e.g. berries, nuts, seeds) together with lean protein and plenty of antioxidant rich vegetables could be beneficial. Probiotics may also be useful for improving mood – so include plenty of fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, yogurt and kimchi.

Remember too that certain foods can be common allergies and if you eating a food you are reacting to this can also cause inflammation. Gluten for example is commonly linked to depression and mood changes.

One of the best-researched antioxidants for depression is N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). NAC is a precursor to glutathione, one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants. Research has found glutathione depletion and oxidative stress in people with bipolar depression. Studies have shown NAC is a safe and effective adjunctive treatment that improves depression in patients with bipolar disorder.

Don’t overlook the importance of exercise. Some studies have found exercise alone is as effective as medication for relieving depression and that exercise can reduce depression recurrence rates. Other factors such as being involved in the community, having support around you from friends and family are equally important.

If you would like more help with your own diet, recipes and supplements then why not book in for a consultation.