Depression and Nutrition
Author: Helen Corrigan
1st Nov 2011
Depression and nutrition
Depression is an extremely common illness with a multiple of possible causative factors, not only psychological, but also biological and social. This wide variety of possible causes can depression difficult to treat, as too does the fact that it is a mental illness, and thus less tangible and less well understood than many physical illnesses. Critical, therefore, is a comprehensive, holistic and multi-faceted approach to the identification of its underlying cause, or causes, exacerbating factors, and treatment.
Blood sugar imbalance, or dysglycaemia, is one of the most common underlying imbalances in a number of mental health problems, including depression. A tendency towards depression and anxiety are two of a number of symptoms of dysglycaemia. Excessive use of stimulants (such as sugar, tea, coffee, alcohol and cigarettes) can result in symptoms similar to dysglycaemia and can bring on symptoms of mental illness and should thus be avoided. To balance blood sugar, one should:
- gradually reduce and ultimately minimise or ideally eliminate stimulants from the diet, such as sugar and foods containing sugar (including chocolate), tea, coffee and other caffeinated drinks;
- consume three main meals and two snacks during the day;
- eat a small amount of protein with each meal;
- eat a diet high in fibre;
- consume, both within and as supplements to the diet, vitamins C and B complex, magnesium and chromium; and
- exercise moderately and regularly.
Food intolerances, linked to so many digestive symptoms, can also be related to mental health problems. The most common of these food intolerances is to wheat, as well as dairy products, oranges, eggs, grains and yeast, among others. Deep depression for no particular reason can be a symptom of food or chemical intolerances, and so could possible be a factor for this particular client. If any food intolerances are an issue, this food / these foods should be removed immediately from the diet. It is important to identify alternatives, in order that the process as easy and unstressful as possible, and that one has enough choice to eat as frequently as one should to maintain blood sugar balance, as well as include the optimum amount of nutrients in the diet.
An underactive thyroid can often manifest itself as depression, and so it is important to identify if this is a factor. Another symptom of hypothyroidism is weight gain. If hypothyroidism is a factor, then specific nutrients to promote thyroid health, such as iodine (found in seafood), zinc, selenium and tyrosine, should be increased in the diet.
Specific nutrient deficiencies have also been linked to depression, particularly of B vitamins and essential fatty acids. B3, B6, B12 and folic acid are essential for methylation, the chemical process of converting neurotransmitters (such as dopamine, adrenalin, noradrenalin and serotonin) from one form to another. Neurotransmitters are an essential component of brain function and complications with these chemicals can result in mood disorders, such as depression. Another symptom of these B vitamin deficiencies is weight gain. If deficiency is an issue, it is recommended to supplement, as well as increase B vitamins in the diet (in wholegrains, dark, green, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds for example).
Essential fatty acid deficiency is also a risk factor for depression, as these nutrients are essential for brain function. Particularly important are omega 3 and omega 6, though it is more commonly omega 3 that is deficient. Essential fatty acids can be increased in the diet by consuming oily fish, nuts, seeds and their oils, as well as supplementing with fish oils or one to two tablespoons of flax seed oil (for omega 3) and starflower oil or evening primrose oil (for omega 6). It is recommended to take at least 1g of EPA for an anti-depressant effect.
Just as a lack of nutrients can increase the risk of depression, so too can the presence of anti-nutrients, such as toxic heavy metals, like lead, cadmium, mercury and excessive levels of copper. Symptoms of heavy metal toxicity include anxiety and emotional instability. If toxicity is an issue, potential sources need to be identified and avoided and anti-oxidant levels increased, particularly vitamin C, which is protective against toxic minerals.
A nutritional therapist can help to investigate what factors in your diet may be affecting you, mentally and physically, and possibly contributing to your depression, and support you to improve your diet and thus your health. Please don’t hesitate to contact Helen Corrigan, one of our nutritional therapists if this is something you would like to address.
Helen Corrigan 087 9048189 firstname.lastname@example.org