Many people will suffer from at least one depression episode over the course of their lives. The likelihood of a recurrence is 50%–60%!
With the bad economy creating financial, health, and social burdens, depression diagnoses are likely to increase.
That’s why many people turn only to medications and psychotherapy; however, you should also consider a healthy diet to supplement your overall treatment for depression.
Researchers have long studied the effects and benefits of antidepressants, but recently, research about food and its effectiveness on depression treatment has surfaced. More research needs to be done on the benefits that certain food and nutrients can have on depression, but either way, altering your diet as a part of your treatment plan can definitely have you reaping many health benefits.
The underlying causes of depression are still a mystery because of a lack of long-term studies and limited research in the area. People who suffer from depression may need more of certain nutrients than the average person; perhaps this is because of a gene mutation affecting the necessary enzymes in nutrient metabolism.
That is why what you eat is very important if you are trying to treat depression or have a family history of it. Combining therapy with the following four mood-boosting nutrients can improve your mood and mental health!
Brain-Boosting Foods: B Vitamins (B6, B12, and Folate)
These vitamins play a critical role in producing serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is important for regulating mood, behavior, satiety, and food intake in your central nervous system. Therefore, low levels of B6, B12, and folate may lead to depression.
As you age, the amount of vitamin B12 that you absorb decreases; therefore, it is important to eat a diet containing this vitamin.
Food Sources: Vitamin B6 can be found in poultry, tuna, salmon, beef, liver, lentils, sunflower seeds, bran, bananas, carrots, and potatoes with skin. Vitamin B12 can be found in foods of animal origin such as dairy products (milk, cheese, and yogurt), liver, beef, pork, fish, clams and oysters. Folate can be found in green vegetables, edamame, avocado, orange juice, beans, lentils, and whole grains (pasta, bread, and crackers).
Brain-Boosting Foods: Tryptophan
This is an essential amino acid that is also important for producing serotonin. Studies have shown it’s not effective to consume foods with serotonin, since serotonin cannot pass through barriers to get to the brain. Tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin, meaning that it can turn into serotonin. It is able to cross the barrier into the brain and, in combination with vitamin B6, it produces serotonin. The combination of these two nutrients is important for an antidepressant effect. Low levels of tryptophan have been shown to induce depression.
Food Sources: Tryptophan is found in many protein-rich foods, though in much smaller amounts compared to other amino acids. You can find tryptophan in lamb, fish, poultry, cheese, milk, eggs, potatoes, and bananas.
Brain-Boosting Foods: Polyunsaturated Fats
Polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, are an important part of serotonin metabolism. Low intake of these good fats has been shown to change the way serotonin and other neurotransmitters work, resulting in a decrease in blood flow in the brain, an increase in inflammation, and a loss of neurons. While omega-3 fats have been shown to decrease depressive symptoms, current evidence is limited, and therefore these results are inconclusive. But they are still worthwhile to eat, because omega-3 fats also have many other health benefits, such as the reduction of bad cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation.
Food Sources: Omega-3 fats can be found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel or sardines, as well as walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil.
Brain-Boosting Foods: Selenium
This is another mineral that can have an effect on decreasing depressive symptoms. One of the reasons why is that selenium plays a role in producing thyroid hormones—decreased thyroid functioning has been shown to be associated with depressive symptoms. Studies have reported that those on a very-low-selenium diet, compared to a higher selenium diet, have shown more symptoms of depression and hostility.
Food Sources: Selenium can be found in foods such as mushrooms, pasta, rice, milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts, eggs, beans, tofu, oysters, fish, liver poultry, beef, pork, and lamb.
Dealing with depression is never easy, but you don’t have to suffer in silence. You can turn to therapy, medications, and diet and exercise changes to make a difference.
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Shabbir F., et al., “Effect of diet on serotonergic neurotransmission in depression,” Neurochemistry International 2013; 62:324-329.
van de Rest O., et al., “B Vitamins and n–3 Fatty Acids for Brain Development and Function: Review of Human Studies,” Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism 2012; 60:272-292.