Depression is a dangerous mental illness that is usually caused by psychological issues, biochemical imbalances in the brain, or a physical illness.
It can be quite debilitating and interfere with a person’s ability to enjoy a normal, happy life.
Fortunately, there are a variety of treatment options available for depression including cognitive behavioural therapy, antidepressant medications, lifestyle changes, and psychological counselling.
Researchers have also discovered that a person’s diet can have a significant effect on the severity and duration of their depression.
The link between depression and nutrition
While researching the symptoms of depression, researchers discovered that depressed people tended to eat poor diets.
They initially assumed this occurred because the subject’s depression made it difficult to buy healthy foods or to prepare nutritious meals.
They eventually discovered that the relationship between diet and depression was far more complex, with nutrition playing an important role in maintaining good mental health.
Researchers even created a new field of medicine called nutritional psychiatry to examine the impact of nutrition on the mind.
The effect that good nutrition has on mental illnesses like depression has been confirmed by a number studies, including one published in the journal BMC Medicine in 2017.
This study found that subjects with moderate to severe depression saw a significant improvement in their depression symptoms by simply improving their diet.
It was the first study to confirm that diet alone could lead to a significant reduction in the symptoms of depression.
The subjects in the study followed a specific diet for 12 weeks and received counselling sessions from a dietician.
The diet included higher intakes of fruit and vegetables, fish and whole grains — while avoiding fried food, refined food, and sugary snacks.
The results were quite remarkable, with 32% of participants experiencing complete remission from depression.
Another study found that people eating a “Mediterranean diet” had a 30% lower risk of having depression compared to the average person.
The Mediterranean diet is also high in fruit and vegetables, fish, and whole grains — along with healthy fats, legumes, and nuts.
Nutrients that may reduce depression symptoms
Scientists have identified a range of nutrients that have the capacity to reduce the symptoms of depression.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are important nutrients that are mostly found in fish and plant oils.
The most beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
These acids help the body in a number of ways, making it easier to produce cells, repairing cellular damage, and reducing bad cholesterol levels.
Researchers have also found that Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce the symptoms of both anxiety and depression.
The best results can be obtained from foods high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Fish and seafood products including salmon, herring, mackerel, oysters, and anchovies are all excellent sources of EPA.
Antioxidants are nutrients that can prevent the oxidisation of cells within the human body.
The most common anti-oxidants in the human diet include vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin A.
Antioxidants work by fight free radical molecules that build up within cells, causing inflammation and cell death.
This action is particularly beneficial for the brain, as it is more prone to damage by free radicals compared to other parts of the body.
Researchers believe that eliminating free radicals in the brain can reduce the severity of certain depression symptoms.
Obtaining more antioxidants is easy.
All you have to do is include more fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet.
B vitamins are useful for keeping the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy.
Vitamin B12 and vitamin B9 have also been found to also reduce the risk of mood disorders.
Some of the best foods for B vitamins include
- Wholegrain cereals
- Soya beans
Selenium is mineral that acts as an anti-oxidant within the body.
It prevents the polyunsaturated acids in our cell membranes from being oxidised — helping your body make the most of the essential oils in your diet.
Multiple studies have found that being deficient in selenium can negatively impact a person’s mood and increase the risk of depression.
Selenium deficiency has also been linked to gastrointestinal cancer, liver cancer, prostate cancer, and thyroid disorders.
You can obtain more selenium by taking a multivitamin or eating more
- Brazil nuts
- Cottage cheese
- Brown rice
- Sunflower seeds
Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with various mood disorders including depression.
Fortunately, it is relatively easy to obtain more vitamin D.
Either spend more time in the sun, take a vitamin D supplement or eat foods high in vitamin D like salmon, mackerel, tuna, or vitamin D fortified milk.
Zinc is an essential nutrient that plays a role in a myriad of cellular processes.
Researchers have found that zinc supplements can help people suffering from depression and other mental disorders.
The best sources of zinc include:
- Whole grains
Foods to avoid
Researchers have also discovered that some foods can actually worsen the symptoms of depression.
Alcohol can alter a person’s mood and makes depression symptoms worse.
It can also increase the risk of panic attacks and general anxiety.
Heavily processed oils (corn oil, soybean oil) and oils containing trans-fats can cause inflammation in the body and increase the symptoms of depression.
Sugary foods and processed foods
These foods can also cause inflammation in the body and significantly increase blood sugar levels, which may worsen the symptoms of depression.
If you are suffering from depression and want to try a new diet, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist.
They will help you formulate a diet that is healthy, nutritious, and effective at treating your depression.