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Mood Foods: Eating to Fight Depression
One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. – Virginia Woolf
The bad news is that there is no specific food or diet that is proven to vanish depression away completely with a magic wand. And we all know that depression is a lot more complex than that. There are many neurotransmitters that could be unbalanced. These could be from a lack of nutrients or other imbalances in the body. There is never one single cause of depression, and it can only be treated by taking a holistic approach through all factors. Diet is only one of them.
Whilst eating a certain food will most likely not dissolve depression to nothing, it’s known that certain foods and eating healthfully can have a powerful influence on our mental health, and in some cases, has been known to effectively improve depression, and other mental health issues such as anxiety. What we consume can have a significant impact on our mood. This is reflected in an analysis stating that, ‘a dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.’
Chronic inflammation is often the root of many diseases, including depression. Much research is being done on the connection between treating inflammation and alleviating depression, including scientific papers and clinical trial results. This paper explores the potential effects of inflammation causing depression. It was concluded that ‘one thing is for sure: depression, and mental health problems in general, can no longer be seen only as disorders of the mind, or indeed only as disorders of the brain. The strong impact of the immune system on emotions and behaviour demonstrates that mental health is the health of the whole body.’ There is hope that eating to heal inflammation can potentially have a positive impact on mental health issues.
More and more research is being done on the gut-brain connection. Who would have known that the gut bacteria could affect our minds? Many health practitioners believe that the gut is the root of all illness, and this does not discriminate against depression. If we change our diet, the most important influence on our gut bacteria, then we can potentially experience an improvement in mental health.
A western cardiologist, Dr Junger, wrote about the toxicity of the planet and how to support the body’s ability to detox and cleanse itself in his book Clean. How do we fight the constant strain of inflammation our bodies go through because of lifestyle and environmental factors?
On the connection between the gut and depression, Junger explained: ‘When your intestinal environment is damaged and inflamed, there is a slow reduction of natural serotonin levels, because so much of your serotonin is made in the intestines under the right conditions. When this happens, it physically changes the way you are getting signals about what to feel and how to respond to the world. Your experiences of moods and feelings will change for the worse, shifting to apathy, a dulled anesthetized state, or serious lows. This explanation could be seen as a modern scientific understanding of amma’s torpor of the spirit. Both are caused by toxicity.’
Whilst taking a probiotic will not cure depression, it could help as part of a wider treatment plan, and it’s also a great supplement for anyone to take for their overall health. We can recommend Fushi’s Biotic Balance which is combined with vitamin C to give a boost to the immune system.
Getting your greens in like spinach and kale can help to fight inflammation, including brain inflammation, which has been linked to severe depression. A higher intake of vegetables in general is associated with lower rates of depression.
Chlorella is a green single celled algae that is most known for detoxification. NASA even uses chlorella for the health of astronauts on long space missions. It can increase good bacteria in the gut, improve digestion and may increase energy and mood. Touted as a ‘superfood’, chlorella is rich in Chlorella Growth Factor, a nutrient that boosts the immune system function, protects the body from free radical damage and helps damaged cells rejuvenate and regrow. These all increase neurotransmitter levels which help to fight depression.
Diets rich in healthy fats have been associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety, as the brain needs fats to function. Avocados are packed full of the nutrients that are needed for serotonin to optimise in the brain.
Studies suggest that increasing omega-3 fatty acids can support brain function and reduce symptoms of depression. Fats rich in omega-3 fatty acids include hemp seed and flax seed. You can find out more information on the benefits of hemp seed and flax seed in this article.
The Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine published the findings of a two year study where patients were either treated with antioxidants or placebos. The antioxidant group had a significantly lower depression score than the placebo group after two years. Berries are some of nature’s most potent antioxidant sources, with a whole host of health benefits.
We can recommend Fushi’s The Best Superfood Berry Blend which packs in an abundance of berries, including Goji berry, Acai Berry, Pomegranate, Montmorency Cherry, Maqui Berry, Raspberry leaf, Blueberry, Blackberry, Cranberry and Prune fruit.
These are only some of the foods that you can start weaving into your diet now. Many more have been researched but these are good places to start. It’s also important to consider what you cut down on. Eating lots of sugary or highly processed foods will create inflammation, and put these mood-boosting foods at a disadvantage to start with.
Diet may not be able to cure depression alone, but it’s encouraging to know that nutrition is a factor. Science and its ongoing research allows us to continue implementing strategies to fight this debilitating, life-threatening illness.
Written by Jess Burman
BA (Honours) in Writing
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