The low-down on Depression and Diet

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April is here and the month of April features not only Easter, but also World Health Day. The theme this year for World Health Day, which falls on Friday the 7th, is Depression. So without dampening the mood of Easter and the hype of long weekends, quality family time and delicious foods, I thought it best to give you the low down on diet and depression.

Depression is a topic most people shy away from but knowing the cold, hard facts can only be beneficial. The more you know, the easier it becomes to understand and once you’ve mastered the skills of understanding depression, you’ll realise in actual fact, it cannot be understood but there are actions we can take to lessen the risk of suffering from depression.

The World Health Organisation has a wonderful factsheet that gives information on the types of depression, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. Worth a read.

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/

I am no expert in the field of depression itself, so I am going to stay within my area of expertise and speak about the relationship between diet and depression. A diet rich in the following nutrients has been proven to decrease the risk of depression.

Anti-oxidants: A good balance between oxidative stress and antioxidants is very important. Inflammation and oxidative stress are major contributors in the pathogenesis of depression. When I refer to anti-oxidants I mean vitamin E, vitamin C, Beta carotene and selenium (amongst others). Foods high in these antioxidants include: Pumpkin, apricots, mangoes, carrots, spinach, parsley, seafood, lean meat, whole grains, oranges, berries, kiwi fruit, broccoli, peppers, vegetable oils, nuts, avocados and seeds.

Folate (also called 5-MTHF): Folate is crucial to synthesise the neurotransmitters—dopamine, noradrenalin, and serotonin—all of which have antidepressant effects. So, without enough of the 5-MTHF form of folate, serotonin levels decrease in the brain, contributing to depression. Folate-rich foods include: eggs and leafy green vegetables such as kale, broccoli, spinach, swiss chard.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D modulates the part of the brain which regulates adrenalin, noradrenaline and dopamine production. Vitamin D protects against the depletion of dopamine and serotonin centrally. Simply speaking, low vitamin D levels can be a contributing factor to depression. Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish, liver and egg yolks (not forgetting sun exposure).

Tryptophan: Tryptophan is an amino acid that is used in the biosynthesis of proteins. Tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), which is then converted into serotonin. So, tryptophan and 5-HTP both act as precursors to the production of serotonin in the brain. As you can already tell, it is very important to include this amino acid in your diet. Foods containing tryptophan are: turkey, nuts, seeds and legumes.

Omega 3: People with depression may have low blood levels of brain chemicals called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which play an important role in brain function. Food sources of Omega 3 (EPA and DHA) are: sardines, salmon, herring, trout and tuna.

5 Eating tips to brighten your day

  1. Include folate rich foods daily: foods containing folate are amongst others eggs and leafy green vegetables such as kale, broccoli, spinach, swiss chard etc
  2. Get your dose of vitamin D: monitoring the amount of time you spend outdoors is important, but also make sure to get in enough eggs and fatty fish.
  3. Protein, protein, protein: we already mentioned the very important tryptophan. Aim to have protein at every meal and remember to incorporate plant-based proteins (lentils, beans, quinoa, soya) into your diet too.
  4. Variety is key: eating a variety of foods ensures you are getting in all the very important micronutrients, amino acids and trace minerals.
  5. Enjoy your food: eating can boost your mood, not in the obvious physiological response, but in the enjoyment of taking 30 minutes down time, or enjoying the company of a friend or family member so sit, chew, relax and be grateful for all the positives in your life.

Not quite food related, but advice none-the-less. Remember how important it is to get 7-8 hours of sleep every day, to rest and recuperate on weekends, to spend quality time with loved ones and last but not least, to take some “me-time”.