Although most of us get depressed at one point or another, there are many others who find themselves depressed at a chronic level in which they feel helpless to the point of seeking the advice of a psychologist or psychiatrist. Most will be prescribed therapy, antidepressants or a combination of both. However, for those in which treatment has not been effective or who would prefer a natural approach to treating depression without the side effects of psychotropic drugs (which can include an increased risk of diabetes, suicide and violent behavior), there a few key dietary changes that one can make that can be just as effective as medication in lifting and overcoming depression.
Up until the past few years, we have always put our trust in doctors and medication when it comes to healing. However, more and more research is being conducted that clearly points to diet as the cause of much of our chronic physical and mental distress. The typical and even health conscious diet is usually made up of processed foods lacking in nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Not only does this make us deficient in the foods that promote healthy cell functioning, especially in our brains, but it also disrupts our body’s natural balance, which can easily lead to depression.
In 2005, there was a study conducted by McLean Hospital (affiliate of Harvard Medical School) that found that by giving rats uridine and omega 3 fatty acids they were able to produce equal results to those produced by antidepressants. This shouldn’t be surprising, as it’s long been known that societies who consume high amounts of fish (i.e. Omega 3’s) have statistically shown less prevalent rates of depression. Omega 3’s are essential to healthy brain functioning as about a quarter of the dry weight of our brains is made up of Omega 3’s. Besides fish, omega 3’s can also be found in fish oil, flax seed, and walnuts.
Uridine, which can be found in tomatoes, broccoli and molasses (the “waste” product from producing refined beet sugar, still containing the original nutrients), can produce rapid results in combination with omega 3’s according to researchers. One possible theory is that together they create an environment that produces favorable energy and communications among the neurons in the brain, according to Perry Renshaw, MD, PhD, and director of McLean’s Brain Imaging Center. Clearly researchers are beginning to see how improvements in diet can positively impact mood and other psychiatric conditions.
Beyond Omega 3’s and uridine, it’s also important to consume a diet low in sugar which means eliminating or greatly reducing grains, dairy products, excessive fruit consumption as well as hidden and refined sugars found in both processed and store/restaurant prepared foods. According to an article written by Dr. Joseph Mercola, those with depression have low levels of BNDF (Brain Deprived Neurotrophic Factor), an important hormone that promotes healthy brain neurons. When one consumes a diet high in sugar, inflammation causes the suppression of this hormone as well as imbalanced insulin and leptin levels, all of which can impact mental well being.
Despite the good news that dietary changes can be tremendously effective in overcoming depression, it is important to understand that it is still a serious condition that does require emotional support whether it be from family, friends or a certified/licensed health practitioner. Partaking in some sort of regular exercise program is also a key part of any good relief program. Studies have shown that exercise increases the levels of endorphins, serotonin and the overall number of brain cells, which can positively impact your mood and relieve stress. Additionally, according to the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (Dec 2006), a study was conducted on 80 elderly patients indicating that those with low levels of Vitamin D were 11 times more likely to be depressed then those who were not deficient. Vitamin D can be obtained through regular managed sun exposure and/or supplementation.
As one final note, I though it would be valuable to share some even more recent findings presented at the Neuroscience conference in 2009. A study conducted by Eva Redei (the David Lawrence Stein Professor of Psychiatry at Northwestern's Feinberg School) concluded that the original hypothesis that stress causes depression is inaccurate. Additionally, it appears that the belief that depression is caused by a “chemical” imbalance (i.e. neurotransmitters in the brain) may also be incorrect. Redei shows us that there is actually no overlap between the genes related to stress versus those related to depression and that the biochemical events that lead to depression actually start at the neuron level (as opposed to neurotransmitter activity). Both of these findings point to why antidepressants may be ineffective for so many. For me this builds an even bigger case for the importance of dietary changes that directly impact brain function as discussed above.
Biological Psychiatry, February 15, 2005
American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, December 2006
Published On: May 02, 2011