Does diet affect depression?
How our diet affects depression
Depression is remaining to be one of the biggest problems that our society faces. If you look at the NICE website (that’s the National institute of clinical excellence) up to 36% of adults in the UK suffer from varying degrees of depression. The figure involved here means that by 2026, the amount of people in the UK suffering from depression could be 1.45 million, and this is just the figure reflecting the identified number of individuals, there may be many thousands more who have depression but yet to seek help!
It is estimated to be the second biggest disability in the world by 2020. The help on offer for depression is medication in the form of antidepressants and talk therapy such as CBT or Hypnotherapy, but still, the numbers of people affected by depression, still grows. The cost for treating this condition runs into the Billions!
Perhaps rather than look to medication and talk therapy, we should be concentrating of prevention, and our diets could play an extremely important role here. What we put into our mouths could be the answer for many people and could reduce the prevalence of depression. So is food really the best medicine?
Depression follows the ‘biopsychosocial’ model which means that depression is influenced by a number of factors, biological, psychological and social factors. Food effects our biological functioning via the vagus nerve, which runs between our brains and our digestive tract, so that they communicate with each other. If we took a severe knock to the head, our gut can actually go into distress. A recent study discovered that stimulating this nerve following a brain trauma, halted the gastrointestinal distress within the patient, (Bansal, 2010). So this is a pretty important discovery and the link between the mind and the digestive system is a strong and valid one and helps us better understand how food can or could effect depression.
To reinforce this direct link, we should examine how obesity (being heavily overweight) is connected with depression in both children and adults. Being overweight does increase the likelihood of developing depression and visa versa, e.g. being depressed can lead directly to being overweight. I mentioned the social aspects of developing depression so we can look to the environment, such as living conditions and poverty, where the cheapest foods are more likely to make us overweight. There are also genetic factors at play and depression very often runs in families. So both our genes and our environment, can directly lead to either depression, or obesity, or the other way round.
At this point we can look into ‘systemic inflammation’. This is were there is a release of pro-inflammatory cytokines (protein molecules) form our immune related cells and then follows a chronic activation of our innate immune system. This can lead to a resistance in insulin and an elevated risk of heart disease. Systemic inflammation can be triggered by a number of things, such as having too much adipose tissue (body fat tissue). Inflammation can also be found within the brain once these elements pass from the gut barrier into the brain barrier. The cytokines can travel into the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that controls our nervous system) and other parts of the brain and can lead to fluctuation in mood. Therefore, these inflammatory cytokines play an important role in our mood function which could lead to depression.
Lets look at the options on nutrition. Well, it’s pretty obvious, plenty of fruit and veg, which help develop the flora in the gut, which in turn, helps our digestive system to be more defensive against the inflammation. Foods that are rich in florate include fruit and dark green vegetables. Try and boost your levels of selenium, you can buy supplements for this or foods rich in selenium include brazil nuts, shellfish and liver. Foods containing vitamin D may also help with mood too, these include soya, tofu, fish and mushrooms. We also increase our vitamin D levels wen we are out in the sunshine. In places where there is limited sunshine, there are higher risks of depression and other mood disorders such at seasonal affected disorder (SAD).
If your diet is poor or deficient in good nutrients then supplementing the vitamins by taking a multivitamin could really help improve the mood. People often take vitamin D with calcium to help absorption into the blood and to help the bones grow stronger. Fishy oils have also been linked to good mental health, so if you don’t like eating fish then an omega or fish complex supplement could help. I should point out that it is always best to see someone who is qualified to give you the correct information, such as a nutritionist or your GP.
Relaxation exercises are also good to help you deal with stressful situations, so practicing self hypnosis and meditation are great ways to help you deal with stress, so that your mind is healthy and this has a wonderful impact on your body too. It really is a mind body connection. Try not to eat on the move, take your time eating and be mindful. What I mean by this is, try to value what you are eating, chew slowly and relish the flavours. Imagine if you had deprived yourself of chocolate for a month and then took a mouthful of chocolate, your mouth would burst with flavours and the experience is enhanced when you relish each bite.
So, food really does play an important role in our mood. With the correct nutrients in our body it really can influence our mind which then pays back the health to the body.
Image courtesy of [dream designs] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net