Nutritional Remedies for Depression
We experience some episodes of deep sadness or depression some time in our lives. This often causes low mood, lack of energy, and a feeling of helplessness. Some people who are chronically depressed need medical treatment in order to be able to function well in their daily activities. Doctors may prescribe medications to treat their symptoms, but these medications often take time to kick in. Side effects are also common, which make some patients discontinue taking them, while others are afraid of being dependent on medications. For most people, however, depression may be relieved by turning to their friends or family for support and by modifying some areas in their lives to improve their physical and mental health. These natural measures to combat depression are often more effective and have fewer adverse effects than taking prescription medications.
Research shows that improving one’s eating habits and getting proper nutrition is an effective way of fighting depression. It may be combined with other natural treatments, such as exercise and meditation, and/or with medications, such as antidepressant drugs. Here are some nutrition tips to relieve depression:
- Eat a Nutrient-Dense Diet
Nutrient-dense foods support physical and mental health, while a diet that is rich in calories but poor in nutrient content can cause physical as well as mental illness. Eat a variety of foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, and a small amount of fat.
- Eat foods that Contain the Essential Antioxidants
Antioxidants are natural substances that have been shown fight free radicals, which are damaging molecules produced in the body during normal metabolic functions. Antioxidants such as vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene combat the aging effects of free radicals, which contribute to physical and mental dysfunction.
Foods that are rich in beta-carotene include: apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, broccoli, collards, peaches, spinach, pumpkin, sweet potato
Foods that are rich in vitamin C include: blueberries, broccoli, kiwi, oranges, grapefruit, peppers, potatoes, tomato, strawberries,
Foods that are rich in vitamin E include: nuts and seeds, margarine, vegetable oils, and wheat germ
- Choose “Smart” Carbs
A brain chemical called serotonin is responsible for boosting mood, and depression occurs when there are low levels of this neurotransmitter. Carbohydrate craving is probably related to decreased serotonin activity, so you must make smart choices. Choose “complex” carbohydrates found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes rather than simple sugars found in cakes or cookies.
- Boost Alertness by Eating Protein-Rich Foods
Healthy foods that are rich in protein, such as turkey, chicken, and tuna are rich in tyrosine, an amino acid that helps boost norepinephrine and dopamine (brain chemicals). This increases alertness and improves your ability to concentrate. Other good sources of proteins include lean beef, fish, poultry, beans, peas, low-fat cheese, milk, yogurt, and soy products.
- Eat a Mediterranean-Style Diet
A Mediterranean-style diet is a healthy eating pattern that includes a balance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, cereals, fish, and legumes. This type of diet is rich in folate and vitamin B12. One study showed that people who consume a diet that is lacking in these nutrients have a higher risk of depression that those whose diets contain plenty of these. Folate is found in legumes, nuts, dark green vegetables, and fruits, which are staples of the Mediterranean diet. Vitamin B12 is found in all lean, low-fat animal/dairy products, and fish.
- Get Lots of Vitamin D
A large study found that the risk of depression is higher in people who are low in vitamin D compared to those who have normal vitamin D levels. Another study suggests that people who are suffering from depression, especially those having seasonal affective disorder, tend to improve when their levels of vitamin D are increased within a year.
- Eat Selenium-Rich Foods
Selenium, a mineral we need for good health, has also been linked to moods. Eat foods that are rich in selenium, including beans, legumes, nuts, seeds lean meat, low-fat dairy products, fish and seafood, and whole grains.
- Eat Omega-3-Rich Foods
Low intake of omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with depression. One study found that there is a higher number of people with major depressive disorder in societies that consume less fish, which is a rich source of omega-3, than those who take plenty of it. Good sources of these healthy fats include oily fish such as anchovy, mackerel, sardines, salmon, and tuna, nuts, and flaxseed. Another type of omega-3 fatty acid is alpha-linolenic acid, which is found in soybean oil, canola oil, flaxseed, walnuts, and leafy, dark green vegetables.
- Avoid Unhealthy Foods
Eliminating some foods, such as dairy, alcohol, wheat, caffeine, and sugar in the diet can lead to improvement of symptoms. Try eliminating these, one food at a time, from your diet. Keep a food and symptom diary and observe whether your symptoms get better.
Nutritional Supplements for Depression
- St Johns Wort
Systematic reviews of clinical trials have shown that St John’s Wort is effective in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Studies have found that using St. Johns Wort is better than placebo and is as effective as conventional antidepressants. There are fewer side effects associated with St Johns Wort compared with the use of antidepressants. However, taking St. John’s Wort can be potentially dangerous if used with other antidepressants, such as SSRIs. You must therefore ask your doctor about using St. John’s Wort if you are also taking antidepressant medications.
More than half of all patients who are depressed have been found to be low in folate. Conversely, people who eat lots of leafy green vegetables, which are rich in folate, are less likely to be depressed. Depending on the severity of folate deficiency, supplementation may be recommended as part of the initial treatment of depression. It may also be combined with the use of standard antidepressants.
- Vitamin B12
Studies found that more than 30 percent of people with symptoms of depression have low vitamin B12 blood levels. However, blood tests provide a poor estimate of B12 activity, and even people with ‘normal’ blood levels of vitamin B12 may have a deficiency in the cellular level. Vitamin B12 supplements are more effective when given as intra-muscular injections than when taken orally.
- SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine)
SAMe is important for the production of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Studies show that SAMe supplementation is superior to placebo in reducing symptoms of depression, and is as effective as tricyclic anti-depressants. Studies suggest that it also acts faster than antidepressants.
- 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytrytophan)
This substance is needed in the production of serotonin, a “happy” neurotransmitter. 5-HTP, therefore, is believed to have an antidepressant effect.
- Some experts believe that ginkgo biloba is an effective “alternative medicine” strategy that may help improve memory and reduce confusion.
Chronic depression carries with it a risk for self-harm and suicide. If your symptoms do not improve with medications, diet, or lifestyle modification, consult a mental health professional who can give you proper evaluation and treatment.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
WebMD. Depression and Diet. http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/diet-recovery
Nutrition eClinic. Top Natural Remedies for Depression. http://www.nutritioneclinic.com/2012/09/top-nutritional-supplements-for.html