Depression is a mental health condition that can make eating regularly or preparing nutritious meals to feel impossible. Unfortunately, besides medication, our system has little support to help patients diagnosed with depression, so you might feel overwhelmed with how to approach it or discouraged even to start.
Many doctors use talk therapy and medications to treat depression, but did you know that nutritional deficiencies and mental health are strongly linked? While supporting depression takes much more than eating your fruits and vegetables, arming yourself with the knowledge about how your diet can affect your mood, you can start to take more control over your mental health. Let's dive into how what you eat affects your brain and mood.
How Does Nutrition Affect Depression? Proper nutrition is essential to your mind and body's well-being, and it can help reduce the severity of some depressive symptoms. Nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin D, B12, and iron, increase your risk of depression. A nutrient deficiency may also lead to a hormone imbalance, which is common among those with significant depression. First, if you’ve recently been diagnosed, start by asking your medical doctor or naturopath to check in on common nutrient deficiencies like iron, b12, and vitamin D since one in three depression cases is linked to defects.
Did you know that depression, anxiety and insomnia, among other neurological disorders, all correlate to neuroinflammation? That's right; depression is inflammatory. The processed foods common in North American diets do nothing to help this, including:
Highly processed, low-fibre foods
Trans fats (margarine, hydrogenated oils)
Canola, corn, soybean oils
High glycemic foods that spike your blood sugar levels
Artificial sweeteners like Splenda and high-fructose corn syrup
Meat and dairy-raised or grain-fed diets
GMO crops, like soy and corn
What Nutrients Foster Healthy Brain Function? A few primary nutrients play a significant role in fostering a healthy brain. By choosing foods naturally rich in these nutrients and supplementing your diet with vitamins where necessary, you can make a big impact on your mental health. Protein Protein is for much more than simply building muscle mass — it also promotes neurological health. The amino acids in protein provide the critical building blocks for both your hormones and your neurotransmitters. If you aren’t eating enough protein, you may lack the amino acids key to producing your ‘happy hormones’ like serotonin and dopamine. The higher availability of these two hormones is essential in counteracting depression. Vitamin D For people who spend a lot of time indoors or live in climates with less sun, vitamin D deficiency is a common problem (it's suggested that ⅔ Canadians are deficient). Low vitamin D levels are often linked to depression due to the high accumulation of vitamin D receptors in the same brain area that depression affects. Vitamin D is also a hormone modulator, assisting in generating some of the essential hormones that keep us feeling content. Spending some time every day in sunlight is an excellent way to get more vitamin D. Eggs, mushrooms, and fatty fish are also reliable sources of vitamin D; however, its rarely enough to keep you from deficiency. Talk to your naturopath about testing your levels and how much is ideal for supplementation. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Interestingly, depression incidents are reported to be less common in groups that consume more fatty fish, which sparked an investigation into Omega 3’s and their role in reducing depression. And to no surprise, according to studies, Omega-3 fatty acids support brain health. While the mechanism between depression and Omega-3 isn’t yet conclusive, its proposed benefits come from omega-3’s ability to travel through the blood-brain barrier easily, interact with mood-related molecules in the brain, and provide inflammatory modulating effects. Adding fatty fish, nuts, and seeds like walnuts and chia seeds to your diet can increase your body’s omega-3 saturation and improve mood. You can also supplement Omega 3’s. However, the ratio and concentration do seem to matter. The most effective Fish Oil preparations appear to have at least 60% EPA relative to DHA, with benefits typically best seen with over 1000 mg of EPA per day. Get Your Mental Health Back on Track with Nutrition Whether you need more vitamin D or other nutrients in your diet, a healthy diet can be the first step toward a happier lifestyle. However, it is essential to acknowledge that making changes or finding the motivation to do so when in a depressed state can feel daunting. However, support is available. To learn more about where to start in taking control of your diet and ruling out nutritional deficiencies which may be impacting your mental health, contact Dr. Courtney Holmberg, ND, at (647) 351-7282 today to book a consultation.