• Depression: There is hope.


    Depression is the number one psychological disorder in the western world, with the greatest growth being seen most amongst teenagers. With one in twenty people reporting to have had an episode of depression within the last twelve months and with an increased rise of 450% since 1987 you have to wonder what is going on?

    It seems the answer is not entirely clear or straight forward. However, there is a general consensus that the cause is multi-factorial. These factors include, spending less time with people, an increase in poor quality food, getting less exercise and sunlight, altered sleep patterns and an increase in pharmaceutical use.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that 'Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.' This statement is supported with research that links positive mood with better health and longevity. Conversely, those people with the least positive emotions from a young age (Mean age 22), died an average of ten years younger than those who displayed more positive emotions.

    Research has linked increased inflammation in the body to low levels of serotonin, and it is serotonin that plays a vital role in mental health and depression. In fact, eating nutrient sparse, processed food could boost your chances of becoming depressed by 60%.

    Interestingly, plant based foods are known to lower inflammation because they are low in fat and high in antioxidants, thus helping to play a role in reducing the symptoms of depression, or preventing depression in some people. In addition, most serotonin is made in the gut, and not in the brain. Which means that poor gut health can reduce your ability to produce serotonin leading to a reduction in happy brain chemicals.

    A change in diet to incorporate more beneficial foods can help those people that suffer from irritability. Research has shown that an improved diet can improve agreeableness, decreased quarrelsomeness and improve your general mood.

    Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a type of chemical that relays brain signals from one area of the brain to another. When there is a shortage of receptor sites, or an inability to reach the receptor sites then this can lead to depression, anxiety, panic attacks, excess anger or obsessive compulsive disorders.

    Another cause of reduced brain signals is a shortage of tryptophan, an amino acid from which serotonin is made. Tryptophan is not produced by the body, and therefore must be obtained through dietary means. It has been found that people who are low in trytophan, display depressive symptoms such as feelings of guilt, worthlessness, fatigue, helplessness and decreased energy.

    A massive 95 percent of serotonin resides in the gut, which is no coincidence, when you consider that the brain communicates backwards and forwards with the gut via the central nervous system and the gastro-intestinal tract.
    This communication adds weight to the importance of diet in helping depression.
    Serotonin is also increased when we do something that makes us happy, the increase in serotonin helps lift our mood, when we feel happier we do things which we enjoy; which leads to a cyclic affect.

    Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
    Food is very powerful when it comes to depression, the brain uses nutrition to produce Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor or BDNF, a protein that is essential for correct functioning of the central nervous system. It is thought that this protein may help the brain to adapt, rewire and grow. The protein is in brain plasticity and is particularly important for the survival of dopaminergic neurons, the loss of which leads to Parkinsons disease.

    The availability of BDNF prevents the death of existing brain cells, induces the growth of new neurons and synapses and supports cognitive function. Low levels have been linked to Alzheimer's, obesity, poor neural functioning, accelerated aging, neurotransmitter dysfunction and depression.

    What foods can help?

    Increase your Omega-3 fats
    There are two types of omega-3 fats, eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA and Docosahaxaenoic acid or DHA, both of which are essential for overall health. The greatest benefits from EPA are found in the anti-inflammatory properties, while DPA plays a key role in the proper functioning of the nervous system.
    - Salmon
    - Sardines
    - Pilchards
    - Fresh tuna
    - Walnuts
    - Flaxseeds
    - Brussels sprouts


    Look for foods with lots of colour, especially blue, red, orange and yellow.

    Beta-carotene -

    Apricots, Broccoli, Cantaloupe, Carrots, Peaches. Pumpkin, Spinach, sweet potato, Kale, Peppers

    Vitamin C -

    Strawberries, Blueberries, Broccoli, Grapefruit, Kale, Kiwi, Citrus, Peppers, Papaya

    Vitamin E -

    Sunflower seeds, Almonds, Spinach, Avocado, Swiss chard, Asparagus, Peanuts

    Get enough Vitamin D

    Studies have shown that depression is higher in those people with low levels of vitamin D.
    - Sunlight - a minimum of 25 - 30 minutes everyday
    - Oily fish - Salmon, Mackeral, Tuna, Trout
    - Raw Milk
    - Eggs
    - Mushrooms


    A essential trace mineral that is known to stabilise mood swings and help lift your spirits.
    - Brazil nuts
    - Chia seeds
    - Brown rice
    - Oily fish
    - Poultry
    - Lamb
    - Beef

    Since the 1960's there has been studies showing a correlation between low folate levels and depression and deficiency in folate is associated with low serotonin levels.
    - Green leafy vegetables
    - Spinach
    - Broccoli
    - Lentils
    - Navy beans
    - Kidney beans
    - Black beans

    Magnesium is a vital mineral for health and proper functioning, it helps to improve mood and release energy by producing and supporting the chemical serotonin. Stress can be a big causative factor in being magnesium deficient.
    - Pumpkin seeds
    - Spinach
    - Swiss chard
    - Soy beans
    - Quinoa
    - Cashew nuts
    - Sunflower seeds

    Bananas contain high amounts of tryptophan; which aids in the production of tyrosine, a building block for norpinephine (a stress hormone) and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that influence mood.
    Bananas are also a great source of vitamin B6 which the body requires to manufacture serotonin from tryptophan.

    We crave carbohydrates when we are stressed or depressed because carbohydrates produce serotonin. So when we consume carbohydrates we get flooded with good feeling and calmness. The problem comes is that more often than not, people reach for simple carbohydrates like cakes, sugar, biscuits, fruit juices and fizzy drinks instead of complex carbohydrates like whole fruit, vegetables, oatmeal and beans.
    As we know, simple carbohydrates cause an inflammatory response in the body, which altimately aggrivates the feelings of depression. Whereas complex carbohydrates have a calmin effct on the body.

    To maximise the benefits of this good nutrition ensure you look after your gut health.

    - Eat live yogurt,
    - incorporate fermented foods
    - Take a probiotic
    - Choose meat and dairy which are antibiotic and hormone free (if possible), buy organic, grass fed if you can.
    - Limit refined sugars and grains
    - Eat whole foods rather than supplements
    - Exercise, get outside and keep active.

    Things that make depression worse
    - Alcohol
    - Caffeine
    - Sugar
    - Processed foods
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Jules's Avatar
      Jules -
      Excellent article, I think depression and anxiety had to be attacked from several angles, diet, exercise, vitamins and taking care of your mental wellbeing by giving yourself quiet time to relax.

      Today's lifestyle puts huge demands on us emotionally, physically and financially. This in turn takes its toll on our mental health.

      I am guilty of eating all the wrong foods and I have noticed my moods are better in the summer when I eat more summer fruits and enjoy sitting in the sunshine.

      I am most unhappy in the winter when there is little sunlight and I crave potatoes and stodgy foods.

      It has taken me many years to understand my emotions but I feel much better and know that during the winter months I must take supplements if I don't eat a balanced healthy diet.

      One thing I love is bananas and as these increase tryptophan and serotonin I shall eat more of those. Keep up the fabulous site, it is insightful and resourceful and my new 'go to' place for innovative and current information regarding health and diet.
    1. Louise's Avatar
      Louise -
      Hi Jules, thank you for your very personal and open comment. I am sure many people will resonate with your experiences and take comfort that there is hope. Never give up trying to lessen the symptoms and free yourself of this terrible, life changing condition.
      I hope you incorporate some of the foods in the article and you find your happy place.
      Please feel free to contribute to the depression thread in the forums under Health conditions'.
    1. Jules's Avatar
      Jules -
      Quote Originally Posted by Louise View Post
      Hi Jules, thank you for your very personal and open comment. I am sure many people will resonate with your experiences and take comfort that there is hope. Never give up trying to lessen the symptoms and free yourself of this terrible, life changing condition.
      I hope you incorporate some of the foods in the article and you find your happy place.
      Please feel free to contribute to the depression thread in the forums under Health conditions'.
      Thank you Louise, I have suffered with depression for over 20 years and have read every self help book in the shops! I can only reiterate what I have already said and that is there is a multiple approach needed and along with your diet and exercise you really must take time to just reflect and slow down a little.
    1. Tanya's Avatar
      Tanya -
      Having changed my diet many years ago following a bout of depression that I didn't seem to overcome, I found that I started to lift out of the depression. At first I didn't relate my improvm not to my diet, but once my eating habits got cleaner, I noticed if I slipped back into my old ways, my depression returned. Now, I eat 85% clean, whole food diet, but allow myself the odd treat for special occasions, birthdays etc.
      As a result I feel much better and managed to save myself from the long road onto and off of anti-depressants.
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