For people suffering from mild to moderate depression, certain dietary changes can help when combined with a comprehensive treatment program. Studies have shown that by eliminating certain foods from the diet, people with depressive disorders experience a reduction in symptoms, and that certain foods can trigger the symptoms of depression.
The health habits prevailing in the Western world – specifically lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, excess weight, and stress – are considered significant risk factors for psychiatric disorders, especially depression. Conversely, an adequate intake of fruits, nuts, vegetables, cereals, legumes and fish is important in the prevention of depression. Diet has been associated with depression in a variety of biochemical functions. The following represents some of the most relevant research in this area.
A classic Mediterranean Diet, high in B vitamins and essential fatty acids, has a protective role against depression. A study at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain examined 9,670 participants (4,211 men and 5,459 women) and noted that the men and women with a history of adherence to a Mediterranean Diet had a significantly decreased incidence of depression. According to the researchers, “The adherence to a Mediterranean Dietary Pattern ensures an adequate intake of fruits, nuts, vegetables, cereals, legumes or fish, important sources of nutrients linked to depression prevention.”
Increasing Good Fats
One of the reasons that Mediterranean Diet is so good for depression is because it contains good fats, such as those found in olive oil. Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids, found in deep-water fish, are associated with an decreased incidence of depression and suicide. Depression can be caused by an omega-3 deficiency, which can be corrected by eating more fish, nuts, whole grains, beans, and seeds.
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). The fish oil PUFAs include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenioc acid (DHA). EPA increases blood flow, affects hormones and the immune system; all of which have a direct effect on brain function. DHA, on the other hand, is involved in the membrane of ion channels in the brain, making it easier for them to change shape and transit electrical signals.
Dietary omega-3s may be particularly protective against depression. Depression is 60 times more common in New Zealand than in Japan, where the Japanese get far more omega-3 from fish. In conclusion, those at risk for depression might want to increase their intake of cold-water fish such as salmon, halibut, tuna and bluefish.
A 2007 study determined that improving the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in the diet can improve mood and reduce depression. Researchers from Ohio State University took blood samples from 43 older adults (average age 67), calculated PUFA levels, and established that people with high ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 were more likely to suffer from depression. Omega-6 essential fatty acids can be found in a variety of oils including flax, safflower, sesame, hemp, soybean, and evening primrose. Due to this wide body of research, it’s clear that depression treatment plans should include dietary considerations.