Depression & Nutrition
According to the Archives of General Psychiatry, roughly 15 million American adults suffer from major depressive disorder. This is about 6.7 percent of U.S. population ages 18 and older. Symptoms of depression are many and vary among individuals. Some symptoms may include:
- Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
- Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day (called anhedonia, this symptom can be indicated by reports from significant others)
- Restlessness or feeling slowed down
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
- Significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)
Often times, one with depression skips once enjoyable events with family and friends either due to feelings of sadness, being overwhelmed with social settings or not feeling well. It is important to be able to recognize symptoms of depression as well as understand the treatments available to alleviate the symptoms.
One option to alleviate symptoms are prescription drugs. This isn’t the only choice, however. Prozac, an SSRI class drug, has been the treatment of choice for the last several years. According to the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, “antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed drugs in Minnesota.” Antidepressants don’t treat the underlying reason for the depression and have side effects. This is the reason why many people are seeking more natural solutions to their depression. While there are cases of depression that may be best treated with prescription drugs, nutrition may be the most important factor in prevention and alleviating symptoms of depression. In addition, long-term treatment to treating depression is greater than prescription drugs; it requires knowledge about alternative solutions using real food to combat this prevalent disease.
Poor nutrition in the form of near starvation diets and malnutrition contribute to the symptoms of depression and chronic disease. At the University of Minnesota, researchers investigated the effects of starvation and subsequent malnutrition on conscientious objectors to WWII. They were given near starvation rations of food over six months. Over time, the majority of subjects became severely depressed, anxious, and some were violent and even hospitalized. After the study, some of these men had worsened symptoms. This study emphasizes the importance of our basic needs for even minimal nutritional health. This study occurred over 6 months. Many Americans have been eating diets low in calories, fat, and overall nutrition that mimics the diet to which these conscientious objectors were subjected. Therefore, years of low nutrient intake in the form of processed foods, low calorie and fat products, can lead to these same outcomes.
Nutritionally, those who are depressed can benefit from additional protein in their diets. This protein provides the building blocks of serotonin and many other neurotransmitters (brain chemicals). Reducing the intake of processed carbohydrates with healthier carbohydrates which include vegetables, fruits, and some whole grains. In addition, adding good, healthy fats such as nuts, butter, olive oil, and fatty fish is helpful. Moderate exercise versus no exercise or extreme exercise provides relief from depressive symptoms.
Some with depression may need to supplement their diet with specific nutrients scientifically shown to improve and support brain and nervous system functioning. These include:
- 5-HTP – precursor to serotonin
- DHA- Omega 3s needed for nerve transmission
- B Vitamins – specifically B12, B9, B6
- Magnesium – for debilitating insomnia, anxiety and depression
Contact me for helping you determine your nutritional needs for your symptoms – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun; 62(6): 617-27
Tucker, T. (2007). The Great Starvation Experiment: The Heroic Men Who Starved so That
Millions Could Live. Free Press: 2006.