Depression and Nutritional Deficiencies: Is Poor Eating Habits Contributing to Mental Disorders?
The Modern World Has Made Depression Normal:
Those with mental disorders struggle to cope with everyday life because of their altered thinking, moods, or behaviours. More than 50% of individuals will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime with Depression as the most common. Depression is a disorder associated with symptoms such as increased sadness, anxiety, wanting to be alone, loss of appetite or overeating, depressed low states, and a loss of interest in pleasurable activities. In some cases, if there is no timely therapeutic intervention, this disorder can lead to varied consequences.
There are many contributing factors to depression such as a troubled relationship, loss of a job or of a loved one, but did you know that poor nutrition can also play a role? Nutritional deficiency can trigger or worsen mental conditions.
It is important to understand the importance of good nutrition to not only our physical health but also our mental health. Mental health disorders can affect people of every sex, age, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group. Not only depression, but bipolar, schizophrenia and other mood disorders are common health problems these days and have become highly prevalent, especially among the youths.
Deficiencies in Neurotransmitters:
Recent evidence suggests a link between low levels of serotonin and suicide. It is implicated that lower levels of this neurotransmitter can, in part, lead to an overall insensitivity to future consequences, triggering risky, impulsive, and aggressive behaviours which may culminate in suicide, the ultimate act of inwardly directed impulsive aggression. specific nutrients are necessary for the biosynthesis of several neurotransmitters.
The Brain & Gut Connection
Does depression cause our brain to desire less healthy food or does eating less healthy food cause depressive symptoms?
There is not an exact answer to this question, but studies do show a clear brain-gut connection. One area of impact is the hippocampus, a key area involved in learning, memory, and mental health. People with healthy diets have more hippocampal volume than those without proper nutrition.
We also know that serotonin, a neurotransmitter in our body is linked to our sleep, appetite, mood, and pain. Almost 95% of serotonin produced is in our gastrointestinal tract, which is filled with millions of nerve cells, making the inner workings of our digestive system and integral guiding force of our emotions. our gut is full of trillions of good bacteria that fend off germs and keep our immune systems in check. Healthy bacteria also decrease inflammation in the body, which affects mood and cognition. A diet high in bad fat and refined sugar is bad for your gut health, and therefore also your brain.
Choosing foods that are good for your mental health is the same as choosing foods that are good for your physical health.
When we take a close look at the diet of depressed people, an interesting observation is that their nutrition is far from adequate. They tend to make poor food choices and selecting foods that might contribute to depression. Recent studies by Harvard Medical School concluded a clear connection between a poor diet and an increased risk of depression.
Processed, trans fats, fried, and sugary foods have little nutritional value and can increase the risk of developing depression by as much as 60%. However, those who have diets consisting of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, natural fresh, and unsaturated foods are 35% less likely to develop depression.
Foods that are full of nutrients in as few calories as possible are key to a good nutrition plan. Some nutrients that are particularly helpful include:
- B vitamins and folate
We need B vitamins for a range of cellular and metabolic processes, and they have a critical role in the production of a range of brain chemicals.
Low B12 levels have been linked to low moods. Individuals with lower B12 levels have more brain inflammation and higher rates of depression.
Folate (B9) deficiency has been reported in depressed populations and among people who respond poorly to antidepressants.
Several studies have assessed the antidepressant effect of folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) with antidepressant medication. show positive results enhancing either antidepressant response rates or the onset of response to these medications
Folate is found in abundance in leafy green vegetables, legumes, whole grains, brewer’s yeast, and nuts. Unprocessed organic meats, organic eggs, whole grains, and nuts are, in general, richest in B vitamins. If you’re going to take supplements, it’s advisable to take B vitamins together as they have a synergistic effect.
- Omega-3, 6, 9:
Healthy fatty acids that improve thinking and memory.
Polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 fatty acids) have a vital role in maintaining proper neuronal structure and function, as well as in modulating critical aspects of the inflammatory pathway in the body. Taking omega-3 supplements appears beneficial for addressing symptoms of depression, bipolar depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. And it may potentially help prevent psychosis. Omega-3 fats can be found in nuts, seeds, and oysters, although the highest amounts exist in oily fish such as sardines, salmon (especially King salmon), anchovies and mackerel. Due to higher levels of mercury, larger fish, such as mackerel, should be consumed in moderation. look for a good supplement alternative.
- Amino acids
Amino acids are the building blocks for creating proteins, from which brain circuitry and brain chemicals are formed. Some amino acids are precursors of mood-modulating chemicals; tryptophan, for instance, is needed to create serotonin. Another example is cysteine, a sulphur-based amino acid that can convert into glutathione – the body’s most powerful antioxidant.
When given as a supplement, an amino acid form known as N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) converts into glutathione in the body. There is evidence that it can be helpful in bipolar, depression, schizophrenia, trichotillomania, and other compulsive and addictive behaviours. Another amino acid-based nutrient known as S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) has antidepressant qualities.
Amino acids are found in any source of protein, also look for a quality supplement.
- Minerals: Minerals, especially zinc, magnesium, and iron, have important roles in neurological function.
- Zinc:This nutrient helps control how the body responds to stress. Low levels of zinc have been connected to depression. it is an abundant trace element, being involved in many brain chemistry reactions. It’s also a key element supporting proper immune function. There’s emerging evidence for zinc supplementation in improving depressed mood primarily alongside antidepressants.
Zinc is abundant in lean meats, oysters, whole grains, pumpkin seeds, and nuts, while magnesium is richest in nuts, legumes, whole grains, leafy greens, and soy. Iron occurs in higher amounts in unprocessed meats and organ meats, such as liver, and in modest amounts in grains, nuts, and leafy greens, such as spinach.
- Magnesium: is also involved in many brain chemistry reactions and deficiency has been linked to depressive and anxiety symptoms. Iron is involved in many neurological activities and deficiency is associated with anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as developmental problems. This is, in part, due to its role in transporting oxygen to the brain.
- Iron: deficiency or anaemia has been linked to depression.
- Vitamin D:
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble compound that’s important as much for brain development as it is for bone development. Better brain functioning including mood and critical thinking improve with increased Vitamin D intake. Data suggests low maternal levels of vitamin D are implicated in schizophrenia risk and deficiency is linked to increased depressive symptoms. Low levels of Vitamin D are linked seasonal depression which typically occurs with reduced sunlight during the fall and winter months.
- Plant-based antioxidants:
An increase in oxidative stress and damage to brain cells has been implicated in a range of mental disorder, including depression and dementia. Antioxidant compounds (such as “polyphenols”, which are found in fruits and certain herbs) may “mop up” free radicals that damage cells to way to combat excessive oxidation. Consuming natural antioxidant compounds through your diet is better than taking supplements of high doses of synthetic vitamin A, C or E, as the oxidative system is finely tuned, and excess may be harmful. Fruits and vegetables contain these antioxidant compounds in relative abundance, especially blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and goji berries, grapes, mangoes and mangosteen, onions, garlic, artichokes, kale; as well as green and black tea, various herbal teas, and coffee in moderation.
Research shows a connection between the bacteria in our guts and brain health, which may affect mental health. When the composition of the gut microbiota is less than optimal, it can result in inflammatory responses that may negatively affect the nervous system and brain function. A balanced microflora environment is supported by a diet rich in the foods that nourish beneficial bacteria and reduce harmful microbial species, such as Helicobacter pylori. Beneficial microflora can be supported by eating fermented foods and foods with live cultures such as tempeh, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and by eating pectin-rich foods such as fruit skin. A good daily probiotic supplement is recommended to take.
- Pay attention to the foods you eat and how they make you feel, even the next day. Cut processed foods and sugar from your diet for two weeks and see how your body reacts. You may notice a difference in how you feel.
- Detox your internal body at least twice a year.
- Drink a lot of water daily which helps to flush your system.
Treatment for Depression
While a proper diet, detoxing and good nutrition are important for health, sometimes depressive symptoms are severe enough to impede on daily functioning. When this happens, professional treatment may be needed.
I’m not sure why more psychiatrists don’t first test for nutritional deficiencies before dispensing Zoloft or Prozac, and especially antipsychotics like Seroquel and Zyprexa. Some therapists will send you to get laboratories work done before upscaling or adjusting your mediation. Sometimes we do need antidepressants But other times we just need to take care of our nutritional deficiencies and balance our bodies.
If you are on treatment or seeing a psychiatrist regularly, it’s a good idea to work with a practitioner who tests your nutrition levels every few months or least once a year so you know what your is body needing. You should talk to your doctor before taking any supplements, especially if you're on prescription drugs.
If you think that you or a loved one may be struggling with a mental health disorder, get professional help.