Mental health is becoming a very crucial topic in the world today as more and more people continue to fall victim to the condition. It’s high time that we all become aware of the hidden causes of depression and nutritional deficiencies from the top nutrition and depression experts. Have you ever thought about the relation between depression and nutrition?
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Detoxification, intake of essential nutrients, and incorporation of food components from all the different food groups are important for the optimal function of our bodies. It is good to note that our brain needs these foods and nutrients to function properly. We were privileged to have some of the most fantastic and knowledgeable nutritionists, physicians, and researchers share their opinions on the relationship between depression and diet.
Dr. Denise McDermott
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Dr. Joel Kahn
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Dr. John La Puma
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Dr. Mark Hyman
According to Dr. Hyman, vitamin A deficiency might be leading you to have depression and related symptoms.
Your depression is not in your head. It is in your body.
When you fix your body, you fix your broken brain. Your energy, memory, focus, and your joy will all increase. Depression will fade away like a bad dream. The following vitamins are linked to lowering depression and make you feel good by increasing crucial mood-stabilizing hormones like Serotonin etc. “Optimize nutrition, balance hormones, cool off inflammation, fix digestion, enhance detoxification, boost energy metabolism, calm the mind.”
- Eat real foods
- Eat good fats (Avocado, coconut oil, omega-3 fatty acids, fish, nuts, and seeds)
- Eat quality protein
- Stay away from sugar and dairy products
- Take the right nutrients (folate, B6, B12)
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Dr. Michael Greger
Dr. Michael Greger is a firm believer that nutrition is positively linked with our mental health. He has written several articles and posted videos about nutrition and depression (available on his website). He has explained the effect of different kinds of foods on our mental health and how they play a vital role in ameliorating the symptoms of depression. His in-dept and profound researches published in articles state that that these foods help mitigate the symptoms associated with depression and other mental health conditions. The information below is taken from the videos available on his website and all the credit goes to Dr. Michael Greger.
1. Findings from one of the research papers state that young coconut water does possess anti-depressing qualities and does ameliorate symptoms of depressive disorders.
2. Whole eggs are said to be an excellent source of nutrients that prevent and alleviate the major symptoms of depression.
3. A diet that includes a lot of tomatoes may have a beneficial effect on the prevention of depressive disorders.
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Dr. Denise McDermott
Nutritional deficiencies that are most common for patients with mental health challenges are of omega -3, fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that are precursors to neurotransmitters. I recommend an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan. This includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, foods high in omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, tilapia), herbs, and spices (garlic, turmeric, cayenne, rosemary, ginger). A multivitamin, spirulina (source of tryptophan), and a precise nutrition consult and lab workup will allow optimal physical and mental health.
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We reached out to another amazing expert, Jodi Aman. We asked her if there was any relationship between diet and depression and if a poor diet might be the trigger behind the onset of depression in people. She replied:
“Definitely, current research has shown this to be the case. Sometimes depression is caused by a food sensitivity, such as sensitivity to gluten. New research in the last few years has explained the increase in depression in our culture is caused by inflammation in the body. Eating a diet high in whole foods, including lots of colorful fruit and green vegetables helps decrease inflammation in the brain. Also, depression is related to gut health, as a large percentage of the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin is created in the stomach. People can also eat food high in the amino acid, Tryptophan, which calms the mind. This can be found in most poultry, especially turkey.”
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Chris Masterjohn, PhD
Nutrients won’t cure depression by themselves, but they can help optimize the biochemistry of your brain so that it works with you instead of against you in your effort to overcome it. Vitamins B12, B1, B2, folate, and choline help make you more mentally flexible, which can help prevent depression-causing thought patterns and emotional states from getting stuck in your brain. Adequate protein and tyrosine are taken either before exercise or with a carbohydrate-rich meal and vitamin B6, all help make serotonin, which is used to cope with stress. Creatine supplementation has also been shown to help with depression.
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Dr. Joel Kahn
I only have one food to suggest, hope you can use it.
Saffron is a legendary spice that can be added to food or ingested as a supplemental capsule that has a long history of purported healing properties. Saffron is also one of the most expensive spices in the world. It comes from the flower Crocus Sativus and most are imported into the United States. It has a sweet flavor and pleasant fragrance. When I encounter a patient with anxiety or depression in my preventive clinic, I advise them to either grind saffron threads and use them in cooking such as paella, buy ground saffron, or consider saffron capsules. I have used a combination saffron-probiotic blend that has helped many patients improved their mood and level of perceived stress. There are many randomized trials supporting the benefits of saffron.
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Drew Ramsey, MD
I want you to eat more vegetables, period, but I also want you to optimize the benefits of vegetables to help support your brain health and to help protect you and your loved ones from depression. Here are five ways how to do that.
Eat more fermented vegetables: Fermented vegetables like kefir and sauerkraut contain various species of bacteria associated with health benefits, namely species of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. Foods that contain live bacteria cultures are “probiotics.” Research shows that these good gut flora can potentially alleviate depressive symptoms.
Feed your good gut bugs: You want to populate your good gut bugs with probiotics, but you also want to feed those bugs (They are living creatures, after all!). Chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, asparagus, and onions are excellent sources of prebiotics, which your good gut bugs or probiotics feed on.
Leafy Greens and Rainbows: This is a simple brainfood test. Look at your plate. Is it filled with multiple colors? Leafy greens? I try to get these food categories in at almost every meal because they are so nutrient dense.
Add Fats: You absorb some molecules in plants, like vitamin K and fat-soluble phytonutrients like lycopene, when you add fats. In Eat Complete, I only used olive oil, coconut oil, and butter for the recipes. I’d guess 80% of the fat calories we eat come from olive oil. It should be the oil you use the most in my opinion.
Do the best that you can: Frozen organic vegetables are a good value and equivalent to fresh vegetables in terms of nutrients. Remember that organic matters more for some foods, such as kale and peaches (which are eaten whole), than others, such as onions and sweet potatoes (which are peeled). Use the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ to determine what vegetables you absolutely want to buy organic. You can also ask your local farmers (if possible) about their produce, as many small farms aren’t officially certified organic but still grow food free of pesticides.”
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We asked Charles Mattocks, an amazing mental health advocate, and Producer, if there was any relationship between diet and depression and if a poor diet might be the reason why you are suffering from depression in people. He replied:
“Absolutely, nutrition definitely can play a part in depression, if you’re missing key vitamins, minerals, and proteins your body is more inclined to depression, anxiety, sleeping disorders, and a multitude of others diagnosis. Keeping a balanced diet, including meat, and green leafy vegetables are important for keeping your vitamins and minerals balanced. Plenty of rested sleep, exercise, and water are important as well.
Superfoods that are great for your brain and gut and for keeping depression away are often called a Mediterranean diet, this includes fish, seafood, beans and lentils, leafy greens, other vegetables, olive oil and nuts, and don’t forget some lean red meat which has B12 and iron.
My favorite is chicken and turkey when looking for a diet that helps with not only mental health but overall health.
Chicken and turkey are both great sources of lean protein that can help to stabilize blood sugar levels, keeping your mood well-balanced during the day. In addition to being trusted sources of lean protein, turkey and chicken breasts are known to provide high amounts of tryptophan.”
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Diet & Depression: Diet has been linked with depression in research. For example, studies have found that diets that include more fruits and vegetables are linked with a better mood.
Highly-processed Foods: Alternatively, highly processed diets—filled with fast food, sugar, sodium, and saturated fat, with low intake of whole plant foods, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds—have been linked with a higher risk of depression.
Inflammation Causing Foods: It may be linked to inflammation—when we consume foods that promote chronic inflammation, they may result in brain tissue injury, with the opposite effect happening with diets filled with whole plant foods, which are linked with lower inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain. In order to eat a best odds diet to reduce depression risk, try to:
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
2. Include healthier fats, such as from avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
3. Reduce the consumption of sugary foods.
4. Reduce consumption of saturated fat, such as that found in red meats and dairy products.
5. Eat more nutrient-rich foods—foods high in nutrients.
6. Eat a minimal amount of animal foods, such as red meat and dairy.
7. Eat a more Mediterranean style diet, which is mostly plant-based with fish as the primary animal food.
8. Eat more whole grains, rather than refined grains.
9. Eat more pulses, like beans, nuts, seeds, as the primary protein source.
10. Reduce the consumption of highly processed foods, such as sodas, candy, chips.
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Christine Palumbo RDN
The evidence is growing that our overall dietary pattern can affect our mood and may also influence whether or not we go into depression. This is especially important in these pandemic and political times when we feel anxious and stressed out.
I am not aware of any research that points to nutritional deficiencies that actually cause depression.
I recommend the following dietary patterns and foods that may help boost your mood:
The Mediterranean diet: The Mediterranean diet may protect against depression. This dietary pattern includes more beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish. The primary fat is olive oil. It is low in red meat and sweets.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Low blood levels of omega-3 fats have been linked to depression and other mood disorders. The best sources of these fats are fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and fish oil. I regularly enjoy both salmon and sardines in my diet!
Vitamin D: Technically a hormone, vitamin D appears to play a significant role in preventing depression. There are very few foods that naturally provide this vitamin. Salmon is one of them. I recommend taking a supplement of 1,000 – 2,000 IU of D3 daily.
Fermented foods: Fermented foods have been shown in studies to help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. These include refrigerated sauerkraut (not the canned or jarred type), kimchi, yogurt with active cultures, and kefir.
It’s also important to minimize certain foods: These are ultra-processed foods because they tend to be pro-inflammatory.
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Dr. Nanette Nuessle
Vitamin D & Its link to Depression: When I was asked to write about nutritional deficiencies and depression, my first thought was to write about phenylketonuria. That’s what I did my research on as a Fellow. My thoughts then went to vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D disorders are quite the opposite. Over 2/3 of the population of the US and Canada have suboptimal levels of vitamin D. For years now, people have seen that light therapy has been shown to improve depression as an adjunct to antidepressants, which may be in part due to improved vitamin D synthesis associated with light therapy.
Study on vitamin- D Deficiency and Depression: In 2010, the Third National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey studied 7,970 participants aged 17-39 years. They surveyed them for depression and ran blood tests for vitamin D levels. They found a direct relationship between vitamin D deficiency and depression, especially for those participants ‘currently having depression episodes,’ and found this variable the most relevant one. In this study, participants with a current episode of depression had an 8.4% lower concentration of serum vitamin D compared to those who did not report having depression.
Precautions: vitamin D is not completely safe. You can get harmful effects on your nervous system if you take doses like 10,000 IU per day for a long time. However, if you have a deficiency, it is not unusual to be placed on 25,000 IU per week for several months. The margin of safety on this drug is quite wide.
Conclusion: There is no doubt in my mind, that there is a relationship between vitamin D and depression. There is a direct correlation between low vitamin D levels and Depression.
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Dr. John La Puma
Eating too few foods with folate, or vitamin B9, nearly triples your risk for severe depression, differently than folic acid supplements–you need the actual folate in food, more than the folic acid in pills because food seems to work better.
Eating vegetables just three or more times a week seems to cut the odds of developing depression by 60%, and eggs are almost as effective.
Foods: A study of about a thousand older men and women found that those who ate the most tomato sauce, paste, and other tomato products had only about half the odds of depression of those who ate the least. That could be because of the lycopene, which makes tomatoes red– it’s a powerful neutralizer of free radicals, which also affects the brain.
Pro tip: add olive oil to your tomato sauce and absorb four times as much lycopene from it. #culinarymedicine
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Dr. Chris Palmer
We asked Dr Chris Palmer, an amazing mental health advocate, if there was any relationship between diet and depression and if a poor diet might be the reason why you are suffering from depression in people. He replied:
“Yes, in rare cases, they can be. However, metabolic abnormalities are a bigger issue when it comes to the field of diet and depression.
If yes, then how are they linked? There are some vitamin deficiencies, such as folate, B12, and thiamine, that have been associated with depression. The bigger issue relates to metabolic problems, with insulin resistance being of great importance. It has long been known that insulin resistance in the form of diabetes has been associated with much higher rates of depression. It turns out that insulin is very important for brain function, and insulin resistance in the brain, even in people who are not yet diabetic, might be related to higher levels of depression. Dietary strategies to reduce insulin resistance may be helpful in addressing depression, at least in some people.”
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Dr. Uma Naidoo
Sometimes nutritional deficiencies can be part of a larger issue causing a depressed mood. Your doctor can check certain vitamin levels or may ask you about symptoms that you are experiencing, Certain B vitamins are important for brain health (folate and thiamine for example).
Can we improve our mental health through a balanced and healthy diet? Yes. One caveat is that food and diet are not first-line treatment when someone is acutely ill:. eg. thoughts of suicide or mania or psychotic. However, good nutrition can strengthen our mental well-being by providing brain-healthy nutrients that are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Some foods that could improve our mental health are:
1. Fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, berries, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds
2. Pre and probiotic/fermented rich foods (garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, dairy or non-dairy yogurts with active cultures. Some fermented foods are kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut)
3. Turmeric with a pinch of black pepper
4. Omega-3 rich seafood eg. salmon or anchovies
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Lisa Jones (MA, RDN, LDN, FAND)
Adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals and amino acids need to be maintained since research indicates that common nutritional deficiencies have been seen in patients with mental disorders.
Omega-3 fatty acids: There is a link between high fish consumption and lower incidence of mental disorders as a result of omega-3 fatty acid intake.
- Food sources: Cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel; flaxseed, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds; walnuts.
Folate and vitamin B12: Research indicates that reduced symptoms of depression were seen in patients consuming adequate folate and vitamin B12.
- Food sources B12: Eggs, meat, poultry, fish, oysters, milk, and some fortified cereals.
- Food sources folate: Dark leafy vegetables, fruit and fruit juices, nuts, beans, whole grains, dairy products, meat and poultry, seafood, and eggs.
Selenium: May help improve mood making symptoms of depression more manageable.
- Foods sources: Whole grains, some seafood, Brazil nuts, and liver.
Amino Acids: Consume a high-quality protein diet that contains all essential amino acids by incorporating meats, milk, eggs, and other dairy products. Protein consumption and individual amino acids can impact brain functioning and mental health. Tryptophan is the protein the body uses to create serotonin.
- Food sources: Turkey, tuna, and chickpeas.
Mediterranean diet: SMILES trial (Supporting the Motivation of Lifestyle In Lowered Emotional States), first randomized controlled trial designed to evaluate a dietary improvement intervention for reducing symptoms of depression. Participants received either a dietary intervention of a modified Mediterranean diet or a control condition consisting of social support. The intervention diet group reported improvement. Another meta-analysis demonstrated a reduced risk of depression in subjects who had higher adherence to a mediterranean diet.
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