Diet and Nutrition May Play A Key Role in Helping People Fight Depression

Diet and Nutrition May Play A Key Role in Helping People Fight Depression

Although the exact causes of depression remain unknown, the current thinking is that depression is a brain disorder that is in part hereditary and is often assciated with current or early life stress. This combination of genetic and environmental factors causes specific changes in brain chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine or dopamine that may explain some of the depressive symptoms. It is also feared that the more frequent the episodes, the higher the likelihood that some form of brain damage in the form of brain tissue degeneration will occur. This however may be reversible with treatment.


Depression has been determined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the most disabling disorders in the world. It affects roughly 25% of women and 10% of men at some point in their lifetime. It is thus estimated more than 340 million people worldwide and more than 18 million people in the USA alone suffer from depression at any particular time. In addition to its widespread prevalence, depression has a strong tendency to recur. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death among all Americans and the rates range across specific demographic subgroups. In recent years, suicide and nonfatal suicidal behavior have emerged as crucial health issues for blacks, particularly among older adolescents and young adults,U-M study shown.

The good news about depression is that safe and effective treatment is now available for most forms of the disease. The most adequate treatment is a combination of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. Pharmacotherapy with medications such as a (SSRI) or "new generation" antidepressants along with cognitive bevavioral therapy (CBT) will provide symptomatic relief for most patients with depression. Other forms of somatic therapy such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can be given to patients who are catatonic, who have failed or could not otherwise tolerate pharmacological treatment. Medications are also available to "prevent" recurrent episodes of depression or mania, particularly in patients who suffer from bipolar affective disorder. These "mood stabilizers" include lithium and anticonvulsant medications such as valproic acid.

Diet and nutrition may play a key role in helping people fight depression, Australian researchers report.

Deficiencies, excesses and imbalances in diet can produce negative impacts on health, which may lead to diseases such as scurvy, obesity or osteoporosis, as well as psychological and behavioral problems. In general, eating a variety of fresh, whole (unprocessed) plant foods has proven hormonally and metabolically favourable compared to eating a monotonous diet based on processed foods. In particular, consumption of whole plant foods slows digestion and provides higher amounts and a more favourable balance of essential and vital nutrients per unit of energy; resulting in better management of cell growth, maintenance, and mitosis (cell division) as well as regulation of blood glucose and appetite.

A generally more regular eating pattern (e.g. eating medium-sized meals every 3 to 4 hours) has also proven more hormonally and metabolically favourable than infrequent, haphazard food intake. Cooking developed as an often ritualistic activity, due to efficiency and reliability concerns requiring adherence to strict recipes and procedures, and in response to demands for food purity and consistency.

A number of nutrients, including polyunsaturated fatty acids, St. John's Wort and several B vitamins, have the potential to influence mood by increasing the absorption of chemical messengers in the brain, Dr. Dianne Volker of the University of Sydney in Chippendale and Jade Ng of Goodman Fielder Commercian in North Ryde, New South Wales note in the journal Nutrition and Dietetics.

There is a wealth of epidemiological, experimental and circumstantial evidence to suggest that fish and the oils they contain, in particular omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, are protective against depression, Volker and Ng write. They point out that the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 may also be important, given that the latter can prevent the body from absorbing the former.

Another candidate for dietary prevention of depression is the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in foods, including turkey, and is responsible for the drowsiness people feel after eating a hearty Thanksgiving dinner. The body converts tryptophan to the neurotransmitter serotonin, suggesting the amino acid may have modest effects on mood.

But studies investigating whether the B vitamin folate, vitamins B6 and B12, and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) play a role in depression have had conflicting results, the researchers write.

And while European studies have found that St. John's Wort has antidepressant effects, US clinical trials have shown the opposite, which some think may be due to the herb's interaction with other medications.

Volker and Ng conclude: "The role of balanced nutrition in mental health should be recognized," thus allowing for the use of nutrition and relevant nutrients in the maintenance of good mental health.

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