Brain Power Series - The Role of Diet in Depression
Did you know that your diet might be worsening your depression? In her book, “This Is Your Brain on Food,” Dr. Uma Naidoo, nutritional psychiatrist and the national best-selling author unpacks and talks about the impact of your diet on different mood disorders, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, etc. My personal interest in nutrition and health led me to a realization that
Having battled an eating disorder and PCOS for a couple of years now, I understood the way diet impacted my physical health. What I did not understand is the way what I was eating was impacting how I was feeling.
There is a reason why we use saying such as “butterflies in my stomach,” or “a pit in my stomach.” Our gut and brain are connected through a nerve called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is one of the main components of the parasympathetic nervous system - our rest and digest system. The vagus nerve sends information from the digestive system and organs to the brain, and vice versa. It does this by using different neurotransmitters (messengers) and gut hormones. Dr. Naidoo refers to this connection as the “brain-gut axis.”
The vagus nerve is often described as the “wanderer” nerve in the medical community. This is due to its extensive path - originating at the brainstem, passing through the neck and the thoracic cavity all the way to the abdomen.
We mentioned that the vagus nerve uses certain hormones to communicate information between the gut and the brain. Well, these hormones play an essential role in stress, hunger, sleep, etc. This is the first line of evidence when it comes to the connection between our diet and mental health.
The Food and Mood Relationship regarding Depression
Depression is one of many mood disorders that Dr. Naidoo touches on in her book “This Is Your Brain on Food.” The research on the correlation between depression and diet is extensive. To put it simply, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that diet can help you fight against depression. The bad news is that diet can worsen your depression. Whether your diet is your best friend or your enemy depends on WHAT YOU EAT!
There are people who tend to simply have no appetite when they are feeling sad or depressed (I really don’t understand how by the way). Most of us, however, tend to devour everything that is put in front of us. It almost seems like an innate characteristic to stuff ourselves with comfort food when we are feeling blue.
While you might think that stuffing yourself with ice cream, donuts, chips, or pasta is going to make you feel better - try again.
Research has shown that the food we eat can change the type of bacteria that is present in our gut.
One study states that people who suffer from a major depressive disorder have a higher number of bacteria that cause inflammation in their gut.
Another study found that the correlation between eating sugar and having depression was 0.95 (1 is the perfect correlation).
Several studies have shown that artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame which is found in Diet Coke, can inhibit the synthesis of serotonin and cause brain damage.
One study showed that people who ate more fried food were more likely to develop depression.
One study found that increased consumption of trans fats led to a higher risk of developing depression.
Another study found that nitrates found in salami and sausages can alter the bacteria to the point at which you are more likely to develop bipolar disorder.
In conclusion, what you eat MATTERS. It matters a lot. As we said before, the food you eat can either be your enemy or your best friend. We went over some foods that might not be the best choice if you are battling depression. Let’s go over some of the foods that could help you deal with your depressive symptoms.
Foods to Help Fight Depression
- Omega-3 rich foods - walnuts, dark, leafy greens, salmon, tuna, sardines
- Vitamin B12 and folate - avocados, bananas, legumes, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, etc.
- Vitamin A - carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas
- Vitamin C - citrus fruit, cantaloupe, strawberries, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, etc.
- Iron - legumes, lean red meat, shellfish, etc.
- Magnesium - spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, etc.
- Zinc - oysters, beef, pumpkin seeds, dairy products
- Selenium - brazil nuts, seafood, organ meats
- Seasonings and spices: saffron, turmeric, oregano, lavender, passionflower, and chamomile