Can nutrition and my diet affect depression?
- While the connection is not completely understood, it's useful to know how diet might help or hinder the way the brain works.
- Aside from the obvious effects of caffeine and alcohol, the protein, carbohydrate and fatty foods we eat can have definite effects on our brain chemistry. Although no diet can offset the tedium of repetitive tasks, what you eat or don't eat can help determine whether you're awake or ready to doze.
- A well-balanced diet is also important because nutritional deficiencies can affect behavior. For example, anemia, which is the most common deficiency disease, often causes depression.
- Scientists at U.C. Davis reported that omitting breakfast can interfere with cognition and learning in the classroom ( Am J Clin Nutr 1998 Apr;67(4):804S-813S -- Breakfast and cognition: an integrative summary. -- Pollitt E, Mathews R. ). A similar finding was reported in the South African Medical Journal ( S Afr Med J 1997 Jan;87(1 Suppl):93-100 -- Cognitive and behavioural effects of a school breakfast. -- Richter LM, Rose C, Griesel RD. ) in a study on school children at a farm school outside Johannesburg.
- Having too much to eat can also decrease alertness. One Scottish study showed that a large meal (i.e., Thanksgiving-like portions) decreased performance on a complex task about as much as going without sleep for a night.
- Additionally, although simple sugars are sources of quick energy, studies show that high-carbohydrate meals often lead to sleepiness, decreased attention span, depression and impaired concentration. High sugar consumption leads to the production of insulin, which in turn leads to an increased passage of the amino acid tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier. Tryptophan is the precursor of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter associated with relaxation. (That's why taking tryptophan was popular as a relaxant/sedative.)
- In the Journal of the American Dietetic Association ( J Am Diet Assoc 1990 Feb;90(2):250-4 -- Aspartame- or sugar-sweetened beverages: effects on mood in young women. -- Pivonka EE, Grunewald KK. ), a study compared the effects of aspartame and sugar. Researchers reported that those students taking the sugar and water solution reported sleepiness during the last half of the one-hour observation period. Another study in Advances in Pediatrics ( Adv Pediatr 1986;33:23-47 -- Dietary influences on neurotransmission. -- Zeisel SH. ) also details this effect.
- Studies in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that the antioxidant selenium (100 mcg daily) could have a mood-elevating effect in individuals having a low blood level of this nutrient.
- Deficiencies of folic acid, vitamin B-12 and B-6 also tend to be found in depressed individuals. It is unclear whether these deficiencies are a cause or an effect of the depression, but it stands to reason that a healthful diet is important.
- If you can't or won't eat well, consider taking an all-purpose vitamin and mineral supplement. Aside from the fact that you will be giving your body needed nutrients, it may help your mood.
- A study in Neuropsychobiology ( Neuropsychobiology 1995;32(2):98-105 -- Vitamin supplementation for 1 year improves mood. -- Benton D, Haller J, Fordy J. ) reported that both men and women experienced a significant improvement in their mood after taking a high potency multivitamin for one year.
- Food allergies and intolerances can affect your moods. If your moods tend to swing, shift into detective mode to see if you can record what you're feeling when, and what you had to eat at or around that time. Keep in mind though, that food sensitivities can look like allergies, especially if the reaction isn't immediate. If you think a food allergy is the answer, discuss your findings with a health professional.
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