Whilst many forms of depression can be easily treated in primary care, many people chose not to undertake, or are certainly reluctant to begin, the journey that takes them on this route of self-help. Whilst there is a high prevalence of mental health problems and disorders that develop in adolescence and early adulthood, pharmaceutical intervention is not necessarily the key to all treatments. In fact diet, as well as alternative therapies, can be key players in recovery. Most foods, if not all, bring about chemical reactions in the body and have an impact on how we feel. Some make us feel energetic, alert and happy, yet others can make us fatigued, irritable, angry and even depressed. Indeed, food can directly influence our mood, and our diet is even more fundamental when we’re feeling low.
Long term fish consumption is one way to directly affect a person’s tendency to develop depression due to the mood-stabilising effects of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly the long-chain omega-3 EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Similarly, antioxidants also have a role in mood, and it is likely a combination of these factors which affects risk. Furthermore, those people whose diets include a high intake of whole foods, fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fish, are less likely to report depression symptoms. Those people who are more susceptible to depression generally haver a higher intake of processed meat, sweets, chocolate, fried foods, refined grains and dairy than people who don’t suffer from depression. Possible explanations for this outcome include the high levels of folate in cruciferous and leafy vegetables, beans and pulses, in line with studies which link low levels of folate with altered brain chemistry. The link between diet and depression using data from observational and clinical studies is giving a clear message: we need to change our dietary patterns.
It is important to consume as many vitamins and minerals as possible, in order to create the foundations for a healthy body and mind. Try eating at least the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, but make sure you eat a variety of them. The omega-3 fatty acid EPA, which occurs naturally in oily fish such as salmon, anchovies, mackerel and tuna, is crucial for brain health and function. EPA moderates mood in two ways: firstly, it regulates the mood-influencing hormones serotonin and dopamine; secondly, it addresses the inflammatory element of depression by switching off inflammation pathways, as well as EPA itself being converted to anti-inflammatory substances. It is also responsible for a range of other health benefits, from combating heart disease to improving the appearance of your skin, nails and hair. With the government recommendation not to exceed 3 portions of fish weekly, it is not advisable to obtain high a dosage of EPA by way of eating fish. Most people eat just a fifth of the amount recommended for good health. The fact of the matter is that most people do not consume enough oily fish to reap the benefits of fatty acids, so supplementation with fish oils is a more viable option for most. In choosing a fish oil supplement, be sure to avoid liver oils. As well as being less sustainable, oils sourced from larger species of fish tend also to be less clean. A good way to overcome this is to take a highly purified fish oil supplement which has undergone a filtration process of molecular distillation to eliminate heavy metals, PCBs and dioxins. Quite as important as eating the right type of food is the process of eliminating the ‘bad’ foods; where possible, reduce intake of caffeine, alcohol and foods high in sugar and ‘bad’ fats, because they de-stabilise blood sugar levels and create mood slumps, which only aggravate symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, many comfort foods fall into this category, but try to resist the temptation as it is likely your mood will worsen soon after.
There is so much information on the internet on self-help and advice for people with depression that it can be quite overwhelming! That’s why I’ve formulated a nice, easy to read, info pack that people can download, read online or print. It covers depression facts and various treatments, including conventional treatments, dietary changes that are known to help, as well as alternative treatments to pharmaceutical drugs. You can download a Depression Pack by clicking here.