Depression is a devastating disorder, afflicting up to 10% of the adult population in the United States and representing one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Although effective treatments are available, approximately one third of all patients with depression fail to respond to conventional antidepressant therapies.1 Depression is often reoccurring and can become chronic. Your diet can either fuel depression or help you to recover from it!
Food and Mood
One study found that vegetarians are significantly less depressed, anxious, and stressed than even healthy meat-eaters. Frequent consumption of vegetables appears to cut one’s odds of depression by more than half. A 2012 study found that eliminating animal products improved mood within two weeks.2
Why? One study found that the omnivores ate nine times as much arachidonic acid as the vegetarians—which is not surprising, given that arachidonic acid is not found in plants. Excessive amounts of arachidonic acid create inflammation.3 Interactions between inflammation and the brain appear to drive the development of depression and may contribute to a non-responsiveness with current antidepressant therapies.4
Plant-Based Diet Helps
Inflammation fuels depression. The converse is also true. Depression drives inflammation. A typical Western or Southern diet is bad news because of their inflammatory components. Eat a variety of plant foods to boost your antioxidant levels. Low antioxidant levels are commonly seen in depressed individuals.5 While conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and even depression might need modest antioxidant supplementation, there are huge arsenals of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds in plants which you miss if you just rely on vitamin supplements. These compounds add a synergistic effect to the antioxidant nutrients, maximizing your body’s antioxidant capacity. Remember that liberal sugar consumption depletes antioxidants.
Eating a poor diet for just 10 days can stimulate pro-inflammatory activity from unfriendly gut bacteria. The good news is that just 10 days of consuming a high-fiber, plant-based diet improves the ability of your friendly gut bacteria to produce anti-inflammatory compounds benefitting brain and mental health.6,7 Even in healthy men, one meal of junk food creates adverse changes in the control of metabolism and inflammation. 8
Check for Adequacy
If you are following a vegetarian diet, be sure that you get vitamin B-12 and vitamin D either from fortified foods or through supplementation. Vitamin D supplementation may significantly help obese individuals who are depressed and have lower levels of vitamin D.9 Those groups who are at risk for vitamin D deficiency include the elderly, adolescents, obese individuals, dark-skinned individuals, and those with chronic illnesses.
Omega-3 fats, such as found in flaxseed and chia, are also important. Several studies, but not all, have indicated that omega-3 fats improve cognition and depression.
Of course, all the contributing factors for depression need to be addressed—cognitive distortion, anger issues, and lifestyle practices—with a competent professional. These dietary recommendations, though, can play an important role in defeating depression.
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Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.
- Miller A M. The role of inflammation in depression: from evolutionary imperative to modern treatment target. Nature Reviews Immunology 12, 22-24. 2016. http://www.nature.com/nri/journal/v16/n1/full/nri.2015.5.html
- Miller AM. The role of inflammation in depression: from evolutionary imperative to modern treatment target. Nature Reviews Immunology 12, 22-24. 2016. http://www.nature.com/nri/journal/v16/n1/full/nri.2015.5.html
- Medhavi Gautam. Role of antioxidants in generalised anxiety disorder and depression. Indian J Psychiatry. 2012 Jul-Sep; 54(3): 244–247.
- De Filippo C, Cavalieri D, Di Paola M, et al. Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe and rural Africa. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2010; 107:14691–14696.
- Kaczmarkczyk MM, Miller MJ, Freund GG. The health benefits of dietary fiber: beyond the usual suspects of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Metabolism 2012; 61:1058–1066.
- Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “Even a little is too much: One junk food snack triggers signals of metabolic disease: Biomarkers that quantify health can help inform prevention strategies for metabolic disease.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 November 2015. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151102152735.htm.
- Sue Penckofer. Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine? Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2010 Jun; 31(6): 385–393.