Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. More women are affected than men. Depression is a serious mental illness that negatively impacts the way a person feels, thinks and interacts with the world around them. Depression can lead to a number of physical or emotional problems, interfere with routine activities such as eating, working or sleeping, and impair a person’s ability to function at home and at work.
Depression is often associated with other health conditions, and symptoms of other conditions may present the same as symptoms of depression, so treating symptoms is not enough. It is important to get to the root cause. Underlying causes of depression include inflammation, hormones, chemical toxicity, hypoglycemia and nutrient deficiency.
- Persistent feelings of hopelessness, sadness, tearfulness or depressed mood observed by others
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or other activities typically enjoyed
- Changes in appetite and or weight fluctuations (loss unrelated to dieting out gain)
- Increased fatigue and loss of energy
- Sleep issues, either insomnia or trouble staying awake Diminished capacity for decision-making
- Difficulty with concentration and memory
- Feelings of excessive guilt and worthlessness
- Irritability, anger and agitation
- Recurrent thoughts of death/suicide, or suicide attempts
People who are depressed may not experience all symptoms; however, a diagnosis of major depressive disorder requires at least the first two symptoms be present for the same two-week period and indicate a change from an individual’s typical functioning. Severity and frequency of symptoms will be individual and may vary with the stage of illness.
Contributing Factors to Depression
A variety of factors may play a role in developing or triggering depression:
- Biochemistry – differences in neurotransmitters and how they function and/or changes in the balance of hormones, vitamin or mineral deficiency
- Genetics – there can be a heredity component to depression
- Personality traits – certain personality traits such as pessimism, low self-esteem and overly self-critical
- Trauma or major life changes – poverty, exposure to neglect, violence, physical or sexual abuse, loss or death of a loved one, or financial issues
- Certain medications – including sleeping pills or blood pressure medications
- Serious or chronic illnesses- chronic pain, cancer, heart disease or stroke
Recovering from Depression
Most people with depression recover within a few months even without medications, and about 85% will recover within a year. Antidepressants, the conventional medical treatment provided for depression, do have side effects, and several different antidepressants may have to be tried before finding the best medication to improve one’s symptoms with minimal and manageable side effects. It usually takes a few weeks before any improvements are noted in symptoms, and once an individual is on medication, it should not be stopped without medical supervision. Antidepressants have shown to be most effective when combined with counselling.
There is no one specific diet to address the symptoms of depression but eating nutrient dense foods can play an important role in managing and reducing the symptoms.
These top ten foods contain nutrients essential to combating the symptoms of depression.
Asparagus is a rich source of antioxidants that help to reduce oxidative stress in the body and brain. Evidence suggests that inadequate levels of magnesium and zinc may contribute to depression. Asparagus contains both of these minerals.
Asparagus is a source of tryptophan, an amino acid that is important for the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and digestion, as well as produces melatonin, a hormone that is related to the sleep-wake cycle.
Avocados contain omega-3 and folate, as well as the minerals magnesium and zinc. Deficiency in these minerals have been linked to depression.
Avocados contain tryptophan, an amino acid that produces B3 (niacin) and is necessary for the production for serotonin. It can be called a relaxation amino acid.
Avocados contain more protein than any other fruit. The amino acids in protein are critical are neurotransmitters in the brain.
Brown rice is a good source of B3, which has helped with depression in some people.
Evidence shows that people who suffer from depression may be deficient in B vitamins, which are important for the functioning of the nervous system and energy production. Brown rice is a source of B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and folate (B9), which help to regulate serotonin levels in the gut and brain.
Numerous studies show that anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids support brain function and reduce depression. Flax seeds as well as flax oil are excellent source of omega-3 to help fight inflammation in the brain and build healthy brain cells.
Flax seeds are also a source of magnesium, an effective mineral to help combat depression.
Lentils are an excellent source of folate (90% daily value in one cup of cooked lentils). Evidence shows a link between folate levels and depression.
One cup of lentils provides nearly 20% of the daily requirement for magnesium.
Lentils are digested slowly for a steady supply of glucose, so are beneficial for blood sugar balance.
Mushrooms contain selenium, a mineral that may decrease depression.
Chemical properties in mushrooms help to lower blood sugar level, which is important for mental health.
Mushrooms contain beta-glucans that help to boost the immune system to fight inflammation, and magnesium and zinc, which can contribute to reducing systemic inflammation associated with depression.
Brain tissues are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, so foods rich in omega-3s such as salmon are important for brain health.
Salmon is a good source of tryptophan, B12 and folate. B12 and folate are key to reducing depression.
Vitamin D is helpful in supporting the nervous system. Salmon and other fatty fish such as tuna and mackerel are excellent sources of vitamin D.
Salmon is a good source of magnesium needed for serotonin production.
Spinach is full of mood-boosting B-vitamins, including B2 which helps the body deal with stress.
Severe depression has been linked to brain inflammation. Dark leafy greens contain antioxidants, vitamins A, C, E and K to reduce inflammation, as well as selenium and zinc, which are associated with reducing depression symptoms.
Spinach is rich in vitamin C, which is necessary for the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin, and shown to reduce the symptoms of depression
Spinach is a good source of folate and the amino acid tryptophan, both important nutrients in increasing levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin
Kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, or other leafy greens can be substituted for a powerful dose of immune boosting vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, that are lower on the glycemic index, are the best choices to support slow digestion and balance blood sugar.
Sweet potatoes contain several B vitamins, including B6, which are important in nervous system function and stress reduction. Low levels of B6 have been associated with symptoms of depression. Women taking birth control pills are at increased risk for depletion of B6.
Walnuts are one of the highest plant-based sources of omega-3 to support brain health as well as a source of protein to support blood sugar balance. Omega-3s have been demonstrated to be effective in the treatment of depression.
Walnuts contain tryptophan, an important precursor to the mood hormone, serotonin.
Melatonin, which is important for sleep regulation, has been found naturally occurring in walnuts.
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