If you suffer from depression, a condition caracterized by persistent sadness and loss of interest that can interfere with your daily life, you’re not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. More than 16 million American adults suffer at least one major depressive incident per year.
Those who seek treatment for this serious mood disorder are often prescribed antidepressant drugs but seldom or never offered the option of a depression diet. Yet, research shows the quality of your diet has a strong impact on mood and cognitive function.
Why choose a depression diet over drugs?
Researchers have long recognized the effect foods have on our bodies, but they have been slower at recognizing the effects they have on our brains. Not anymore. Several studies have now found a correlation between diets high in refined sugars and a worsening of the symptoms of depression and other mood disorders.
These and other studies show, beyond doubt, that the quality of the foods we put into our bodies affects the quality of our mental processes. The evidence for this is so clear that it has spurred a new field of medicine called “nutritional psychiatry,” one that uses food and supplements to treat mental health disorders.
Unlike antidepressant drugs, foods that treat depression do not cause side effects. No huge company is pushing these foods on you and making huge profits from your suffering. And you cannot get addicted to these foods. The same is not true for depression drugs.
About depression and drugs
In 2013, 242 million adults in the United States reported filling at least one prescription for psychiatric drugs, mostly antidepressants. (Source: JAMA Internal Medicine) The antidepressant market rakes in more than $9 billion per year. Yes, millions of Americans also receive psychotherapy treatment for depression or a combination of therapy and drug treatment. But given the huge market for these drugs, it is clear that most doctors write a prescription for an antidepressant first and try to address the underlying cause later — if ever.
What’s wrong with that?
Side effects of antidepressant medications
The problem with freely writing prescriptions for antidepressant drugs is that they come with a wide variety of side effects. The side effects depend on the type of drug. Here are some of the most common side effects of antidepressants:
- Weight gain
- Dry mouth
- Sexual dysfunction (erectile dysfunction, trouble reaching an orgasm, reduced sex drive)
Many of these symptoms may be severe when you first start taking the drug but then become less severe or go away entirely once you’ve been on the drug for a while.
It’s your decision whether to risk any of these bothersome and/or disruptive symptoms to try to relieve your depression. After all, certain side effects of antidepressant medications could be worse than the depression it’s meant to cure. This is unfortunate because severe depression can be a dangerous condition.
Symptoms of depression
A depressive episode may include these symptoms:
- Persistently feeling sad and “empty.”
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
- Loss of interest in hobbies and other things that used to make you happy.
- Thoughts of suicide
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
- Persistent hopeless feelings
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Suicide attempts
Depression can also be fatal. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, more than 50% of those who commit suicide suffer from major depression.
Types of depression
There are several different types of depression. Here are the most common types:
Major depressive disorder (MDD)
Major depressive disorder is characterized by a severe, persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest in things that used to bring pleasure. It affects the way you think, feel, and behave and can significantly interfere with your daily life. It is episodic, meaning that it often goes into remission, a period in which the patient does not experience any symptoms of depression and feels fine. The patient may also experience just one bout of major depression during their lifetime.
Major depressive disorder affects more than 16 million American adults, and it is the number one cause of disability in America for those ages 15 to 44.3.
Persistent depressive disorder
Persistent depressive disorder is a condition in which the depression is not as severe as that of major depressive disorder, but it lasts longer. It is a period of low-grade depression that typically lasts for at least two years.
This condition, also called dysthymia, affects an estimated 1.5% of the U.S. adult population, though only about 61% are receiving treatment.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of depression followed by energized or manic moods. Formerly called manic-depressive disorder, bipolar disorder affects an estimated 5.7 million American adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Seasonal depression, also called seasonal affective disorder, is a condition wherein the depression is triggered by seasonal changes. This condition usually begins at the start of autumn and extends through winter.
Up to 5% of the U.S. population suffers seasonal depression each year.
Postpartum depression is caused by hormonal changes following childbirth and the stress of taking care of a new baby. Contrary to popular belief, postpartum is not the same thing as the minor depression many women experience after childbirth, called the “baby blues.” Postpartum is a deep depression occurring during pregnancy or after childbirth that interferes with the woman’s ability to care for herself or for her new baby. Up to 80% of new mothers suffer from postpartum depression.
Causes of depression
Almost everyone experiences minor, temporary episodes of depression at times. It is normal to feel sadness over the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or another unwanted event. However, major depression is a complex disease. Though experts are not sure what causes depression, here are a few factors known to trigger it:
Genetics: A family history of depression is known to increase the risk.
Abuse: Any type of abuse — emotional, physical, or sexual — can increase your risk of experiencing major depressive episodes later in life.
Life changes: Experts are not sure why, but both negative and positive life changes can trigger depression. So, you’re as likely to become depressed over your recent wedding as you are over losing your job. However, major depression also called “clinical depression,” is not a typical response to a stressful situation.
Loss of loved ones: Whether through divorce, death, or separation, the loss of loved ones can trigger severe bouts of depression.
Medications: One of the side effects of some drugs appears to be depression. Oral contraceptives, and drugs to treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are known to cause depression in some people.
Poor quality diet: Though food is rarely mentioned as a trigger for depression, there is evidence that certain types of foods can, indeed, cause depression.
Foods that cause neurological inflammation, leading to depression
The standard American diet of highly processed foods, starchy carbs, and sugars helps cause depression. Studies show these foods negatively alter brain chemistry and cause neurological inflammation.
Cutting-edge research shows neurological inflammation to be a major cause of depression. Inflammation isn’t supposed to be a bad thing. It is the immune system’s first response to tissue damage from an injury, bacteria, or toxin. But the brain is such a sensitive organ that the blood-brain barrier is supposed to protect it from any foreign invader so that neurological inflammation isn’t necessary.
However, when the blood-brain barrier is damaged — as happens when a poor diet is regularly consumed for many years — it becomes “leaky,” allowing pathogens, bacteria, and toxins to enter. They activate microglia cells, causing neuroinflammation.
This inflammatory response then shuts down energy production in brain cells, causing mental fatigue. Your brain literally slows down as your neurons fire more slowly. Depression and slowed cognitive function are the results.
Here are some of the foods known to cause neurological inflammation:
- Refined sugars: Though consuming sugar causes an instant rush of energy, it also causes your blood glucose levels to plummet about 20 minutes later. The result is fatigue, irritability, and depression. Eating a steady diet of refined sugar also damages the blood-brain barrier, with the resulting neurological inflammation adding to depression.
- Heavily processed foods: These are manufactured foods stripped of fiber and most of their nutrients. They contain large amounts of preservatives, additives, chemicals, and sugars that negatively affect your brain and your mood.
- Processed fats: Hydrogenated oils (trans fats) found in fried fast foods, such as chicken and french fries, also help destroy the blood-brain barrier. Neurological inflammation can quickly follow, as can depression.
Depression diet: 5 foods that help fight depression
If there are foods that cause depression, it makes sense that there are depression diet foods that can treat this disease. Here are 5 of the best types of foods for fighting depression.
1. Fish oils
Many studies suggest fish oils, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, are a great depression diet food. They may help ease symptoms of depression in some people. Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for proper brain function. Studies show people with depression may have low levels of EPA and DHA, brain chemicals that are both found in fish oils.
You can take fish oil supplements, but an even better way to obtain proper levels of omega-3 fatty acids is through a depression diet containing plenty of fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, and sardines. Some great plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flax seeds, cabbage, and broccoli.
2. Leafy green vegetables
Spinach, kale, and other leafy green vegetables are great depression diet foods. They contain large amounts of folate, a B vitamin proven to reduce neurological inflammation and fight depression. The levels of folate in the blood also affect serotonin levels in the brain; ie, more folate equals more serotonin equals better mood.
There is only one problem. Many people do not have the enzyme necessary to absorb folate from all traditional sources — foods and supplements. Even if you do have this enzyme, however, you may still suffer a chronic shortage of folate because this vitamin in food is unstable and easily lost during processing and cooking. To obtain optimum levels of folate, therefore, you may want to purchase Vitaae, a nutraceutical that contains a new patented form of folate with 7 times better bioavailability than any other forms of folate. Making Vitaae part of your depression diet will help reduce your risk of depression.
3. Dark chocolate
This yummy treat contains flavonoids and antioxidants shown to improve mood. Indeed, multiple studies show that increased consumption of dark chocolate decreases the risk of depression. This makes it a great depression diet food. If you don’t like dark chocolate, blueberries are also a great source of mood-enhancing flavonoids.
4. Grass-fed beef
Eating grass-fed beef is one of the best ways to get an adequate amount of absorbable iron. Why is this important? An iron deficiency can affect the function of neurotransmitters, which have a profound effect on mood. This, alone, can trigger depression.
5. Free range eggs
Eggs are known as a good “brain food” because of their high levels of choline. This nutrient supports the health of the mitochondria, the energy-producing center of your brain cells. Eggs also contain all the amino acids your brain needs to produce neurotransmitters that support mood and reduce the risk of depression, making eggs a great depression diet food to add to your grocery shopping list.
The best depression diet is a SANE diet
If you are looking for a good depression diet to improve your mood, you’ve come to the right place. The SANE Diet includes all the nutrition your body needs to reduce neurological inflammation, control blood glucose levels, and support vibrant health.
When you go SANE, you’ll eat lots of non-starchy veggies, delicious nutrient-dense proteins, yummy whole-food fats, and tasty low-fructose fruits. You’ll be so full of SANE foods you won’t have room or time for inSANE ones OR for depression. Try it and see!
Before switching to a depression diet….
This article is not meant to replace the advice of a medical or psychological professional, and you should not automatically reject drug therapy in favor of a depression diet. Always consult your healthcare provider if you experience any symptoms of depression, as together, you and your doctor can develop a treatment plan that best meets your needs.
A depression diet might be able to resolve minor depression on its own, or it can be a beneficial adjunct to drug therapy and may eventually lessen your reliance on drugs. It can even prevent you from experiencing serious bouts of depression.
Next step: Choose the best depression diet with SANE
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