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Depression - hidden causes in the diet

Depression is a state of mind characterized by a pessimistic sense of inadequacy and a despondent lack of activity. It can range from a mild affliction to a point where it severely affects the social functioning and activities of daily living of an individual. There are multiple causes of depression ranging from complex psychological and physiological factors such as lack of self-esteem, or perfectionsim to hormonal imbalances as seen in postpartum depression.

There is increasing evidence that diet may play a causative role in some cases of depression. The food production in industrialized societies uses intensive farming and processing techniques. This can contribute to depleted levels of omega 3 fatty acids, certain amino acids and other essential nutrients in the food we eat. Also over time our food choices and preferences have changed, which has led to a skewed ratio of fats in out diet.

Omega 3 is an important essential fats for the body. Its deficiency has been linked to depression, anxiety, aggressiveness and even insomnia. In some studies it was observed that patients suffering from depression have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their cell membranes. More startlingly, its deficiency worsens the conditions of ADHD children considerably. Research has shown that patients with bipolar depression who increased their consumption of foods containing omega 3 showed remarkable improvement in mood, which supports the role of omega 3 fatty acids in the treatment of depression .

Omega 3 is required in the diet and cannot be made within the body. Foods rich in omega 3 include oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, flaxseeds walnuts, olive oil, pumpkin seeds. Ensuring 2-3 portions of oily fish per week should provide adequate omega 3 in your diet.

Amino acids are also not produced within the human body. Tryptophan is an amino acid which is converted into serotonin in the body and is a natural relaxant. This can be used in the treatment of depression to assist with a good night’s sleep, treat migraines and even boost the immune system. Deficiency in the essential amino acid Lysine may cause fatigue, irritability and a lack of concentration. Good sources of lysine include meat, chicken, and eggs and legumes.

Carbohydrates are important in the fight against depression. They help to release the chemical monoamine serotonin. This chemical is found in the brain and is a mood-enhancer. It induces sleep and brings on relaxation. Depression seems to stem from reduced serotonin in the brain. Hence the feeling of satisfaction as soon as a person eats a meal with carbohydrates. Increasing complex carbohydrates that are absorbed slowly such as brown rice, whole grain wheat, bran, fruits and vegetables may be important in the treatment of depression, as this will help ensure a steady supply of serotonin.

Depression can also be intensified or even caused by deficiencies of folate, B12 and vitamin C and magnesium. In a major study, a direct link between low folate levels and neuropsychiatry disorder was established. It has also been suggested that an increased intake of folate can help reduce the high levels of homocysteine often present during depression. Foods rich in folate and vitamin c include spinach, broccoli, tomato juice, kidney beans, lentils and asparagus and increasing amounts of these foods in the diet could be useful in the treatment of depression.

Vitamin B12 is found in animal products such as milk, meat, cheese and yogurt. Vegans and strict vegetarians who do not drink milk products can be lacking in Vitamin B12. Elderly people often suffer from malabsorption of this vitamin due to a lack of acidity in the stomach (which assists in its digestion) and this can lead to mood disorders or even depression. Vitamin B12 is therefore a key vitamin to consider in supplementing for the treatment of depression.

A deficiency of magnesium is sometimes associated with forms of depression. A diet rich in magnesium such as nuts and grains, spinach, and meat may be beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of depression.

Depression is sometimes caused by the increased intake of alcohol and narcotic substances. We are all well aware of the initial euphoria that occurs with alcohol intake, however in the long term, alcohol abuse can contribute heavily to a depressive state.

Diet and depression may well have a cyclical relationship. Depression may be exacerbated by dietary deficiency in the first place and can go onto lead to a loss of appetite or apathy towards food and wellbeing. A dietary approach to the treatment of depression is by no means the whole answer but it could play an important role.

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