Your Diet May Be Why You’re Depressed6 years ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Actress Charlize Theron was just doing her job. For a new role where she played an overwhelmed mom, the normally svelte star had to gain 50 pounds. But she gained more than just extra weight.
“You know, it was a huge surprise to me. I got hit in the face pretty hard with depression. Yeah, for the first time in my life I was eating so much processed foods and I drank way too much sugar. I was not that fun to be around on this film,” Theron said in an interview.
This may seem like an extreme story since Theron gained a lot of weight in such a short period of time. But it really only takes a day to feel the effects of a poor diet. We can all relate to feeling lethargic or cranky after a sugar binge.
And what’s particularly deceiving about processed or junk foods is that we are inclined to reach for them when we feel depressed. We call them ‘comfort foods’ when in reality these nutrient-void processed foods are really providing discomfort.
There have been numerous studies to support the proposition that what you eat affects your mood.
The general rule of thumb is that eating whole foods, as in plenty of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, will not only help keep you physically healthy but also mentally healthy. These foods contain the right types and amounts of nutrients, like carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water, to carry out the necessary functions to make us feel our best.
It’s also important to view nutrients as protective agents. One report relies on a number of credible studies to show the following: “Diet can influence mental health by causing damage to the brain. This can be due to oxidative stress (a harmful chemical process), insulin resistance, changes in blood flow and inflammation. A diet rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant components, commonly found in fruit, vegetables, nuts and wine (which should be drunk in moderation), can directly affect the brain by protecting it from oxidative stress and inflammation. Inflammation can also affect the neurotransmitters (the brain's messenger molecules) responsible for regulating emotion.”
Clearly, one way to remain healthy is to minimize the likelihood of prolonged inflammation whenever possible. Inflammation has been linked to several diseases such as cancer, arthritis, heart disease and even dementia. Inflammation may also contribute to accelerated aging. It may make you look older as well as make your brain older.
(Smoking, drinking too much alcohol and stress may also contribute to inflammation).
Reportedly, people who followed a diet that resembled the Mediterranean diet had a lower chance of developing depression than those who did not have a diet like the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet generally avoids processed foods as well as “foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar (pro-inflammatory foods) and [favors] foods rich in omega-3, fiber, vitamins, magnesium and polyphenols,” which can reduce the risk of depression.
Furthermore, there is evidence that what you eat can affect the formation of brain cells (neurons), specifically in the part of the brain called the hippocampus. And this part of the brain is associated with mood regulation.
Don’t Neglect Your Gut.
There’s credible evidence that the brain and the gut are connected. We have discussed these issues before as it relates to depression, and the recent reports further support this.
“These microbes [in our gut] can break down the nutrients we eat and create molecules that may be inflammatory or that stimulate neural activity.”
Major depression has been cited as the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide. It is anticipated that by 2020, it will be the second leading cause of disability. Millions of Americans are on antidepressants, but these drugs can be very addictive and a common side effect is that they deplete nutrients from the body.
So it’s worth considering a dietary change if you find yourself depressed to the extent that medications may be depleting nutrients from your body that are responsible for preventing depression.
“Every medication, including over-the-counter drugs, will drain the body of specific nutrients,” says a doctor in this report.
(This does not mean you should not take medication that your doctor prescribes. It means that you might want to discuss with your doctor dietary changes you can make and possibly introducing supplementation into your routine. You could even ask your doctor if you can try these things first and then if this does not work, turn to medication as the last resort. And it’s always advised to take a nutrient test to definitively determine any nutrient imbalances you may have).
This is perhaps why there is so much focus lately on nutritional psychiatry.
Let’s enjoy our healthiest lives!
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