Diet and depression: Is there a link?

Diet and depression: Is there a link?

Although people are aware that diet affects one’s physical health and deficiency of the key nutrients negatively impacts physical indices, such as weight, body mass index (BMI), heartbeat rate, bone density, etc., there only few who are aware of the connection between nutrition and mental health.

Since mental disorders have been invariably associated with emotions and other biochemical changes in the brain, there has been less emphasis on understanding the role of nutrition in safeguarding mental health. Some of the key factors, such as poor appetite, skipping meals and cravings for sweet food, can play havoc on one’s mental health.

The deficiency of a few nutrients is known to impact mental health by triggering neurological dysfunction, which in turn leads to the development of mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, autism in children, and dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. In fact, most of the food patterns that tend to precede depression are interestingly also apparent during depression. This highlights the close relationship between nutrition and depression.

Microbiome manipulations responsible for triggering complex psychological-emotional behaviors

There are millions of microbes residing in our gut whose population outnumber the total number of cells. Scientists have been able to establish through numerous studies that the stomach and the brains of a person are involved in constant dialogue. Therefore, they are dependent upon each other for their well-being.

Some of the sensations, such as feeling butterflies before a big meeting or an anxious rumbling in the stomach, signal stress or increased anxiety. Certain gut bacteria play a key role in modulating neurochemical metabolism, global brain gene expression, microglial activation and blood brain barrier permeability. The analysis of patients suffering from mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and depression, has highlighted microbial imbalance. In a study undertaken by Dr. Elaine Hsiao at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), it was found that certain gut bacteria affect the level of the hormone serotonin, a neurotransmitter that uplifts mood.

Hence, these findings indicate that the beneficial bacteria living in our gut need to be nourished by providing a healthy environment conducive to their growth. This can be achieved by consuming “probiotic foods,” such as low sugar yogurts, fermented foods that contain live bacteria, and “prebiotic foods” that contain fiber and nutrients, such as onions, garlic, dark leafy greens, whole grains and bananas.

Increasing consumption of omega-3 fats and zinc

The dangerously low and high amount of omega-3 fatty acids (essential fats) are perceived to be associated with many chronic physical and mental illnesses. The human body requires several types of omega-3 fats but they cannot be synthesized internally and must be consumed through food. Despite the multiple benefits, the typical American diet scores very low on omega-3 fatty acids and very high in omega-6 fatty acids.

The two key components of omega-3 fats that include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) play a key role in making functional changes in the activity of the receptors and other proteins embedded in the membrane phospholipid. Moreover, EPA has important physiological functions that can affect neuronal activity. Such changes can lead to continual disruption of signaling between nerves. Moreover, the low level of omega-3 fatty acids leads to neuro inflammation that hampers the signaling between the cells. The imbalance in omega-3 fats leads to a decrease in the level of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, and an increase in the brain and body inflammation.

The recent studies aimed at understanding the molecular cause behind depression have found a specific protein in the body that aids the growth of neurons, which is called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). The production of BDNF can be activated by exercising and consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and zinc (e.g., meats, fish, whole grains, vegetables, etc.)

Eat health foods to keep anxiety at bay

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is known to be the biochemical precursor to serotonin. Foods rich in tryptophan include nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans, lentils and eggs. The consumption of tryptophan supplements along with healthy carbohydrates can also increase the level of serotonin in the brain. Carbohydrates from whole grains and fruits are healthy while those that come from processed foods, candies and drinks, are just “empty calories.”

Depression is a complex and debilitating disease that can be treated by consuming a nourishing diet that benefits the gut and the brain. If you or your loved one is showing signs and symptoms of depression, contact the Arizona Depression Helpline to locate the best depression rehab centers in Arizona. Call our 24/7 helpline 866-233-3895 or chat online to get details about the depression treatment programs in Arizona.