Diet and depression: how food affects mental health

Several root causes can trigger depression. These include the functioning of different systems within our body, chronic systemic inflammation triggered by specific foods, and deficiency of nutrients like protein, omega-3, iron, B12, zinc, and vitamin D.
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What role does diet, nutrients, and lifestyle play in preventing depression or in working your way through a treatment plan? One thing that is great today is that we are speaking so much more openly about depression. At the same time, a focus should come to first looking at deeper physiological root causes before starting someone on anti-depressants.

There are several root causes which can trigger depression, and let us raise awareness for looking deeper. If you or someone you love is suffering from depression, look deeper. Ask your doctor to investigate further. Do not ignore body physiology and all the roots of triggers that has been listed below.

Potential root causes of depression

Root causes can include the functioning of different systems within your body, chronic systemic inflammation triggered by specific foods, nutrient deficiencies, and a whole lot more.

1. Gut health is intricately related to the health of the brain. In early embryonic state, your gut and your brain originated from the same tissue. Your brain is considered the primary one, and the gut is known as the enteric nervous system. The two are connected via the vagus nerve, which is the wandering nerve.

Think about how digestion gets upset when you are upset about something, or how upset you feel when your digestion is off. Leaky gut refers to when the lining in your gut mucosa has become inflamed and permeable due to inflammatory triggers. If your gut is unhealthy, you also compromise your ability to produce serotonin, which makes you depressed.

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2. Chronic systemic inflammation is common is so many people. Your body can be in a state of perpetual immune attack due to nutrient deficiencies, food triggers, high stress, poor sleep and more. When you are always stressed, physiologically or psychologically, high cortisol overstimulates the amygdala which is the primitive part of your brain. It makes you more vulnerable and less resilient to stress.

Nutrient deficiencies are a big reason for depression. Critical nutrients where deficiency can create depression symptoms include omega-3, iron, B12, B vitamins vitamin D, and zinc.

3. Hormones play a key role in mental health, especially for women. When there is low progesterone and estrogen dominance, it can be a major reason for why women suffer with depression. Progesterone is released post ovulation and activates GABA receptors in the brain. Many women can have anovulatory cycles and there can be cycles where progesterone is not released or released inadequately. Many women find their mood changing dramatically when they support hormone health with food and nutrients.

4. Blood sugar balance is a challenge for many. Blood sugar needs to be stable for stable mood, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Many meals become high in sugars, which tip the scales and create that ripple effect of blood sugar imbalance. Every single meal needs high fibre, ample protein, and healthy fats. When blood sugar is stable with a low glycemic diet, it builds a strong foundation that can prevent depression.

There are several other systemic root causes, and these include thyroid health, adrenal function, liver health, fat digestion, and lymphatic movement.

Diet and depression

Diet plays a key role in depression.

1. If your diet is high in inflammatory foods, high sugars, and bad fats, it can be preventing your body from lowering systemic inflammation. The very first step would be to reduce all the sugars and starches, fried foods, gluten, dairy, peanuts, soy, and corn. This allows your body’s immune system to calm down rather than being in a hyper alert mode. The next step would be to add nutrient rich foods.

2. Protein is a big part of optimal mental health. It matters especially at the very first meal of the day. Many breakfasts can be high in sugars with low or negligible protein. Ensure at least a gram per kg of body weight and more if you are struggling with depression.

3. Check your nutrient status for omega-3, iron, B12, zinc, and vitamin D. If you have low levels of vitamin D, make sure that you correct it. A common mistake is giving a high dose once a week. Absorption is much better when it is a low dose every day. Iron is a key nutrient, which is easily deficient in people who have antacids, gut issues, are vegan and in women with heavy cycles. Make sure that iron is addressed. Work with a qualified practitioner to regain optimal levels.

4. Include plenty of healthy fats. Your body builds steroid hormones and sex hormones from fat and cholesterol. If you eat a low-fat diet, your body does not have the building block to produce them, and they play a key role in mental health.

See that every meal has some healthy fats from avocados, coconut, coconut milk, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, and ghee.

If you are on anti-depressants, do speak with your doctor and look deeper. Always address the root causes alongside any treatment. That will ensure that you are doing your very best to support your body in the recovery journey.

Edited by Megha Reddy

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)