A growing body of evidence suggests people who suffer from depression may benefit from changes in their diet. So it's important to understand how what you eat, and what you don't eat, can have a significant impact on your mood. There is no specific diet that can instantly improve your mood, however, numerous studies demonstrate the importance of certain nutrients for healthy brain chemistry. When your diet lacks essential nutrients, your body may not have what it needs to produce important brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters. People who suffer from depression typically have reduced levels of neurotransmitters, especially serotonin, which is important for mood regulation. Neurotransmitters are nourished from the nutrients you consume. So it's important to make sure your body gets the nutrients it needs including: proteins, carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and omega-3 fatty acids. Protein-rich foods, which generally are also rich in amino acids, are believed to boost alertness, energy and concentration. Sources of protein include poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts, as well as soy and milk products. Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables may be especially beneficial, as they're known to increase the brain's serotonin levels. It's also important to get enough of certain vitamins, such as Vitamin B1, which is associated with healthy nerve function. Vitamin B6 helps maintain a healthy balance of hormones, while Vitamin C enhances the immune system. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, tuna, other types of seafood, dark green leafy vegetables and certain oils are believed to be essential to healthy mental functioning. Conversely, scientists believe low levels of omega-3 may increase vulnerability for depression. More importantly, recent research suggests that people who follow a Mediterranean-type diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seafood and monounsaturated fats like olive oil, appear to be about 30 percent less likely to suffer from depression. This research is significant because previous studies regarding diet and depression typically focused on certain food groups, rather than diet as a whole. The study also suggests that Mediterranean countries have lower rates of depression in comparison to other parts of the world. In contrast, research suggests a typical Western diet, often high in saturated fats, as well as refined and processed foods, may increase depression likelihood by 50 percent! These findings underscore the importance of avoiding unhealthy foods that may deplete your body of nutrients, affect blood sugar and contribute to depression. High caffeine intake has been associated with depression, anxiety and has been shown to aggravate insomnia. High levels of refined sugar, used in coffee, soda, and energy drinks, as well as myriad packaged snack foods, are also associated with depression. Alcohol, which is a depressant, should not be consumed in large quantities, as it can contribute to depression and in some people, can lead to addiction. Beyond additional problems that may result from its use, alcohol can also cause vitamin deficiencies believed to contribute to depression. Experts also advise avoiding processed, refined or canned foods, artificial coloring, sweeteners and preservatives, as well as fried or high-fat dairy foods, and any type of meat or fish raised using antibiotics or steroids. Diet alone should not be used as an alternative to depression treatment, but it may play a role in relieving depression symptoms. Be sure to talk with your health care professional about changes in your diet.
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Last Updated:January 23, 2013