There are several well known nutritional treatments that help fight depression. But first, let’s define depression for the purposes of this discussion.
Clinical depression is a very common, yet devastating psychiatric disorder. The symptoms include sleep problems, a lack of motivation, apathy, a loss of drive, fatigue, weight changes, and an inability to feel joy or happiness about life. It is sometimes referred to as “melancholic” depression.
There are many theories about the causes of clinical depression. They include a genetic component, neurological disease such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, chemicals such as narcotics and alcohol, chronic pain or stress, and neurotransmitter imbalances (ie, low serotonin, melatonin).
Atypical Depression is a subtype of clinical melancholic depression. This condition is characterized by mood reactivity. Sufferers of atypical depression are able to experience an improved mood in response to positive events. In contrast, sufferers of “melancholic” depression generally cannot experience positive moods, even when good things happen.
Atypical depression is characterized by a distinct combination of symptoms that include:
- Mood swings
- Carbohydrate cravings
- Weight gain
- Rejection sensitivity
Some researchers believe atypical depression is linked to low thyroid function.
If depression is severe, as in the case of melancholic depression, and the cause is organic in nature, treatments with medications can help.
However, mild to moderate atypical depression can be effectively treated with nutrition. In addition, even in cases of melancholic depression, nutritional therapy can enhance treatment with medications, and in some cases, reduce the amount of medication needed by the patient.
Fight Depression with Nutrition
There are several nutritional substances that have been shown to help fight depression. These include:
- Essential fatty acids, especially Omega 3 fatty acids. There is a multitude of studies highlighting the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on brain neurochemicals. These oils can be found in most fatty fish, and of course, fish oil supplements. However, be aware that large doses of fish oil can drive up your blood sugar, especially if you are pre-diabetic or diabetic.
- Chromium Picolinate
Chromium is a trace mineral with some unique antidepressant features. Chromium bound to picolinic acid creates chromium picolinate, a form that improves absorption rates. Chromium picolinate has a strong beneficial effect on blood sugar metabolism and insulin sensitivity. A lack of sensitivity to insulin, or a lack of insulin is the major symptom of diabetes, and research has shown that diabetics are twice as prone to depression as non-diabetics. Insulin is also connected to the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, a major mood enhancer.
Some researchers believe that atypical depression is associated with insulin resistance, a condition in which the body does not respond to insulin efficiently. Chromium helps by increasing the insulin sensitivity of the cells.
Chromium picolinate supplements have been shown to enhance glucose uptake in the body, reduce appetite and shut down cravings for carbohydrates as well.
There are some who have concerns about chromium picolinate supplements. David Mendosa writes about them here.
- Folate and Folic Acid
Folic acid is one of the essential B vitamins. Depression is the most common symptom of a folic acid deficiency. In studies of depressed patients, it has been shown repeatedly that at least a third will have a folic acid deficiency.
In elderly patients, this percentage may be even higher. Among elderly patients admitted to a psychiatric ward, the number of patients with folic acid deficiency has been shown to range from 35 percent to 92.6 percent.
This B vitamin functions as a co-factor in the production of monoamine neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are drugs that are used to fight depression by making more serotonin available to the brain.
Both folate and vitamin B12 are major determinants of one-carbon metabolism, in which S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) is formed. SAM donates the methyl groups that are crucial for the production of serotonin.Studies have shown that supplementation of folic acid, just as with B12, can enhance patient response to these antidepressants.
Sources of folic acid are green leafy vegetables and cereal grains. On a lower-carb diet, folic acid intakes may be lower due to lower intakes of cereal foods.
- Inositol (B-vitamin)
Levels of Inositol have been reported to be lower than normal in depressed subjects. Supplementation has been shown to fight depression in informal research.
In one study, the authors administered 12 g/day of inositol to depressed patients for 4 weeks in a double-blind, controlled trial. After 4 weeks, the overall improvement in scores on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale was significantly greater for those patients taking the Inositol than for those taking the placebo.
- Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) prevents nerve damage and anemia, and aids in cell and blood formation, proper digestion, fertility, and growth. Long term vegans, older people, and those with digestive disorders are susceptible to B12 deficiencies.
This vitamin acts as a co-factor in the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.
If you are following a low carb diet and eating a lot of meat, you are probably getting enough B12. Be aware that Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver, and does not get excreted by the body at the rate that the other B vitamins do, so have your levels tested before supplementing with high doses.
- Vitamin D
According to the Vitamin D Council, “Vitamin D rapidly increases the genetic expression of tyrosine hydroxylase, which is needed for the production of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine.
The body can make vitamin D from sunlight, but sun exposure in the northern latitudes is not enough to create sufficient amounts. Since vitamin D is widely involved in brain function, deficiencies are linked to a wide range of psychological disorders, including depression. To fight depression, some researchers recommend supplementation of 1000-4000IU per day, especially for those diagnosed with depression.
Also, you may want to have your cholesterol levels checked. A study conducted by a Duke University research suggests that healthy women with very low cholesterol levels have higher depression and anxiety levels than women with higher cholesterol levels. Only about 10% to 15% of the US population has such low levels, defined as 160 micrograms per deciliter or below. The research suggests that women in their early 20s or late teens seem to be prone to depression and anxiety if they have very low cholesterol levels. These cholesterol levels are extremely low and occur naturally, not as a result of diet or lifestyle.
For those who would prefer to avoid synthetic medications to fight depression, these nutritional interventions may hold the key to relief.