Depression is no laughing matter. The number of people living with depression in England has increased by nearly half a million in three years, according to an analysis of NHS data.

Depression is a common mental disorder that causes people to experience depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. Living with depression is difficult for those who suffer from it and for their family, friends, and colleagues. It can be difficult to know if you are depressed and what you can do about it.

Depression that does not respond to antidepressants may also be a sign of an undiagnosed thyroid disorder, usually hypothyroidism. Some mental illness, including depression, anxiety, and postpartum depression may even be driven by thyroid dysfunction. The role of thyroid in brain health has been the subject of speculation for over a century. As noted in a 1949 paper in the British Medical Journal: [1]

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“[Since] 1888 the Committee of the Clinical Society of London reported on the mental changes observed in over 100 cases of Myxedema and noted the general retardation, sluggishness and slowness of apprehension, which was associated with insanity in the form of melancholia, chronic mania and dementia.

A recent study in the January 2010 issue of JAMA concludes that there is little evidence that SSRIs (a popular group of antidepressants that includes Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and others) have any benefit to people with mild to moderate depression, and they work no better than a placebo [2,3]

In cases of mild to moderate depression there are natural solutions that may help to restore your mood. Recent evidence suggests that good nutrition is essential for our mental health and that a number of mental health conditions may be influenced by dietary factors.

Natural measures for depression involve addressing negative emotions, improving your nutrition (including making sure you’re getting enough good omega-3 fats), getting regular exercise, and optimising your vitamin D levels.

Foods that help depression

Fish and walnuts

Eat wild salmon at least twice weekly or supplement omega-3 fatty acids with fish oil (like Forever Arctic Sea). Walnuts are one of the richest plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The brain is made up of fats and health ratios of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids are absolutely essential to happy mood and healthy brain function.

foods that help depression_wild salmon

(Dr. Gordon is the author of a new book called Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression.) While all omega-3 fats possess immune-boosting qualities, omega-3 fats from marine sources (EPA and DHA) are more biologically potent than omega-3 fat ALA found in plant sources such as flax seeds, and are more potent inflammation fighters.

Salt

Your body needs salt– Choose Unprocessed Salt! [4] Natural salt is in fact essential for life and plays a key role in helping nerve cells in your brain and body to transfer information besides many other important roles. If you want to find out whether you’re eating the proper amount of salt for your body, a fasting chemistry profile that shows your serum sodium level can give you a good idea, so that you can modify your diet accordingly.

Your ideal sodium level is 139, with an optimal range of 136 to 142. Use a pure, natural salt, such as Celtic or Himalayan salt, to add flavour to your food and stay away from refined table salt (your table salt is actually 97.5 percent sodium chloride and 2.5 percent chemicals such as moisture absorbents and iodine).

Animal Protein

B vitamins play big role in the production of certain neurotransmitters, which are important in regulating mood and other brain functions. Folic acid deficiency has been noted among people with depression. Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is the cofactor for enzymes that convert L-tryptophan to serotonin, so vitamin B6 deficiency might result in depression.

There is evidence that people with depression respond better to treatment if they have higher levels of vitamin B12. Animal meat and especially organ meat like liver from organic grass-fed animals is the best source of vitamin B. Turkey is the best food we know of for its tryptophan content. This chemical stimulates serotonin production, which is a natural feel-good chemical your body produces. And if you are vegetarian or vegan, don’t forget to supplement with B vitamins.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Did you know that stress affects the gut microbes, too? [5] Unbalanced gut microbes can contribute to depression.  Be sure you are taking a high potency probiotic daily and eating fermented foods. Healthy choices include lassi (an Indian yoghurt drink, traditionally enjoyed before dinner), fermented raw (unpasteurrized) grass-fed organic milk such as kefir, various pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash and carrots, and natto (fermented soy).

foods that help depression_probiotics

Although I’m not a major proponent of taking many supplements (as I believe the majority of your nutrients need to come from food), probiotics are definitely an exception. If you do not eat fermented foods, taking a high-quality probiotic supplement certainly makes a lot of sense considering how important they are to optimizing your mental health (Forever Active Probiotic).

Dark Leafy Greens

If you were to choose the healthiest food of all, the most nutrient-dense item available to us to eat, it would be dark, leafy greens – no contest. Spinach. Kale. Swiss chard. Greens are the first of the G-BOMBS (Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries, Seeds) that Dr. Fuhrman describes in his book, The End of Dieting, the foods with the most powerful immune-boosting and anticancer effect.

“These foods help to prevent the cancerous transformation of normal cells and keep the body armed and ready to attack any precancerous or cancerous cells that may arise,” he writes. They fight against all kinds of inflammation, and according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry, severe depression has been linked with brain inflammation. Leafy greens are especially important because they contain oodles of vitamins A, C, E, and K, minerals and phytochemicals.

Dark Chocolate

Ah, we all like and crave Chocolate. Dark chocolate enhances mood by increasing endorphins in the brain that promote a sense of well-being, as published in Psychology Today. Although it is still controversial if “the blues make you crave chocolate” or the chocolate makes depression better [6]

foods that help depression_dark chocolate

Vitamin D

It’s not a food for depression, but it’s vitally important –  vitamin D:  Have your physician check your vitamin D level and supplement at least 2000IU of D3 or 15-20 minutes of sunlight daily.  Optimal serum levels of 25(OH) Vitamin D should be 50-80 ng/ml. 

“Depression is a symptom. Depression is not a condition. Its not an illness; its simply a symptom” says Dr. Hyla Cass, a practicing psychiatrist.

A balanced mood and feelings of wellbeing can be protected by ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water. Eat a wide variety of foods to keep your diet interesting and to ensure you obtain all the micronutrients you need to fight depression.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment or sent me an email with your experiences at www.vilmaswellness.com

Resources:

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2051123/

[2] http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0050045

[3] InterviewRobertWhitaker.pdf

[4] Physiology and behaviour, August 6, 2009

[5] http://www.jillcarnahan.com/2015/03/15/mind-altering-microbes-gut-microbiome-may-influence-mood/

[6] NHS Choices

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