Nutritional Support for People With Depression


Depression is a condition characterized by a number of mood-related symptoms that tend to increase a person’s social isolation and decrease active engagement with everyday life. In some cases, affected individuals develop relatively minor forms of these symptoms that only mildly impact their overall quality of life. However, in other cases, intense and/or persistent forms of these symptoms trigger serious or extreme life disruptions that can lead to the onset of suicidal thoughts or active suicide behaviors. Doctors typically combat the effects of serious forms of depression with the help of medications, psychotherapy, and various types of brain stimulation. Current evidence indicates that certain nutritional steps can support the effectiveness of these treatments.

Depression and Nutritional Deficiency

In the 2000s, researchers from a number of respected institutions have established links between depression symptoms and deficiencies of a number of specific vitamins and minerals. For instance, the Mayo Clinic explains, depression-related symptoms commonly appear in people with an inadequate intake of vitamin B1 (thiamine) and/or vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid); deficiencies in vitamin B9 (folic acid) and vitamin B12 (cobalamin) can also produce similar results. In addition, you can develop certain depression-like symptoms as a consequence of long-term vitamin C deficiency or inadequate vitamin D intake. Mineral deficiencies associated with the onset of depression symptoms include an inadequate intake of calcium, potassium or magnesium-all of which you need in relatively large amounts-as well as inadequate intake of zinc, manganese or iron, all of which you need in relatively small amounts. Generally speaking, correction of any existing vitamin or mineral deficiency can help ease depression’s overall effects.

Foods That Can Boost Your Mood

B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and iron affect your mood because they affect the production of vital chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters. You rely on these chemicals-which include substances such as serotonin, dopamine, glutamine and norepinephrine-to carry important signals between the individual cells that form your brain tissues. When you have sufficient supplies of neurotransmitters in circulation, your brain typically works in a smooth, coordinated manner. Generally speaking, you experience this trouble-free activity as a sense of emotional stability and well-being; conversely, doctors and researchers believe, problems with your neurotransmitters can alter your mood and contribute significantly to depression symptoms.

In addition to certain vitamins and minerals, proper neurotransmitter production requires the presence of certain substances classified as amino acids; together, these acids form the basis of your body’s internal proteins. One important amino acid, called tryptophan, is found in a number of common foods, including bananas, poultry, soybeans and soy products, oats, peanut butter, nuts, and milk, and other dairy products. Increased consumption of tryptophan-containing foods will produce minor increases in your brain levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. In turn, this serotonin increase can play a small role in easing the effects of clinical depression.

You can also potentially boost your mood and decrease depression symptoms by regularly eating foods that contain significant amounts of substances called omega-3 fatty acids. Inside your brain, these acids-known individually as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)-help perform basic tasks that include cell regulation and processing of the brain’s energy supplies; they also help control production of mood-boosting serotonin, as well as production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays a role in your ability to feel pleasure. Foods rich in omega-3s include walnuts, flax seeds, and fish species such as anchovies, salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel.

The Role of Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are foods-such as whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes-that contain relatively long strings of the carbohydrate building blocks known as simple sugars. They differ from simple carbohydrates, which contain relatively short strings of simple sugars or exist as individual units of sugar. When your diet contains lots of simple carbs-such as those found in candies, sodas and sugary treats-you can easily experience significant spikes and dips in your blood sugar (blood glucose) levels; in turn, these spikes and dips can contribute to the onset of depression and depression-related symptoms like irritability. On the other hand, complex carbs produce much smaller changes in your average blood sugar levels. In people with depression, the glucose-stabilizing effects of these carbohydrates can translate into mood-stabilizing effects that reduce the negative influence of depression-related symptoms.

Additional Considerations

The presence of certain food sensitivities can also increase the influence of depression by undermining normal nutrition; potential problems in this area include gluten sensitivities that lead to the onset of celiac disease, as well as sensitivities to other foods or food components such as egg whites, barley, or corn. Depression is also commonly linked to the presence of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease and other chronic disorders that involve disruption of normal food digestion.

On their own, nutritional and dietary changes will not cure depression. In fact, nutritional and dietary measures may play only a very minor role in the treatment of major depression and other serious or severe depression-related disorders. Speak to your doctor before making any changes in your diet, and never discontinue your main depression treatments without your doctor’s approval.

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