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Nutrition Can Fight Depression

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Depression is a very common condition which affects an estimated 5 to 15% of adolescents and adults at any given time. Depression is often related to stressful or tragic events like unemployment or death/illnesses of a relative/friend.  However, interventions such as good nutrition, exercise, sufficient sleep and social support can often prevent or alleviate depression.  Much recent research has focused on the effects of good nutrition in preventing and treating depression.

Many studies have reported that low levels of the b-vitamin folate (or folic acid) is often found in people who are depressed and/or over 70 years.  Folate is found in a wide range of food sources such as whole grains, oranges and other citrus fruit and green leafy vegetables.  Folate plays a critical role both in synthesizing red blood cells and in producing many brain chemicals such as serotonin and other neurotransmitters.  Some studies have reported that consuming a multi-vitamin supplement containing folate is associated with lower depression levels.

(Taking 400 micrograms a day or more of folate has also been shown to significantly reduce risk of some forms of birth defects such as spina bifida.  All women planning to have a baby should be getting a supplement of at least 400 micrograms of folate daily, in addition to a well balanced diet.)

Vitamin B12 is another vitamin which plays a critical role both in producing red blood cells and in producing brain chemicals like serotonin.  Vitamin B12 is found in protein rich animals foods like milk, eggs, meat and fish.  Vitamin B12 is not found in plant foods, so supplements are required for strict vegetarians.  Vitamin B12 absorption declines with age and is low in about 40% of people over age 70 years.  A number of human studies have reported that low vitamin B12 levels are associated with higher levels of depression and dementia.

Omega-3 fats also play a critical role in preventing or alleviating depression.  Large amounts of omega 3 fats are found in fish oils, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring, and in flax seeds and flax oil.  Smaller amounts of omega-3 fats are found in walnuts, pumpkin and hemp seeds and soybean and canola oils.  Many studies have reported that omega 3 consumption tends to be low in depressed patients.  Consuming  4 to 12 grams a day of omega 3 rich fish oil or flax oil have been associated with significantly lower levels of depression in a number of human studies.

Low levels of magnesium are also related to depression and fatigue. Diets very low in protein or calories can also increase risk of depression.  Sufficient protein is necessary to produce adequate levels of serotonin and other brain chemicals which help to maintain mood. 

A good review of the relationship between nutrition and depression by Martha Payne is found in the February 2010 issue of Ageing and Health.

All people with a tendency toward depression should eat a well balanced diet rich in meats, fish, eggs, low fat dairy products, nuts, fruits, vegetables and water. Consumption of refined sugars like cane sugar, beet sugar or corn syrup should be limited as should consumption of refined grains like white flour or white rice. Doug Kaufmann’s phase diets are low in refined sugar and high in nutrients.  Supplements which are useful for folks battling depression include a multi-vitamin containing at least 400 micrograms of folate and 50 micrograms of Vitamin B12.  Consuming multi-mineral supplements with at least 400 milligrams of magnesium a day is also useful for fighting both chronic fatigue and depression.  Consuming 1 teaspoon or four 1 gram capsules of fish oil or flax oil daily is also useful in providing sufficient quantities of omega 3 fats.

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