Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Depression and Nutrition: A Holistic View

According to a report from the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 18.8 million Americans over the age of 18 suffer from major depression. There was nearly 190 million prescriptions dispensed in the United States last year for depression.

Depression encompasses a broad range of experiences from normal passive sadness, known as the blues, to a recurrent debilitating illness known as major depressive disorder. Depression is by far the most common psychiatric disorder as well as the most treatable. Each year more than 100 million people worldwide become depressed and by the year 2020 depression will be ranked as the number one debilitating disease. It is important to realize that diet and nutrition play a vital role.

Diet and nutrition can contribute to depression and the treatment of depression. Most Americans do not eat ideal diets. Most people tend to consume considerable amounts of processed foods and empty calories such as sugar and white flour, neglecting to eat from the major food groups.

Nutritional substances such as herbs may be useful not because the body does necessarily require them, but because they exhibit pharmacological mechanisms that can suppress the symptoms of depression.

One of the most common biochemical findings of nutrition and depression is a high cortisol level. Cortisol has many functions including its ability to "rewire" the brain, and breaking down lean mass. For instance, when your blood sugar drops, your cortisol level goes up and your serotonin level goes down. The brain is quite sensitive and can detect very small in blood sugar. That means your mood and emotions can change with every meal.

The over use of carbohydrates can cause depression. In fact, one of the primary symptoms of carbohydrate intolerance is depression. Stress may exacerbate carbohydrate intolerance and many people may be subconsciously self-medicating when they crave carbohydrates. Researchers are now finding that a diet that contains lower carbohydrates can help prevent and aid depression.

One of the more exciting researchers happening with depression is the use of omega-3 fatty acids. Researchers are now suggesting that omega-3 fatty acids not only can help relieve depression, it can prevent it as well. The brain is 20% fat and these fatty substances carry out very important functions. The sheaths which surround the brain cells contain essential fatty acids that are directly involved in nerve receptor formation and nerve transmission. Alterations in membrane fluidity impact behavior, mood, and mental function. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fatty fish like salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel.

Fiber is essential in keeping the digestive system working, and because there is such a high correlation between digestive and mental disturbances, it is important to have a diet with high fiber to help with stress and depression.

As important as fiber is, water is equally essential as it helps absorb the fiber and assists the central nervous system. Our entire nervous system is electrical; it runs better when you are adequately hydrated.

Many experts see depression as a biochemical imbalance. Since we get most of our nutrients from food, and food is a chemical, a good protocol for depression is to eat a well balanced diet. A state of good mental wellness naturally beings with the food we eat.

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