While many health care workers are aware that there is a link between some physical illnesses and nutritional deficiencies, not many people are aware that mental disorders also have a nutrition link. Most believe that mental illnesses are strictly emotional and have no metabolic or biochemical association. Nutrition, however, may play a greater role in depression than is widely known. Some researchers believe that nutrition can play a key role, both in the onset, severity, and duration of depression, including daily mood swings.
Many of the same food patterns that come before depression are the same food patterns that occur during depression. These patterns may include skipping meals, poor appetite, and a desire for sweets. People who are rigid in their eating and follow very low carbohydrate diets also may be at risk for developing symptoms of depression, because the brain neurotransmitters (tryptophan and serotonin), that are involved in modulating depression are obtained from carbohydrate rich foods. Almost all anti-depressant drugs work by increasing the levels of these brain neurotransmitters.
Which foods affect mood and cause depression is not fully known but some individuals are more sensitive than others. In general, foods such as refined carbohydrates (simple sugars, chocolates) provide an immediate but temporary mood improvement. These foods have to be eaten continuously to sustain the mood elevation. This may not be practical and safe in the long run as one can easily gain weight and develop heart disease. Other options are to eat complex carbohydrates such as cereals, pasta, fruits and vegetables. Although, not as appetizing as chocolates, they are more likely to have a more prolonged mood elevating benefit.
Depression has long been known to be associated with deficiencies in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. The amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine and methionine are often helpful in treating depression. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and is usually converted to serotonin, inducing sleep and tranquility and in some cases restoring serotonin levels to diminish depression. Tyrosine is not an essential amino acid since tyrosine can be made from the amino acid phenylalanine. Tyrosine and possibly its precursor phenylalanine are converted into dopamine and norepinephrine. Methionine combines with ATP to make S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), which facilitates the manufacture of brain neurotransmitters.
As consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish and other sources has declined in most populations, the incidence of major depression has increased. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids containing 1.5 to 4 g of EPA per day should be sufficient for mood elevation in depressed patients. Though, high doses of omega-3 supplements may not be suitable for some patients such as those on anti-clotting drugs.
Other nutritional deficiencies can contribute to depression. Notably, vitamin B, folate and magnesium deficiencies have been linked to depression. It has been reported that rapid recovery from major depression is possible in less than 7 days by treating patients with 125-300 mg of magnesium (as glycinate and taurinate) with each meal and at bedtime.
Note: Statements in this article may not be approved by the FDA, and should not be considered as professional medical advice.