Whether it’s in your own life or a family or friend, most of us have experienced or witnessed how devastating depression can be. The World Health Organisation rates depression as the leading cause of disease burden in high-income countries.2 3
Depression symptoms like sadness, loss of pleasure, irritability, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, and others can make it difficult to get through each day.
But as common as it is, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about what exactly causes it – and what depression treatments are truly effective.
What Causes Depression?
It’s common to hear the causes of depression simplified as just a chemical imbalance in your brain: your levels of the chemicals you need in order to function are too low, and taking medication such as antidepressants restores the balance.
But depression isn’t as simple as all that. While chemicals in your brain can be a factor, the causes of depression are much more complex. Depression has many possible origins that interact together including genetics, stress, traumas, medications, medical problems, or even seasonal changes causing seasonal affective disorder (SAD).5
While depression is typically treated today with antidepressant medication, studies have found that for some people, their effectiveness is about the same as a placebo.1 But is there a way to overcome depression without medication?
In fact, in some cases, a change of diet and lifestyle can have a much longer-lasting impact on keeping depression at bay.1 2
How Does Your Diet Affect Your Mood?
Research has shown that the food you eat can affect your overall mental health. One theory for the reason behind this proposes that the vagus nerve, which runs from your brain stem to your abdomen, results in a strong connection between your stomach and your mental health.1
Mental disorders including depression, anxiety, autism, and hyperactivity have been linked by research to gastrointestinal abnormalities.1
6 Diet Adjustments That May Help Fight Depression
Remember that before making any major diet changes, or starting or stopping any medication, even natural or herbal antidepressants, you should talk to your doctor first. Some of these foods and supplements may interact with prescribed medications.
With that in mind, here are some simple dietary changes that may work as natural depression treatments:
1. Take St. John’s Wort: St. John’s Wort is a flowering plant that’s been used as an herbal antidepressant for thousands of years.7 It has been the subject of a lot of scientific study, and has been found to be effective in cases of mild to moderate depression.4
2. Eat Maca Root: Maca Root is a plant that grows in the Andes Mountains in Peru. It’s used as medicine for a wide range of diseases and disorders, including anemia, weak bones, menstrual problems, tuberculosis, and depression.8
3. Take 5-HTP Supplements: A naturally occurring amino acid that boosts serotonin levels, 5-HTP can be taken as an over-the-counter supplement for use as an antidepressant, appetite suppressant, or a sleep aid. While more research is needed, early studies suggest that it can be an effective treatment for major depression.9
4. Reduce Your Sugar Intake: Research has linked diets rich in refined grains and sugars with a higher risk of depression.1 3 Sugar suppressed the activity of hormones in your brain, low levels of which are linked to depression and schizophrenia. Artificial food additives, such as aspartame, are also known to interfere with healthy brain function.1
5. Take Your Vitamins: Both vitamin D and certain B vitamins have been linked with depression, as well as Alzheimer’s disease.1 2 4 Increasing your intake of vitamins B-3 and B-12 may help combat depression.4
6. Increase Your Omega-3 Intake: Omega-3 fatty acids, found naturally in certain foods such as fish and flaxseed, can also help with depression.3 5 Studies have found that countries with people who eat more fish have less incidence of depression.3 While much of the research on the link between diet and depression is in its early stages, we can go a long way today towards lessening the impact of depression by adjusting our diets.
Mercola D. Processed Food Effects to Depression Keep Getting Stronger. Mercolacom. 2015. Available at: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/07/16/link-between-processed-food-depression.aspx. Accessed December 22, 2015
Fobbester D. Depression. Foodforthebrain.org. 2004. Available at: http://www.foodforthebrain.org/nutrition-solutions/depression/about-depression.aspx. Accessed December 22, 2015.
Oaklander M. The Strange Link Between Junk Food and Depression. TIMEcom. 2015. Available at: http://time.com/3939974/sugar-junk-food-depression/. Accessed December 22, 2015.
Simon H, Zieve D. 2013. Available at: https://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/depression. Accessed December 22, 2015.
Publications H. What causes depression? – Harvard Health. 2009. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression. Accessed December 22, 2015.
McCluskey C. The Link Between Diet and Depression. mindbodygreen. 2012. Available at: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-4788/The-Link-Between-Diet-and-Depression.html. Accessed December 22, 2015.
Ehrlich S. 2014. Available at: https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/st-johns-wort. Accessed December 22, 2015.
Webmd.com. MACA: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings – WebMD. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-555-maca.aspx?activeingredientid=555&activeingredientname=maca. Accessed December 22, 2015.
Ehrlich S. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). University of Maryland Medical Center. 2014. Available at: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/5hydroxytryptophan-5htp. Accessed December 22, 2015.