1 in every 5 people in England will experience depression.
The World Health Organisation has estimated that 350 million people worldwide are affected by depression. Depression is a disease which is not related to nationality, culture and class but surprisingly, it is does have a gender bias, where twice as many women are affected when compared to men.
Depression is not the same as a normal mood fluctuation as it tends to be long lasting, it can last from a few weeks to a few years becoming a long term chronic illness. The mood fluctuations tend to be more moderate to severe in intensity. The worst case scenario is that depression can lead to suicide. Around 800,000 people commit suicide each year and it is the second leading cause of death in young people aged between 15-29 years old.
What are the possible root causes of depression?
The root cause for depression could be just one factor or it could be as a result of several factors.
The list below shows examples of some of the root causes of depression:
- sleep disturbances
- poor diet
- food allergies
- nutritional deficiencies : folic acid; Vitamin B6; Vitamin B1; tyrosine and tryptophan
- prescribed medications
- heavy metal toxicity: for example, mercury poisoning
- recreational drugs
- tension and stress which cannot be managed
- emotional issues which have been left unresolved
- chronic illness and pain
- neurotransmitter imbalances
- hormonal imbalances
- low adrenal function
- thyroid gland malfunction
- post natal
It is important that if you experience any long lasting mood fluctuations that you seek advice from a healthcare professional.
What are the symptoms which are related to depression?
Recognising the symptoms of depression is essential to the management of the condition.
An easy to use questionnaire, check: http://patient.info/doctor/patient-health-questionnaire-phq-9
- recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
- decreased sex drive
- increased anxiety
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty making decisions
- digestive problems
- appetite disturbances : over eating or under eating
- issues with sleeping
- feelings of low self esteem or low worth
- feeling guilty
- mood swings
- unexplained weeping
- inability to enjoy daily life
The most important step is to seek advice from your GP or healthcare professional, if you experience one or several of the following issues:
- An unusually sad mood that does not go away
- Loss of enjoyment and interest in activities that they used to enjoy
- Lack of energy
- Loss of confidence/poor self esteem
- Feelings of guilt when they are not really at fault
- Suicidal thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Moving more slowly or sometimes becoming agitated and unable to settle
- Having difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest in food or eating too much. This may lead to either loss of weight or putting on weight
Alongside your plan from your GP (or healthcare professional), we would recommend that you work towards making some changes to your diet.
Essentially, all food provides the body with the building blocks necessary for it to function efficiently. Often a poor diet and lack of nutrients leads to deficiencies giving rise to chronic long term illness .
A good diet has a direct affect on your brain chemistry, it affects your neurotransmitters which in turn affects your mood and well being. Foods which are rich in tryptophan can help with regulating your appetite, elevating your mood and ensuring better sleep.
Before identifying foods which are rich in tryptophan, let’s look at what tryptophan is?
“Tryptophan is an essential amino acid , this means that the body cannot manufacture this amino acid, we can only source tryptophan from our diet”. Tryptophan acts as a precursor for serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter. Serotonin helps the body to regulate mood. An imbalance of serotonin can lead to depression. Therefore, in a very indirect way, food can affect your mood.
Here are some examples of tryptophan rich foods which are worth considering:
- Cottage cheese
- Cows milk
Foods associated with causing mood fluctuations
Some foods have been associated with causing depression, especially wheat. Some individuals have hidden food allergies or intolerances . If you suspect that certain foods make you feel very sluggish, then it is vital that see a GP or a qualified Nutritionist. You can try to keep a food diary to monitor the food which you have eaten each day and also any changes in your mood (other physical changes).
Caffeine and sugary foods can temporarily make you feel better, but once the blood sugar levels drop , then the feeling of “low” becomes apparent.
Complex carbohydrates help with balancing the blood sugar levels. Eating foods which have a low glycemic index, can help with balancing the blood sugar levels keeping the mood more “even” which helps in managing daily stress and anxiety.
The glycemic index of a food is a measure of how quickly the sugars from the food are absorbed into the body. A general rule for identifying the GI of foods, is that white refined foods will have high GI including white potatoes. Foods which are high in fibre will take much longer to digest making them good sources of low GI food.
Here are a few examples of low GI foods, you will be able to find comprehensive lists on the Wellbeing Range website:
- All bran
- Oat bran
- Rolled oats
- Natural Muesli
- Brown rice
- pearled barley
- Sweet potatoes
- Soya and linseed
- Sourdough rye
- Kidney beans
- Butter beans
- Chick peas
- Red lentils
- Green lentils
- Pinto beans
- Blackeyed beans
- Yellow split peas
What about Omega Oils, why are they helpful ?
The human brain is made up of 60% fats. The interesting thing about the human body is that it has evolved around the available food sources over time. By looking at the brain, we can see the essential building blocks to keep it healthy and well. The long chain omega 3 fats EPA (eicosapentenaenoic acid) & DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are very fundamental to the function and structure of the brain and nervous system. Omega 3 fats are abundant in marine animals, so that is great source of food for the brain.
The human body including the brain, likes everything in balance. With reference to omega oils, the body likes just the right ratio of omega 3 oils to omega 6 oils. In modern day life, due to working patterns and the pressures associated with work and life, most people will experience an imbalance of nutrients. An imbalance of omega 3 to omega 6 oils leads to cardiovascular disease; depression; dementia and arthritis.
Here are a few examples of beneficial foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids:
Each meal should try to incorporate some of the above mentioned foods as well as low GI foods for overall balance.
Incorporate daily gentle exercise. Going for a walk or a gentle swim can help elevate the mood. It does not have to be a structured formal form of physical exercise.
Some research has shown that when individuals exercise on a regular basis that the body naturally reduces the stress hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol. At the same time, the exercising body stimulates the production of endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals released by the body as natural painkillers and mood elevators.
A note on using food supplements
Using trytophan based supplements, such as 5-HTP, are contraindicated for individuals who are takinganti-depressants, so please do not take any food supplements which contain tryptophan. Always consult your GP (or healthcare professional) before taking any food supplements.
If you choose to take some food supplements , then you might want to consider the following (but always under professional advice):
- Vitamin B Complex: B vitamins are intricately involved in neurotransmitter metabolism
- High quality Fish oil containing omega 3: Essential fatty acids such as DHA improve neurotransmitter activity
- Ginkgo Biloba: Helps with improving the blood flow to the brain and neurotransmitter activity (Caution: herb)
- High potency multi-vitamins: These would provide the basic building blocks for neurotransmitters
Copyright Feb 2016, G Nandhra Bsc (Hons) Psychological Science; Diploma Nutritional Therapy (CNM)
The information provided in this article is as a guideline only. It is NOT to be used as a diagnosis or a treatment plan for any condition. Always seek advice from your healthcare professional before making any changes to your lifestyle, diet or exercise routine.