Can Your Diet Prevent Depression?

depression, depressedDepression is an established risk factor for the development of coronary heart disease (CHD). Dietary factors resulting in lower levels of omega-3 fats not only increase CHD risk, but may also cause depression.

Investigators measured red blood cell levels of two omega-3 fats, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and assessed depressive symptoms in a cross-sectional study of nearly 1,000 adults with CHD.

As EPA and DHA levels rose, depressive symptoms dropped. The prevalence of depression ranged from 23 percent in participants with the lowest blood levels of omega-3 fats to 13 percent in participants with the highest omega-3 blood levels.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Omega-3 fats are essential for your optimal brain function, and that includes regulating your mood and fighting depression. In fact, the evidence has become so compelling that some experts in the field encourage all mental health professionals to ensure that their patients suffering from depression have an adequate intake of omega-3 fats.

If you want to get the details on the link between omega-3 fats and your mental health, I highly recommend Dr. Stoll's book The Omega-3 Connection. He is a Harvard psychiatrist who has done a great job of compiling the evidence supporting the use of omega-3s for treating depression, and his is one of the first comprehensive books on the subject.

You can also watch this excellent interview with Dr. James S. Gordon, MD, a world-renowned expert in using mind-body medicine to heal depression. In it he talks about the connection between omega-3 fats and depression, and describes them as an essential part of a wider program of treatment and prevention.
How do Omega-3 Fats Impact Depression?
Research shows that low plasma concentrations of DHA (a type of omega-3 fat) is associated with low concentrations of brain serotonin. This decreased amount of serotonin can be associated with depression and suicide.

In fact, not getting enough omega-3 fats is known to change the levels and functioning of both serotonin and dopamine (which plays a role in feelings of pleasure), as well as compromise the blood-brain barrier, which normally protects your brain from unwanted matter gaining access.

Omega-3 deficiency can also decrease normal blood flow to your brain, an interesting finding given that studies show people with depression have compromised blood flow to a number of brain regions.

Finally, omega-3 deficiency also causes a 35 percent reduction in brain phosphatidylserine (PS) levels, which is relevant considering that PS has documented antidepressant activity in humans.

Omega-3 fats such as those in krill oil have actually been found to work just as well as antidepressants in preventing the signs of depression, but without any of the side effects.

In fact, throughout my years of medical practice I’ve had large numbers of patients be able to stop their antidepressants once they started taking omega-3 fats.

So if you are currently struggling with depression, taking a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat supplement daily is a simple and smart choice … but it is only one important part of my overall recommendations for treating depression.
A Comprehensive Natural Treatment Program for Depression
Depression can be a very serious condition, but if you visit most conventional doctors you will probably be prescribed an antidepressant and sent on your way, left to think that depression is a “disease” you can do nothing about.

In reality, overcoming depression is usually a matter of integrating key natural therapies into a treatment program that feels right for you. The key steps include:
1. Optimize Your Diet

This includes taking high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats such as krill oil daily, and eliminating most sugar and grain from your diet, as these will increase your risk of insulin resistance, which is linked to depression (and diabetes).

Researchers have discovered a positive connection between higher levels of insulin resistance and severity of depressive symptoms in people with impaired glucose tolerance, even before the occurrence of diabetes. Based on these findings, it was suggested that insulin resistance could be the result of an increased release of counter-regulatory hormones linked to depression.

2. Exercise!

Regular exercise is one of the “secret weapons” to overcoming depression. It works so well because it helps to normalize insulin resistance while boosting “feel good” hormones in your brain.

As Dr. Gordon says:
“What we’re finding in the research on physical exercise is, the physical exercise is at least as good as antidepressants for helping people who are depressed … physical exercise changes the level of serotonin in your brain.

It changes, increases their levels of “feel good” hormones, the endorphins. And also -- and these are amazing studies -- it can increase the number of cells in your brain, in the region of the brain, called the hippocampus.

These studies have been first done on animals, and it’s very important because sometimes in depression, there are fewer of those cells in the hippocampus, but you can actually change your brain with exercise. So it’s got to be part of everybody’s treatment, everybody’s plan.”
3. Embrace Techniques to Help Manage Your Emotions

Stress and other negative emotions are one of the main causes of depression, so you must learn how to manage these in order to feel better. My favorite method of emotional relief is Meridian Tapping Technique (MTT), a form of psychological acupressure that you can learn how to do yourself.

However, if you have depression or serious stress it would be best to consult with a mental health professional who is also an MTT practitioner to guide you.

There are other stress-management methods out there as well, such as meditation, journaling, breathing exercises, yoga, or simply sharing your feelings with a close friend. Ideally, pick the method that feels best for you, or combine several methods and rotate them.

4. Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels

Have you ever noticed how great it can feel to spend time outdoors on a sunny day? Well, it turns out that getting safe sun exposure, which allows your body to produce vitamin D, is great for your mood.

One study even found people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who received healthy doses.

So you can add optimizing your vitamin D levels, either by sunlight exposure, a safe tanning bed or taking a high-quality vitamin D supplement, to your list of depression fighters.
I do want to reiterate that depression can be a very serious condition. If left untreated it can have a devastating impact on just about every aspect of your life. So please do learn and use the natural treatments I suggest the above, but ideally do so with the support and guidance of a knowledgeable natural health care practitioner.

If you or someone you love is currently struggling with depression, I also highly suggest reading Dr. Gordon’s book Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression. It is packed with valuable insights to help you feel better and regain control of your physical and mental health.