Foods have an immense impact on the body and brain, and eating whole foods as described in my nutrition plan is a good way to simultaneously support your mental and physical health.
Avoiding sugar and artificial sweeteners is Key aspect of preventing and/or treating depression.
Both contribute to chronic inflammation and can wreak havoc with the brain’s function.
Recent research also shows how swapping processed junk food for a healthier diet can significantly improve depression symptoms, which really should not come as a great surprise.
There are at least 4 potential mechanisms through which refined sugar intake can exert a toxic effect on mental health, they are as follows:
- Sugar (particularly fructose) and grains contribute to insulin and leptin resistance and impaired signaling, which play a significant role in your mental health
- Sugar suppresses activity of a Key growth hormone called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes healthy brain neurons. BDNF levels are critically low in both depression and schizophrenia, which animal models suggest might actually be causative
- Sugar consumption also triggers a cascade of chemical reactions in your body that promote chronic inflammation. In the long term, inflammation disrupts the normal functioning of your immune system, which is linked to a greater risk of depression
- Sugar impairs the microbiome and its influence on the modulation of stress response, immune function, neurotransmission and neurogenesis
In Y 2004, British psychiatric researcher Malcolm Peet published a provocative cross-cultural analysis of the relationship between diet and mental illness.
His primary finding was a strong link between high sugar consumption and the risk of both depression and schizophrenia.
According to Malcolm Peet:
“A higher national dietary intake of refined sugar and dairy products predicted a worse 2-yr outcome of schizophrenia. A high national prevalence of depression was predicted by a low dietary intake of fish and seafood.
The dietary predictors of … prevalence of depression are similar to those that predict illnesses such as coronary heart disease and diabetes, which are more common in people with mental health problems and in which nutritional approaches are widely recommended.”
One of the Key predictors of heart disease and diabetes is in chronic inflammation which, as he mentions, is also associated with poor mental health.
Sugar is a primary driver of chronic inflammation in the body, so consuming excessive amounts of sugar can truly set off an avalanche of negative health events, both mental and physical.
Refined carbohydrates, sugar, processed meats and soft drinks are to be fully avoided or as much as possible.
According to the research paper I read today:
“There is strong epidemiological evidence that poor diet is associated with depression. The reverse has also been shown, namely that eating a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish and lean meat, is associated with reduced risk of depression …
There was good compliance with the diet intervention recommendations assessed using self-report and spectrophotometry. The Diet group had significantly lower self-reported depression symptoms than the Control Group …
Reduced DASS-21 depression subscale scores were maintained on follow up phone call 3 months later. These results are the 1st to show that young adults with elevated depression symptoms can engage in and adhere to a diet intervention, and that this can reduce symptoms of depression.”
The researchers also report that the dietary intervention resulted in lower levels of anger.
In the Discussion section of the paper, the authors make the following observations:
“The results of this RCT provide support for improving diet as a useful adjunct treatment to reduce depressive symptoms … One of the most interesting findings is the fact that diet change was feasible in this population.
As the participants were young adults and university undergraduate students, we anticipated several potential barriers such as the perceived cost of the diet, the time demands of preparing food and/or reliance on others for food preparation (particularly if they lived at home).
Additionally, the participants were recruited based on self-reported symptoms of depression. We anticipated that the symptoms of depression, including low energy, reduced motivation and apathy, would present as barriers to eating well.
Despite these factors, there was a significant increase in the recommended foods and decrease in processed foods for the diet change group but not the habitual diet group.
Furthermore, within the diet change group, increase in recommended foods was associated with spectrophotometer readings. This provides objective evidence to support the participants’ self-reported compliance with the diet …
Even in the general population, adherence to diet advice is typically very poor, with over 80% of Australians reporting that they do not comply with dietary recommendations.
As a result, there is substantial nihilism regarding the ability to change people’s diets.
The fact that this relatively low-cost intervention can result in a population of young adults adhering to diet recommendations is very promising.
Furthermore, it is important to consider that participants in the current study did not need to adhere strictly to the diet recommendations to derive benefit.”
In the Implications and Recommendations section of the Psychosomatic Medicine meta-analysis, the authors point out a number of possible mechanisms of action allowing depressed patients to benefit from nutritional intervention:
“… diet may act via several pathways that are implicated in mental health. These include pathways related to oxidative stress, inflammation, and mitochondrial dysfunction, which are disrupted in people with mental disorders.
Gut microbiota dysbiosis has also been implicated because of emerging research demonstrating involvement of the microbiome in the modulation of stress response, immune function, neurotransmission, and neurogenesis. A healthy diet typically contains a wide variety of bioactive compounds that can beneficially interact with these pathways.
For example, vegetables and fruits contain, in addition to beneficial vitamins, minerals and fiber, a high concentration of various polyphenols that seem to be associated with reduced rates of depression … potentially because of their anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and prebiotic properties.
Furthermore, vitamins (e.g., B vitamins), fatty acids (e.g., omega 3 fatty acids), minerals (e.g., zinc, magnesium), and fiber (e.g., resistant starch) as well as other bioactive components (e.g., probiotics), which are typically abundant in healthy dietary patterns, may also be protective from mental illness.
Along with increasing the intake of beneficial nutrients, dietary interventions may also impact on mental well-being by reducing the consumption of unhealthy food associated with increased risk for depression, such as processed meats, refined carbohydrates, and other inflammatory foods.
Unhealthy diets are also high in other compounds that may negatively affect these pathways. For example, elements commonly found in processed foods such as saturated fatty acids, artificial sweeteners, and emulsifiers may alter the gut microbiome, which may activate inflammatory pathways.”
Keeping inflammation in check is an important part of any effective mental health treatment plan.
So, if you are gluten sensitive remove all gluten from your diet. A food sensitivity test can help ascertain this. Reducing lectins may also be a good idea.
As a general guideline, eating a whole food diet as can go a long way toward lowering one’s inflammation level. A cornerstone of a healthy diet is limiting sugar of all kinds, ideally to no more than 25 grams a day.
In a study men consuming more than 67 grams of sugar per day were 23% more likely to develop anxiety or depression over the course of 5 years than those whose sugar consumption was less than 39.5 grams per day.
Certain nutritional deficiencies are also notorious contributors to depression, especially the following:
•Marine-based omega-3 fats — Omega-3 fats have been shown to improve major depressive disorder, so make sure you are getting enough omega-3s in your diet, either from wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and anchovies, or a high-quality supplement.
Getting an omega-3 index test to make sure you are getting enough is essential. Ideally, our omega-3 index to be 8% or higher.
•B vitamins (including B1, B2, B3, B6, B9 and B12) — Low dietary folate can raise your risk of depression by as much as 304%. A 2017 study showing the importance of vitamin deficiencies in depression involved suicidal teens. Most turned out to be deficient in cerebral folate and all of them showed improvement after treatment with folinic acid.
•Magnesium — Magnesium supplements have been shown to improve mild-to-moderate depression in adults, with beneficial effects occurring within two weeks of treatment.
•Vitamin D — Studies have shown vitamin D deficiency can predispose you to depression and that depression can respond favorably to optimizing your vitamin D stores, ideally by getting sensible Sun exposure daily.
A double-blind randomized trial published in Y 2008 concluded that supplementing with high doses of vitamin D “seems to ameliorate [depression] symptoms indicating a possible causal relationship.”
Research published in Y 2014 also linked low vitamin D levels with an increased risk for suicide.
The Y 2017 paper “Depression and Vitamin D Deficiency: Causality, Assessment and Clinical Practice Implications,” published in the journal of Neuropsychiatry, notes the following:
“The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which enrolled a sample of 7,970 non-institutionalized U.S. residents age 15 to 39, confirmed that people with serum vitamin D ≤50 nmol/L [20 ng/mL] are at a significantly higher risk of showing depression than individuals whose serum levels of vitamin D are greater or equal to 75 nmol/L [30 ng/mL] …
A … large cohort study showed an association between low vitamin D levels and both presence and severity of depression, this suggesting the possibility that hypovitaminosis D indicates an underlying biological susceptibility for depression.”
For optimal health, make sure your vitamin D level is between 60 and 80 ng/mL year-round. Ideally, get a vitamin D test at least 2X a year to monitor your level.
Keeping your gut microbiome healthy has a significant effect on moods, emotions and brain.
So, whether you are struggling to get your health back on pace or want to maintain optimal wellness, there are straight-forward strategies that can help you succeed in taking better control of your overall health.
These strategies for achieving optimal wellness work for everyone from fit and healthy individuals who want to stay in Tiptop shape to those of us who are starting their journey to or back to optimal health.
Some of the vital health strategies are these:
- Increasing levels of vitamin D and magnesium
- Regulating blood pressure levels
- Avoiding aspartame, the most dangerous substance added to foods
- Top strategies to optimize your mitochondrial health
There is much more, search it out, make your good health happen!
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively