In my counseling women class, we had a lecture on nutrition and depression. I copied the notes to share with you on this topic because I think it will be helpful to many. This is one area that I sometimes forget to ask about in sessions with clients. I am going to make sure I do from now on. I hope you find this information insightful and practical. -Carissa
"While dietary change is probably not going to be – in and of itself and in the majority of cases – the lone key to healing depression, we know that certain poor eating habits and vitamin and mineral deficiencies can contribute to feelings of depression. In contrast, a healthy, balanced diet - rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein sources (like turkey, chicken, and fish) and low in sugar, salt, alcohol and saturated fats - can play a critical role in mood elevation. There are several common dieting mistakes that lead to depressive symptoms. The first of these is the practice of skipping meals which contributes to depressed mood by causing low blood sugar and inadequate energy supply as well as deficiencies in key vitamins and minerals. Following a low-carb diet can also contribute to depression by depriving the body of carbohydrates which are necessary for the creation of serotonin and tryptophan, two chemicals clearly linked to positive mood. Finally, diets that don't include enough omega-3 fatty acids can also lead to symptoms of depression. While saturated fats can be safely and significantly decreased from the diet, the body critically needs dietary sources of unsaturated fats. To get more omega-3 in one’s diet, a woman can eat more fish, eggs, and flax seed.
Deficiencies in B vitamins, particularly B-6, B-12 and Folic Acid, have been linked to depressed mood, where the deficiency of B-6 in the diet specifically contributes to depression by way of affecting serotonin levels. B-6 is required for production of serotonin and without it, sufficient serotonin cannot be produced. This is a particular problem for women because certain drugs, such as hormone replacement therapy, oral contraceptives, and anti-tuberculosis medication can interfere with the body's use of B6, creating a borderline deficiency. Mineral deficiencies similarly play a role in the development of depression, irritability, and mood swings, and some key minerals involved in the process include calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Finally, Amino acid deficiencies can likewise result in depressive symptoms. Tryptophan and SAMe are two important amino acids that have been found to be low in some depressed people. SAMe and/or 5-HTP supplements have been successfully used to treat depression in those whose symptoms are caused by lowered levels of these amino acids.
For women who struggle with depression and/or mood swings, some foods that should be eliminated or significantly reduced from the diet include sugar and sugary foods (like refined, simple carbohydrates), alcohol and caffeine. Women should eat at least three times at regular intervals throughout the day, including breakfast, to keep their blood sugar levels stable. They should replace sugar and simple carbohydrates with fruit and whole grain carbohydrates as well as eat lean sources of protein (like lean cuts of chicken, turkey, and fish) at each meal throughout the day. They should also make sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Overall, it is advised that women focus on a well-balanced diet.
Daily diets should include plenty of leafy greens for folic acid, and bananas, avocado, chicken, greens, and whole grains for B6. Nuts (particularly walnuts and almonds), fatty fishes (like salmon), and flax seed or flax oil should be included to get omega-3 fatty acids and supplements of SAMe and/or 5-HTP may be considered. If women are concerned about getting enough of some of the key nutrients discussed above (or are unsure of how to go about changing their diets), they should consult their physicians and/or local dietitians and talk to them about a diet plan and/or vitamin/mineral/amino acid supplement.
The therapist can also encourage the client to follow a healthy diet; participate in religious, social, and other activities; and expect her mood to improve gradually, rather than immediately. She should postpone important decisions until the depression has lifted; think positively; let her family and friends help her; and see her doctor regularly. She should take her medications as directed as well as continually and patiently seek the most suitable medication or medications for her changing needs and physiology. She should also participate in normal activities and not isolate herself; get the right amount of sleep and avoid alcohol and recreational drugs."