Depression can be a devastating mental health condition, impacting one’s life on physical as well as a mental and emotional levels. Depression not only affects a person’s inner landscape, it can impair the ability to function in daily life. Depression can take many different forms, ranging from an unshakeable long-term ‘low mood’ to intense swings from elation to deep despair, known as bi-polar or manic depression.
Symptoms can include: persistent low mood, loss of pleasure in ordinary activities, loss of libido, low energy, sleep disturbances, increase or decrease in appetite, feelings of worthlessness, guilt and self-doubt, difficulty concentrating, irritability, crying spells. Good nutrition and lifestyle can help ease depression and complement conventional therapies, but it is important to see your doctor if you exhibit any of the above symptoms for more than 2 weeks. Below are some of the most beneficial foods and herbs for those with depression.
Avocados are a good source of folate and B6, which are necessary for the production of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and emotional well-being. They are also packed with nutrients including useful amounts of tryptophan, vitamins A, C, E, D, and K, along with essential minerals and healthy fats such as oleic acid, all which make them effective at battling depression. Their high phytonutrient content has anti-inflammatory effects on the brain that may help alleviate symptoms of depression.
Brightly colored fruit like blueberries often contain high levels of flavonoids and anthocyanins for boosting brain power! Evidence shows that these potent phytonutrients work by inhibiting neuroinflammation, activating synaptic signaling, and improving blood flow to the brain. It is thought that some dietary anthocyanins can cross the blood-brain barrier, allowing them to have a direct and beneficial effect on the brain, which may help to lift depression.
Chia seeds are a great source of omega-3s, which research has proven effective in the treatment of mood disorders such as depression. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to increase brain function and decrease depression, and chia seeds are also high in tryptophan, which boosts levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin.
Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are vital for healthy brain function. Deficiencies in omega-3s can predispose people to depression, and studies show that individuals who have higher levels of these fats in their blood are less likely to experience depression. Salmon also contains high levels of vitamin-D, B-vitamins, magnesium, and selenium, all of which have been shown to relieve symptoms of depression.
Walnuts are a good source of protein, which wards off mood swings by buffering blood sugar levels. They also contain neuroprotective compounds like folate, melatonin, and uniquely potent antioxidants which all have beneficial effects on the nervous system. The human brain is made up of about 60% fat and needs a steady supply of good quality fats, like the omega-3s found in walnuts, to keep it fluid and flexible. Studies have linked low levels of omega-3s to depression and decreased cognitive function, so making walnuts part of your diet could be a good way boost your mood as well as your IQ. Just 1oz a day is all you need!
Tasty Tip: Walnuts and blueberries make the perfect brain-boosting breakfast combination!
Dark Leafy Greens
Consuming a variety of dark leafy greens is a good idea for anybody, especially those with depression. In general dark leafy greens are dense sources of vitamins, particularly the antioxidant vitamins A and C, as well as folate and vitamin B6, which benefit overall neuronal health including neurotransmitter production. They also provide an array of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sulfur. Deficiencies in any of these minerals have been associated with depression. People with depression are often deficient in multiple nutrients, so nutrient-rich foods like dark leafy greens are highly recommended.
The link between the gut (nicknamed the “second brain” due to its massive network of neurons and the fact that it produces most of the body’s supply of serotonin) and mental disturbances like anxiety and depression is gaining ground. Research is revealing that gut health, which is dependent on the welfare of the good bacteria living there, has a direct effect on the healthy functioning of the nervous system – very important for people with depression. Sauerkraut is a probiotic fermented food that does wonders for gut health.
Anxiety and depression are associated with an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines, and turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds with the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. This makes it useful in protecting against neurological disorders, including depression.
Coconut oil is a brain healthy fat that has proven itself beneficial to improving cognitive function that in turn may help with depression. This is due in part to the fact that approximately 66% of the oil is made up of medium-chain triglycerides, which unlike normal fats, do not require bile to be processed. Instead they go directly to the liver where they are converted into ketones. The ketones are released directly into the bloodstream where they are transported to your brain to be used as an alternate fuel source to glucose, which has numerous benefits to overall brain health. Mix in with smoothies, spread over toast or take it straight to support optimal cognition.
5-HTP, or 5-hydroxytryptophan, is the molecule that is made from tryptophan and goes on to become serotonin. Supplementing with 5-HTP gives the body more raw materials so it can produce its own serotonin and melatonin. For these reasons, it can have tremendous benefit in depression, and in anxiety too. Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it has a calming effect on the brain. 5-HTP tends to be calming, balancing, and can help relieve depression. In larger doses, it can help push the pathway towards melatonin and assist in sleep. People who are already on anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications can also benefit from amino acids therapy, but it must be done under the supervision of a physician to make sure levels remain in balance. Serotonin syndrome occurs when levels of serotonin get too high, so if one is taking SSRI’s, for example, it would not be wise to take large doses of 5-HTP.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort works best for mild to moderate depression (particularly accompanied with anxiety or stress) rather than severe depression or bipolar disorders, in which it should be avoided. It also helps with seasonal affective disorder (better combined with Lemon Balm for this use). It can help to lift the spirit and mood, which can create the space to make the changes necessary to climb out of depression. However, it is not a ‘miracle herb’ and should be used in combination with other herbs, proper nutrition and suitable therapy approaches.
Rhodiola rosea is a herb that has been used for centuries in the medical traditions of Scandinavia and Russia to boost energy and treat depression. Rhodiola is an adaptogen, balancing your body’s production of stress hormones and supporting healthy responses to stressors.