Although most people understand the connection between nutrition and physical health, few are aware of the connection between good nutrition and mental health. Depression is generally looked at as a strictly emotional or biochemical disorder. However, like the rest of our bodies, those biochemicals in the brain are created from the foods we eat. Nutritional deficiencies can not only affect the onset of depression, but also the duration and severity. Below we will review a variety of nutritional issues that are linked to or can mimic depressive symptoms.
- Low blood sugar
Hunger is triggered by fluctuations in blood sugar. Temporary anxiety and depression can appear when blood sugar is very low. If deficiencies in food and calorie intake continue long-term depression can manifest itself and become chronic. Continuous fluctuations in blood sugar can create a condition called insulin resistance, which is associated with Type 2 Diabetes, and a great deal of research exists that link insulin resistance with depression. Regular eating habits including eating high protein foods every few hours can abate symptoms and reduce the chance of insulin resistance.
Everyone has experienced dehydration and the symptoms that come with it, such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue and sleepiness. These are all symptoms that can mimic depression. Chronic dehydration, while also dangerous, could be mistaken for depressive symptoms.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, as found in fish, nuts and flaxseed are known to reduce inflammation in the body, including the brain. They play a critical role in the functioning of the brain, especially mood and memory. Deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids leads to non-optimal brain function and cognitive and mood symptoms that mimic depression.
- Vitamin D
Many doctors believe that there may be a major epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in this country due to the foods we eat. In addition, most Americans get less vitamin D producing sunlight during the fall and winter months. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to such diseases as autism, dementia and depression. The National Institutes of Health recommends adults get at least 600 IUs daily, but some doctors suggest far more.
Up to half of all Americans are magnesium deficient. Magnesium is often referred to as a stress antidote as it promotes relaxation. Magnesium levels are decreased through consumption of excess salt, sugar, soda, coffee, and alcohol. The National Institutes of Health recommends adults get between 300 and 400 milligrams of this mineral, depending on gender.
- Vitamin B Complex
A vitamin B deficiency can directly impact your mental health. A 2009 study showed that over one quarter of older women with severe depression were vitamin B deficient. According to the NIH, most adults need to consume 2.4 mcg of vitamin B-12 daily.
Research has shown that people who have a low folate level are less responsive to treatment with antidepressants than are those with normal or high levels. Most adults need at least 400 mcg daily, which you can get from dark leafy greens as well as citrus fruits, beans and legumes.
- Amino Acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Protein is needed throughout our bodies to repair and function properly. Deficiency can cause symptoms similar to depression, such as feeling tired and sluggish and having “brain fog.”
Although iron deficiency is uncommon in men, women often suffer from iron deficiency due to menses. Iron deficiency, also called anemia, is an insufficiency of red blood cells. The symptoms of anemia are fatigue, sometimes severe, irritability and difficulty concentrating or making decisions. If you believe you are iron deficient, eating red meat can help. If you are female, and have low levels of iron your doctor may also prescribe an iron pill.
- Iodine and Selenium
Both iodine and selenium are important for good thyroid function. The thyroid gland is very important for a wide variety of body functions, including metabolism, growth, energy, immune system function, concentration and memory. When these minerals are deficient the thyroid can function at sub-optimal levels making us feel depressed.