Eating Well for Mental Health

Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. In 2012, Americans spent over $12 billion on pharmaceutical antidepressants and other products designed to help them cope with feelings of intense sadness and associated symptoms. In the United States, women have a much higher incidence of chronic depression diagnoses than men.

Increasingly, medical scientists are coming to view depression as a disorder with biochemical roots. Chronic depression may be triggered by emotional events, they say, but it is most likely caused by an underlying aberration in brain chemistry. As such, nutrition can play an enormous role in the onset, severity and duration of depressive episodes.

The Brain-Gut Link

The brain and the gastrointestinal tract are also very closely linked through the action of the vagus nerve. Ingesting foods that upset your stomach can also cause individuals to experience anxiety, stress or depression. Several scientific studies suggest that people with chronic disorders of the gastrointestinal tract actually experience pain more acutely than members of the general population.

Foods That Fight Depression

Scientists have found that women who eat diets that are rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low in unprocessed foods, have a 30 percent lower incidence of chronic depression diagnoses. In contrast, women who eat a diet high in processed foods, refined sugars and saturated fats have a 50 percent higher incidence of diagnoses of chronic depression and associated disorders.

In particular, the omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fish have been found to have a significant antidepressant effect. Eating whole grains is also helpful because they can stimulate the release of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin. Eating proteins like those found in lean meat increases the body’s stores of amino acids like tyrosine and tryptophan, which relieve stress and inspire serenity.

Patients suffering from depression typically have serum folate levels that are 25 percent lower than those found in the general population. Folic acid is a B vitamin found in leafy green vegetables and beans. Vitamin B12 is another vitamin that’s been found to be helpful in combating mood disorders. Vitamin B12 is abundant in lean meat, poultry, fish and dairy products.

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