Garbage In, Garbage Out — Nutrition and Depression

Nothing pains me more than seeing a patient come in on multiple anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs. This is challenging from a chiropractic perspective, because some of these drugs’ side effects are headache, muscle aches, and back pain–the most common things I see patients for. No amount of chiropractic will counter the side effect of a psychotropic drug.

When you were born, you were born a clean slate, with no depression or anxiety. Depression and anxiety are learned emotions molded by the environment we exist in. That environment includes a variety of factors–family, friends, work, and yes, you know it’s coming–nutrition.

What does nutrition have to do with depression and anxiety? More than you’d think.

Recall my favorite adage: Garbage in, garbage out. The food you put in your body becomes the building blocks for your body to function and heal. If you eat garbage food, your body will produce garbage function and healing.

According to a study published this year (1), diet plays a role, albeit a little unclear, in the development of depression disorders among adults. B vitamins and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are the biggest nutrients studied when it comes to depression. B vitamins are responsible for proper nerve firing and energy production. Omega-3s are responsible for anti-inflammation, nerve cell membrane health, as well as keeping the protective covering on nerves intact. Unfortunately, many studies are not consistent–meaning multiple studies do not assess the same things, and they cannot determine causation, as opposed to correlation. Therefore different studies will often contradict each other, so conflicting advice about nutrition and depression is given.

Here’s what we do know definitively:

1. A diet of simple sugars and caffeine adversely affect mood (2). Sugar intake leads to systemic inflammation and insulin spikes–the “sugar highs” and subsequent lows. This messes with hormones, and we all know that hormones can make us do and feel weird things. Caffeine is similar in that it screws with your hormones (adrenaline especially) and throws them out of balance. What to do? STOP DRINKING SODA. Diet soda is no better, artificial sweeteners are a whole other issue in itself, and directly adversely affect brain chemistry. Need a replacement for sodas? Anyone see those awesome pics going around Facebook of refreshing ingredients to add to your water? (just spent 15 minutes searching my FB feed/activity log looking for it, can’t find it now, figures). Spice up your water instead of drinking sodas. Check out these two links for some ideas: Add fruit and herbs to your water or try different teas, broths, etc.

2. Diets low in omega-3 fatty acids AND/OR high in omega-6 fatty acids are associated with depression (3). Omega-3s are found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines), walnuts, flax seed, chia seed, pastured poultry and eggs, and grass-fed livestock. Omega-6s are found in soy, canola, peanut, and corn oils, conventional meat and poultry, and processed foods. This is partly because of omega-3 fats’ role in neurological function, and how they keep cell membranes healthy, but also partly because omega-6s are hugely responsible for inflammatory molecules in the body. Inflammation is the root of all diseases. Stop eating processed foods, like TV dinners, boxed dinners, packaged pastries, packaged chips and snacks. Can’t eat that much fish all the time? Find yourself a good fish oil supplement and supplement with at least 1 gram of EPA+DHA daily. I like Pure Encapsulations brand for fish oils personally, but there are plenty of good reputable brands. Fish oil supplements are not cheap, and they shouldn’t be, so if you’ve bought cheap fish oil, you’ve bought garbage.

3. Adhering to a Mediterranean style diet has been associated with decreased development of depression (4). Why? Because on a Mediterranean diet, you aren’t supposed to eat garbage processed foods. Take a look at this food pyramid–do you see soda, twinkies, donuts, bagels, cookies, crackers, TV dinners, boxed macaroni and cheese, boxed rice dinners, Big Macs, French fries, or Chic-Fil-A dinners on here? No, you don’t. Because those things are not healthy for you. You know what I do see on this pyramid? Tons of colorful foods, healthy proteins, foods that actually look like what they were when they were growing–I even see fun stuff like WINE, dancing, playing–a better deal compared to processed food stuff, AND you decrease your risk of developing depression.

Boy I could carry this post on for days and days. Other modalities that are proven effective for depression are physical activity, cognitive therapy, meditation, acupuncture, music therapy and herbal therapies (5). The act of creating in itself is therapeutic–I don’t just mean art, I mean anything–music, writing, scrap booking, cleaning, gardening, socializing, etc. I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but I believe with all my being that if you combine a healthy diet (building blocks) with any and all of these therapeutic modalities (healing), then you won’t have depression. Period.

1. Sanhueza C., Ryan L. & Foxcroft D.R. (2013) Diet and the risk of unipolar depression in adults: systematic review of cohort studies. J. Hum. Nutr. Diet. 26, 56–70 doi:10.1111/j.1365-277X.2012.01283.x

2. Westover AN, Marangell LB. (2002) A cross-national relationship between sugar consumption and major depression? Depress Anxiety 16: 118-120.

3. Bruinsma KA, Taren DL. (2000) Dieting, essential fatty acid intake, and depression. Nutr Rev. 58:98-100.

4. Sanchez-Villegas A, Henriquez P, Bes-Rastrollo M, Doreste J. (2006) Mediterranean diet and depression. Pub Health Nutr. 9(8A): 1104-1109.

5. Rakel D. Integrative Medicine: Second Edition. (2007) Saunders Elsevier. Philadelphia, PA.

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