Everyone knows about SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a kind of depression that worsens when the body is exposed to limited daylight. Lighting of the right kind can lift the mood, as can antidepressants, talking therapies and exercise but did you know that your diet can play a big role in how you feel too?
We are used to thinking about what we eat to help keep our heart healthy or to keep in the best shape if we want to do well at sport but do we think about the role of diet in how we feel mentally.
Over the past 10 years, research has been undertaken to look into the role of a healthy diet and mental health with surprising results!
How Diet Can Help
Research has shown that whatever time of year it is, an unhealthy diet, which includes processed foods and refined food increases the risk of depression in all ages. Furthermore a diet high in healthy foods – fruit, whole grains, fish, unprocessed red meat and vegetables really can prevent depression and even cure it!
Research in Australia’s Deakin University in 2017, showed too that a healthy diet can also be effective in treating depression once it has started.
In 2017, sixty seven people with depression, who had been treated with antidepressants or psychotherapy or both, took part in the experiment. Half were given foods from the ‘healthy’ group and half ate the same food as usual but were given one-on-one social support, which is known to help people with depression.
After 12 weeks those on the healthy diet showed significant improvement in their mood over those who received social support only.
Another study, which did the same thing found the same results and also showed that the improvement in mood lasted 6 months.
Another study in 2018 in Chicago’s Rush University Medical Centre performed research that showed that elderly people who ate vegetables, fruits and whole grains were less likely to develop depression over time.
How Does Diet Affect Our Brain?
The gut is full of micro organisms and they can alter the production of serotonin, a hormone found in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter that functions to regulate mood and sleep. Too little serotonin is associated with depression.
We need to eat food that provides us with the correct nutrition to help in serotonin production and also neuron development. That means eating food that looks after the microbes in our gut so that they can continue to promote the production of serotonin.
It means eating the following foods is essential for healthy gut and therefore healthy brain
Vitamin B6 is also needed for the brain to produce serotonin. It is found in pistachios, garlic, salmon, tuna, chicken, spinach, cabbage, bananas, sweet potatoes avocados and all whole grains.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is the main omega 3 fat in the brain. It protects neurological function and is critical for optimal brain health and brain development in children. Research shows that children and adults with low blood levels of DHA have ADHD. DHA promotes the production of a hormone that protects neurons and promotes the production of new brain cells. It is found in wild salmon, oysters, anchovies, mackerel and mussels.
Prebiotics are needed to keep the good microbes in our gut to survive. Found in onions, asparagus, artichokes, garlic, bananas and oats.
Probiotics replenish the good bacteria in our guts. Found in yoghurt, turnips, cucumbers or carrots.
Why not give it a go – what have you got to lose!