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  • Jeannie Lawrence MD

4 Science-Backed Ways To Fight Depression With Food And Nutrition

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

Depression is a complex condition that can really wreak havoc on every part of your life. It is much more than feeling temporarily sad or disappointed.

Depression can touch every part of your being — distorting your view of the world, zapping your energy, stealing your ability to experience pleasure, and making it hard to concentrate or make decisions. It can make you turn away from the people and things that previously brought you joy, and feel like nothing matters or will ever get better.

It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of an enemy as formidable as depression. You may believe, as many people believe, that the only thing you can do to fight depression is to take an antidepressant medication, or see a therapist.

You are then left to wait and hope that the medication will work, or that your therapist will somehow lead you to recovery. This position can be disempowering, because your recovery is, in many ways, out of your control.

But, there’s good news — in the fight against depression, you are more powerful than you think!

But, there’s good news — in the fight against depression, you are more powerful than you think!

While receiving therapy and medication from a mental health professional can be important parts of your treatment, there are evidence-based changes you can make in your everyday life choices to significantly improve your chances of recovery. This is empowering, because it means you can take an active role in fighting depression and taking back control of your life.

Lifestyle psychiatry is an emerging field that focuses on providing evidence-based interventions around diet, exercise, sleep and mindfulness practices to provide better outcomes and a more holistic approach to mental health and wellness.

One of the core lifestyle changes that you can make to improve your depression is with food and nutrition. In this article, you will be introduced to four science-backed ways you can fight depression with what you eat.

1. The Mediterranean Diet

In 2017, researcher Jacka and colleagues published the results of a groundbreaking research study called the SMILES trial. In the trial, patients with depression and unhealthy eating habits were given standard mental health treatment (medication and/or therapy), AND either

  • 7 weeks of training on how to eat a Mediterranean diet, OR

  • 7 weeks of social support with a trained professional

The Mediterranean diet described in the study consisted of:

  • Daily servings of whole grains, unsweetened dairy, unsalted nuts, chicken, and olive oil

  • Weekly servings of legumes, fish, eggs, and lean red meats

  • Avoiding sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast food, processed meats, sugary drinks, beer, and liquor

The rate of remission in the Mediterranean diet group was FOUR TIMES HIGHER than the group that received social support. While more studies need to be done with larger groups of people, the results suggest that when combined with standard mental health treatment, switching to a healthy whole foods diet can be a powerful way to fight depression.

When combined with standard mental health treatment, switching to a healthy whole foods diet can be a powerful way to fight depression.

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

In 2016, researcher Sarris published an analysis of 8 high-quality research studies that used omega-3 fatty acids in combination with standard mental health treatment (medications and/or therapy) to treat depression. The studies showed that patients taking EPA omega-3 fatty acids while receiving standard depression treatment achieved better improvements in their depression symptoms. EPA omega-3 fatty acids are a subtype of omega-3 fatty acids and can be found in fish, shellfish, and supplements.

3. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral in the body that serves many functions in our cells. Zinc levels are lower in individuals with depression, and the severity of zinc deficiency corresponds with the severity of depression symptoms. In 2016, researcher Sarris and colleagues reviewed two high-quality trials that showed that adding zinc to traditional mental health treatment significantly improved depression symptoms. Zinc can be be found in poultry, oysters, red meat, beans, nuts, whole grains, dairy, and supplements.

4. L-methylfolate

Folate is a B-vitamin that helps form healthy cells, especially red blood cells. L-methylfolate is a a form of folate, and the only type of folate that crosses into the brain via the blood-brain barrier. In 2012, researcher Papakostas published results from two high-quality studies which showed that taking 15 mg of L-methylfolate more than doubled the response rate of SSRI antidepressants alone. L-methylfolate can be found in supplements.

So there you have it -- four science-backed ways you can fight depression through food and nutrition. Remember that in the studies referenced in this article, diet and nutrition were not used as a standalone treatment for depression. However, when combined with medication and/or therapy, diet and nutrition can significantly improve symptoms of depression and improve your overall wellness. If you are struggling with depression, talk to your doctor about whether adding these foods and nutrients to your diet is right for you. Share and subscribe to the blog for more science-backed ways to be empowered and improve your mental health.

You've got this!

Dr. Jeannie


Disclaimer: this information is not medical advice. Discuss your treatment with your own doctor or medical professional.

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