Are you a bit depressed? You’re not alone. With the rate of depression in the US almost doubling in a decade, researchers have been busy looking for causes and treatments. When many countries with a low rate of depression were found to have several dietary patterns in common, researchers started looking more closely at the role food may play in fighting depression.
Scientists found that populations that consumed diets with large amounts of fatty fish were less effected by depression. How fish-based diets protect against depression isn’t understood but its thought that the omega-3 fatty acids may make it easier for some brain chemicals to pass through cell membranes and positively impact mental status.
Uridine, a compound known as a nucleoside, may provide the materials needed to speed up these chemical reactions. Studies found that when omega-3 fatty acids were combined with uridine they had the same effect on laboratory animals as an antidepressant medication.
Below is a list of foods that studies have shown may be effective in reducing depression:
- Amino acids. Low levels of serotonin are thought to be a cause of depression. Researchers know that the amino acid, tryptophan is needed to make serotonin. Several studies have found that depression is decreased by a diet high in tryptophan. Eat foods high in protein – beans, eggs, fish and turkey. Bananas also contain tryptophan.
- B vitamins. Studies have shown that people suffering from depression tend to have high levels of homocysteine (a protein) combined with low levels of folic acid (a B vitamin). Homocysteine levels can be reduced by B vitamins – niacin, folic acid, B6 and B12. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains can help you get more B vitamins. B12 is only found in animal foods, so include eggs, low fat dairy and lean meat in your diet as well.
- Complex carbohydrates, fruit & vegetables. These high fiber foods will be broken down more slowly to produce a steady source of sugar to be used by your brain. Simple sugars or a diet high in processed carbohydrates is broken down quickly and causes blood sugar levels to go up and down quickly. These quick changes have been found to increase the symptoms of depression. Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole wheat or whole grains (bread, pasta, rice, etc).
- Omega-3 fatty acids. The low rate of depression found in countries that eat high levels of fish combined with several clinical studies have led researchers to conclude that eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids can be protective against depression. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, & sardines), flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil.
- Uridine-containing foods. Researchers found that when uridine was combined with omega-3 fatty acids, a positive impact on depression was realized at lower doses. Foods that contain uridine are sugar beets, sugar cane, molasses made from sugar beets or sugar cane, tomatoes, and organ meat.
The research linking foods and their effect on depression is still new and more studies are needed. Including these foods in your diet is not a substitute for what is recognized as effective medical treatment for depression – medication and psychotherapy. However, many medical providers believe that combining effective medical treatment with a healthy diet that includes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, uridine, B vitamins and tryptophan should not cause any harm and who knows, and just may help.