MANAGING DEPRESSION – OPTIMISING NUTRITION Managing depression is a multi-faceted activity. One of the most neglected areas in managing depression is nutrition. Incorporating nutrition into the Feel Authentic approach to depression allows us to tune up the chemistry of the mind, the brain and the neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that affect our feelings and moods (major neurotransmitters include dopamine, adrenalin, noradrenalin, serotonin, melatonin and histamine.) One of the greatest unrecognised truths is that ensuring optimum nutrition for your mind not only improves mood, but gives you the energy and motivation to make changes in your life. Few psychotherapists recognise how much better their results would be if they helped their clients tune up their brain chemistry. There are the common imbalances connected to nutrition that can worsen your mood and motivation.
- Blood sugar imbalances (often associated with excessive sugar and stimulant intake) - Deficiency of nutrients (vitamin B3, B6, Folic acid, B12, C, D, zinc, magnesium,
- Deficiency of tryptophan and tyrosine (precursors to neurotransmitters) - Food allergy and sensitivity
Blood sugar imbalances The most important nutrient of all for the brain and nervous system is glucose, the fuel these systems run on. To maximise mental performance, we need an even supply of glucose to the brain. Complex carbs such as whole grains, vegetables, lentils or beans come with vitamins and minerals that are required for a steady metabolism. So when you eat, say, brown rice, your body does exactly what it is designed to do; it digests the rice slowly and gradually. Keeping blood sugar levels more even can be achieved by:
- eating small regular meals of unprocessed foods - include protein and fibre at each meal - taking combination of B vitamins and the mineral chromium
Nutrient deficiencies The best nutrients for improving mood are vitamin B3, B12 and Folic acid, then vitamin B6, D, zinc and magnesium and essential fatty acids. The first three are involved in the vital biochemical
process known as methylation, which is critical for balancing the neurotransmitters dopamine and adrenalin. B3 containing foods: tinned fish (especially tuna and salmon), eggs, brown rice, whole wheat, milk, barley, cauliflower, squash, courgettes, peanuts B12 containing foods: Liver, tinned fish (especially sardines and anchovies), sesame seeds, eggs, yoghurt, cheese (cottage, cheddar, Edam), marmite Folic acid containing foods: legumes, broccoli, green leafy vegetables especially spinach, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spring greens, okra) B6 containing foods: whole grains such as millet, buckwheat and oats, shell fish such as prawns and mussels, oily fish (especially salmon and mackerel), lentils, banana, turkey, chicken, Brussels sprouts, raisins Vitamin D containing foods: Oily fish (especially kippers, herrings, mackerel and salmon), butter, eggs, cheese. Zinc containing foods: sardines, whole grains, shellfish, eggs, tofu, herrings, linseeds, walnuts Magnesium containing foods: root vegetables, nuts (especially cashew, Brazils), sesame seeds, chickpeas, whole grains, barley, spinach. Chromium containing foods: Wholemeal bread, potato skin, parsnips, eggs, mushrooms, asparagus, nuts. Essential fatty acids Our brain is made up of around 60% fat. This fatty tissue does need replenishing, but it is crucial to know which fats will feed the brain properly. Essential fatty acids: omega 3 & 6 are very much part of the equation for happiness. The higher your blood levels of omega-3 fats, the higher your levels of serotonin are likely to be. The reason for this is that omega-3 fats help build receptor sites, as well as improving reception. Omega-3 fats: oily fish, linseeds, soya beans, wheat germ, walnut, egg yolk Omega-6 fats: pecans, Brazils, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds Deficiency in tryptophan and tyrosine There are often two sides to depression – feeling miserable, and feeling apathetic and unmotivated. The most prevalent theory for the cause of these imbalances is a brain imbalance in the family of neurotransmitters, the molecules of emotion. They are:
- Serotonin, which influences your mood, is made from a constituent of protein, the amino
- Adrenalin and noradrenalin, which influences motivation, is made from the amino acid
All the major antidepressant drugs are designed to influence the balance and function of these neurotransmitters. These include serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, Lustrul and Seroxat, which are design to keep serotonin in circulation. Adrenalin re-uptake inhibitors such as Edronax, a noradrenalin re-uptake inhibitor (NARI), designed to keep adrenalin and noradrenalin in circulation. All of these neurotransmitters are, however, directly influenced by nutrition. So, why are some people deficient in these nutrients? For many people, the pace of life and speed at which we have to adapt and change is almost too stressful. The brain responds producing more and more adrenalin and serotonin in response to our too frequent ups and downs, stress and strains. This is similar to the body producing more insulin to even out frequently fluctuating blood sugar levels. This increases our need for building blocks, the nutrients from which we make these mood-enhancing neurotransmitters. So we end up sub-optimally nourished in the nutrients from which we make these neurotransmitters – partly because our diets are inadequate and partly because our demand for these nutrients is higher. Just as the stress of pollution increases our need for vitamin C, the stress of life increases our demand for tryptophan. Tryptophan rich food: fish, turkey, chicken, eggs, cottage cheese, beans, tofu, oats. 5 ways of eating 500mg of tryptophan
- Oat porridge, soya milk and two scrambled eggs - Baked potato with cottage cheese and tuna salad - Chicken breast, potatoes au gratin and green beans - Whole wheat spaghetti with beans, tofu or meat sauce - Salmon fillet, quinoa and lentil pilaf and green salad with yoghurt dressing
Tyrosine deficiency. Adrenalin and noradrenalin are made from a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is made from the amino acid tyrosine, which itself made from the amino acid phenylalanine.
needs folic acid, Mg, Mn, Fe, Cu, Zn, vit C
needs folic acid, Mg, Mn, Fe, Zn, Cu, vitC
Now we understand the “family tree” of adrenalin, it is logical to assume that, if drugs that block the breakdown of these neurotransmitters do elevate mood, albeit with undesirable side effects, then supplementing the amino acid phenylalanine or tyrosine might work too. Tyrosine containing foods: low fat meats, fish, eggs, oat flakes, dairy, avocado, banana, nuts, chocolate Phenylalanine containing foods: eggs, fish, meat, chicken, dairy (not butter), pulses, green peas, spinach, sago, couscous, bulgar wheat, coconut, asparagus, avocado and gluten-containing grains (oats, rye, wheat, barley, spelt) Other nutrients Iron is also essential for the formation of red blood cells that carry the nutrients in the blood. Offal is a rich source of iron, as are apricots and raisins. Other iron rich foods include sardines, tahini, peas, lentils, aduki beans. Iron absorption is enhanced with the intake of vitamin C. Spicy foods that contain cayenne pepper produce endorphins that help to raise your mood. Make sure to include plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables for their antioxidant properties: tomatoes, peppers, beetroot, carrots, broccoli, mango, peaches, dark leafy vegetables. Foods to avoid Alcohol: it lowers levels of the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin, plus B-vitamins needed for energy and nerve health in the mind and body Refined sugar: it makes your blood sugar fluctuate, which greatly affects your moods. Fatty foods and Caffeine: they deplete vitamins B and C and the mineral chromium. Aspartame: avoid the artificial sweetener at all costs, it can have neurological side effects.
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