Diet and depression

Food selection is often determined by current emotional state, and vice versa: the food we often eat influences our mood. It is obvious that people, since the beginning of written history, have represented the opinion that food influences emotions and behaviour. For example, Chinese medicine names garlic as medicine for depression, and ancient Egyptians believed that salt stimulates passion, onions makes us sleepy and sauerkraut cures drowsiness. In the beginning of the last century, American John Harvey Kellogg, famous for his breakfast cereals, wrote that substances produced during meat digestion cause depression.

Diet as a help for depression

It is wrong to assume that one partiular viand can cure depression. It can often be heard that chocolate cures depression, which is not true, but chocolate or, for example, bananas can with different mechanisms, influence our mood. Each viand should be considered in context of whole diet.

What is recommended to people who suffer from depression, and have low stress tolarance is mediteranean diet – plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, pulse, almonds and walnuts, olive oil, fish, sea food, and small quantities of red meat. That has been confirmed by research which have been studying the connection of mental health and eating habits, where better results at general mental health tests have been achieved by people who eat more fruit, vegetables and wholemeal cereals.

Diet rich with complex carbs and moderate quantity of proteins has favourable effect on stress tolerance. Complex carbs products made from wholemeal cereals, pulse, vegetables and proteins from low – fat meat, poultry and fish have an advantage.

Fish is an important source of omega – 3 fatty acids, and other good sources are paring fruit (walnuts) and vegetables. Example of omega – 6 and omega – 3 fatty acids intake is important because it modulates the metabolism of eikosanoides and cytokines which has a role in prevention and mitigation of depression. Omega – 6 and omega – 3 ratio in modern human diet is too high and it is 15 : 1, and it is considered that it should be significantly lower, 5 – 10: 1. The intake of omega – 6 fatty acids should be decreased, and the main sources of it are viands of animal origin and plant oils (sunflower, corn and soy). It is important to emphasize that lasting changes in our diet are the most effective, and it has been proven that exceptionally beneficial effect comes from long – term increased  intake of omega – 3 fatty acids, i.e. fish.

The influence of diet on depression is visible in some specific situations, more accurately in fat loss diets conducting and diabetes. Diet which is restrictive in terms of energy intake , which aims to regulate blood cholesterol level, contributes to depression . The cause is probably disturbed balance of essential omega – 6 and omega – 3 fatty acids and / or insufficient intake of omega – 3 acids. Additional self – conduction of a diet can negatively influence our mood. At diabetes type II depression is a frequent complication, so food supplements are recommended, or increased omega – 3 intake from food, especially of eicosapentaeonic fatty acid (EPA) which can help the effect of antidepressants.

Depression connected to the seasons (end of autumn and beginning of winter, and symptoms retrocede in spring, as days become longer), PMS and obesity are the situations which are connected to the carbs – rich  food desire. Some think that that’s one form of self – healing because high carbohydrates intake increases the level of neurotransmitter serotonin. However, carbs – rich viands are often fat – rich too (chocolate ice cream, cakes, etc.) so it is possible that it is only about gustatory pleasure, and not about the real need for certain nutritient.

Food supplements

St. John’s Wort (cantarion herb)

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum Lat.,) is the most frequent food supplement for healing depression. St. John’s wort most often helps with mild depression, propably by influencing sereotonin level, however, it should not be combined with drugs, nor it should be used in heavier forms of depression. It is thought that St. John’s wort’s use is harmless if it is not combined with drugs, and that it is useful only in mild and moderate depressions. At first it was considered that hypericin, one of three active substances of St. John’s wort, has antidepressive effect, so most of supplements on the market contain 0.3 % of hypericin. However, it is actually hyperforin which is the only substance of St.John’s wort with therapeutic effect.


Tryptophan and tyrosine are aminoacids which are precursors of neurotransmitters. Farmacological doses of tryptophan have therapeutic effect in mild and moderate depression, while high doses of tyrosine influence our mood.

Which food to avoid?

A new study conducted on 3 486 people, the average age of 50, discovered that the consumption of industrially processed food increases the risk of depression. The study has also shown that most commonly consumed processed foods are cured meat products, chocolate, commercial desserts and refined cereals. For now it’s not clear why this food has unfavorable effect on mental state, but it is considered that part of the answer lies in the fact that people who eat lot of such food are negligent to their health.

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