Nutrition Affecting Depression

September 15, 2023

Nutrition can have a significant impact on depression, and the relationship between the two is quite complex. Depression or major depressive disorder is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. The exact causes of depression are not fully understood, but it is believed to result from a combination of common risk factors which include a family history of depression, traumatic life events, chronic stress, imbalances in brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), and certain medical conditions. Diet can play a role in both the development and management of depression.  

Key features of depression may include: 

  • Persistent sadness 
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable 
  • Changes in sleep patterns 
  • Changes in appetite or weight 
  • Fatigue and decreased energy 
  • Difficulty concentrating, memory impairment, and struggles with decision-making abilities 
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt 
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Physical symptoms: headache, stomachaches, and other unexplained aches and pains

So how is nutrition linked to depression? 

  • Brain Function: The brain requires a balanced intake of nutrients to function properly. Many different types of nutrients are essential for maintaining healthy brain function. Deficiencies in these nutrients have been associated with an increased risk of depression. 
  • Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is thought to play a role in the development of depression. A diet high in processed foods, sugary beverages, and trans fats can promote inflammation in the body, which may contribute to depressive symptoms. An anti-inflammatory diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help reduce inflammation and potentially alleviate depression. 
  • Gut-Brain Connection: The gut microbiota can influence mood and behavior. A diet high in fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics can support a healthy gut microbiome, which may have a positive impact on mental health. 
  • Blood Sugar Regulation: Fluctuations in blood sugar levels can affect mood and energy levels. Consuming a diet high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars can lead to rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar, which may contribute to mood swings and irritability. A balanced diet that includes complex carbohydrates, fiber, and protein can help stabilize blood sugar levels. 
  • Nutrient Absorption: Some medications used to treat depression can affect nutrient absorption in the body. Certain antidepressants may interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Monitoring and addressing any nutrient deficiencies in individuals taking these medications is important. Therefore, making sure that yearly bloodwork routines are being completed is important. 
  • Food Choices and Emotional Well-Being: People’s dietary choices can also be influenced by their emotional state. Depression can lead to changes in appetite, often resulting in unhealthy eating patterns, such as overeating or undereating. This can further impact overall nutrition and exacerbate depressive symptoms. 

While depression is a complex mental health condition that often requires a multidisciplinary approach, including psychotherapy, medication when necessary, lifestyle changes, and social support. It’s important to note that depression varies in severity, and not everyone with depression experiences all these symptoms. Some people may have a single episode of depression, while others may have recurrent or chronic episodes. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, it is crucial to seek professional help from a mental health provider. Depression is a serious condition, but with the right treatment and support, many individuals can experience significant improvement in their symptoms and quality of life. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression reach out to BTC of New Bedford and ask about their enrolling clinical trial for depression