When someone tells their doctor they feel depressed, the doctor may recommend therapy. And while traditional therapy is a highly effective way to treat depression, there may be more to the story.
There is one much overlooked aspect of health that may prove to be the missing link in treating depression – nutrition.
Most people would have heard the cliché that “you are what you eat”. This statement has become so overused precisely because there is a lot of truth to it.
Food is fuel for the body and brain, so it only makes sense that diet would impact overall well-being, from moods to the way the body functions.
There is also an interesting correlation between depression and the way individuals eat.
According to the American Dietetic Association, people either eat too much or too little when they are depressed and neither is conducive to good mental health.
Here are some ways to improve mental health by making a commitment to healthy eating.
Eat more whole foods
Whole foods are foods that come directly from nature. They have had little to no processing so they retain all the goodness of their whole and natural state.
Focus primarily on fruit, vegetables, nuts, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Beans and lentils are also good brain foods.
Just be careful about the new diet and stay as close to a whole-foods diet as possible. A study in the Journal of Medicine and Life found that diets high in processed foods can worsen the symptoms of depression.
Focus on gut health
Recent research indicates that a healthy gut may lead to a happy mind. There is actually a physical connection between the gut and the brain called the vagus nerve, which is how the gut sends messages to the brain and vice versa.
According to information from the American Psychological Association, bacteria in the gut produce an array of neurochemicals that help the brain regulate physiological and mental processes.
In fact, many researchers believe that as much as 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin is produced in the gut.
Promoting positive gut health is not difficult. Most habits that are considered healthy will promote a healthy gut.
Here are a few things that may help:
• Sleep well. When someone is not sleeping well, the body’s hunger and satiety hormones cannot function properly. This can lead to cravings for sugary and starchy foods that promote unhealthy bacterial growth.
• Avoid alcohol. Alcohol converts to sugar in the body and can promote an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut.
Alcohol abuse can also lead to alcoholism, which will inevitably worsen depression. There is a strong correlation between alcoholism and depression and a dual diagnosis is common.
Unfortunately, dual diagnosis treatment can be more complicated, so it is better to address any drinking problems before they progress to alcoholism.
• Avoid sugars and refined carbohydrates. Sugar cravings are one of the first signs of poor gut health and it can be a vicious cycle until things are brought under control.
When the gut bacteria are out of balance, one is likely to crave the very things that feed the harmful bacteria. And that includes sugars and refined carbohydrates.
It takes a concerted effort to turn things around, but it will be beneficial to overall good health.
• Eat probiotic foods or take supplements. Probiotics are not a replacement for eating right, sleeping well and avoiding alcohol. But they can definitely help the gut get back on track.
Most probiotic foods and supplements contain beneficial strains that will temporarily proliferate in the gut in an attempt to starve out some of the bad bugs. In order to experience lasting effects, taking probiotics must be continued.
For those feeling depressed, traditional counselling or psychotherapy can help, but for the best chance of success, combine this with a healthy, probiotic-rich diet.