depression and diet

More Musings on the Microbiome – Food and Depression

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On Tuesday I published a post about the Mediterranean Diet and how it can help fight aging and inflammation. Right after that, a number of articles popped up about using the same, or very similar diet, to combat depression. In an article by Elizabeth Bernstein in the Wall Street Journal, she points to studies showing that people who improved their diet improved their mood.

The Food That Helps Battle Depression

A bad diet also affects our microbiome—the trillions of micro-organisms that live in our gut. They make molecules that can alter the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter found in the brain, says Lisa Mosconi, a neuroscientist, nutritionist and associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. The good and bad bacteria in our gut have complex ways to communicate with our brain and change our mood, she says. We need to maximize the good bacteria and minimize the bad.

So what should we eat? The research points to a Mediterranean-style diet made up primarily of fruits and vegetables, extra-virgin olive oil, yogurt and cheese, legumes, nuts, seafood, whole grains and small portions of red meat. The complexity of this diet will provide the nutrition our brain needs, regulate our inflammatory response and support the good bacteria in our gut, says Dr. Mosconi, author of “Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power.

Essentially, the findings may be showing that our brain is like any other organ in the body – it needs good nutrition to operate at it’s best. That good nutrition can benefit the brain directly, or it can affect systems like our microbiome, which in turn affect the brain. In addition, our diet can put additional vitamins and nutrients into our bodies that our systems need to survive and thrive.

Honestly, I can’t say that I find all this all that surprising. If you back up and look at this from a holistic sense, it seems really logical.

  • While we crave “comfort” food when we are depressed, foods with high grease and dairy contents can make our skin and digestive systems act up. This is not good for anyone’s mood.
  • High amounts of sodium cause bloating. No one feels good when they are bloated.
  • High amounts of sugar cause sugar rushes – and crashes. In a depressive state, a crash can compound those depressive feelings.
  • People today are educated on what is good for them, and what isn’t. Eating poorly is a sign of not caring for oneself, and that is a sign of depression.
  • One of the best ways to fight anxiety and depression is with action. Taking care of yourself is a beautiful action that shows self-love.
  • If you have energy and stamina, (results of a good diet) that will improve mood.
  • If your body is functioning well and digesting food easily, that will improve mood.
  • If you modulate sugar and caffeine intake so it doesn’t hurt your sleep patterns, that will improve mood.

Honestly, I don’t think which diet you eat matters that much, whether it is the Mediterranean or something else – Paleo, Vegan, South Beach, what have you. The important thing would be to give your body, brain and gut the nutrients it needs to feel strong, healthy and well. That is the foundation people need to fight against the terrible strain of depression.

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