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June 2010 Eat Healthy and Stay Happy

Depression is a problem that increasingly affects millions of people each year. It is a condition of mind that causes self-esteem to drop and negative emotions, such as despair and helplessness, set in. Apart from these emotional factors, there are physical factors such as diet and nutrition that have an impact on mental condition [1]. Many people suffering from depression will turn to a favorite (often unhealthy) food as a quick boost for their emotional state. These foods will often result in weight gain, and this then worsens feelings of body image and self-confidence. The end result is an even worse state of mind. In order to combat depression it is important, therefore, to adopt a lifestyle with high nutrient diet, regular exercise, proper rest and enjoyable mental activities.

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Although large amounts of research find that diet is one of the most critical factors for physical health, detailed investigations on the effect of nutrition on mental health are still rare. Besides, while studies have looked at the relationship between single nutrients and mental disorders [2, 3, 4] only few researches on the effect of complex dietary patterns on depression have been done. However, one of the attempts to document the association between the overall diet and mental health has been recently noted [5].

In a study published in November 2009 it has been shown that a diet rich in processed food is linked to increased risk for depression [5]. This population-based study included almost 3500 of people aged 35 to 55 years. The foods they ate were grouped in a ‘’whole’’ (high intake of vegetables, fruits, and fish), and ‘’processed’’ (high-fat dairy products and fried, refined, and sugary foods) food pattern. Five years after the beginning of the study, participants were asked to score the frequency of their depressive symptoms. Based on the questionnaires, the study found that participants with a high intake of processed foods had higher odds of depression compared with those with the lowest intake. Moreover, according to the authors the protective effect of diet on depression comes from a cumulative and synergistic effect of different nutrients from different sources of foods, rather than the effect of one isolated nutrient.

And as another example, in a study newly published it has been shown that vegetarian diet leads to a better mood [6]. In this study, group of authors from Department of Nutrition at Arizona State University examined association between mood state and polyunsaturated fatty acid intake in vegetarian and omnivorous diet. Vegetarian diet excluded all meats and fish, even though fish is one of the major dietary source of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – two critical regulators of brain function and in many studies found to be important for mental health. Based on fatty acid intakes and overall mood scores the results have shown that vegetarians, although with lower EPA and DHA intake, reported significantly less negative emotion than the omnivores. These results may indicate the link between dietary fats and brain function and suggest benefit of vegetarian diet characterized by high intakes of plant foods.

Please hold in mind that the human’s organs and tissues are made up of nutrients that are contained in foods we eat. Eating the right foods will have an affect on how we feel, think, as well as our behavior. Avoiding the foods that are unhealthy can help avoid or prevent depression. Depression has spread epidemically in the West since World War II. Without the proper nutrition in our diets, we increase the risks of illness and disease, as well as an increase in symptoms of depression.

Svetlana Obradovic and Luuk Simons

[1] Jacka, F. N., J. A. Pasco, A. Muykletun, L. J. Williams, A. M. Hodge, et. al. (2010). Association of Western and Traditional Diets with Depression and Anxiety in Women. Am J Psychiatry 167 pp. 305-11. Abstract of the article can be found on http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/167/3/305

[2] Harbottle, L., N. Schonfelder (2008). Nutrition and depression: A review of the evidence. Journal of Mental Health 17 pp. 576-87. Abstract of the article can be found on http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a788256347~db=all~order=pubdate

[3] Garland, M. R., B. Hallahan, M. McNamara, P. A. Carney, et. al. (2007). Lipids and essential fatty acids in patients presenting with self-harm. The British Journal of Psychiatry 190 pp. 112-17.

[4] Hallahan, B., J. R. Hibbeln, J. M. Davis, M. R. Garland (2007). Omega 3-fatty acid supplementation in patients with recurrent self-harm. The British Journal of Psychiatry 190 pp. 118-22. 

[5] Akbaraly, T. N., E. J. Brunner, J. E. Ferrie,M. G. Marmot, et. al. (2009). Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. The British Journal of Psychiatry 195 pp. 408-13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19880930

[6] Beezhold, B. L., C. S. Johnston, D. R. Daigle (2010). Vegetarian diets are associated with healthy mood states: a cross-sectional study in Seventh Day Adventist adults. Nutrition Journal Vol 9, Issue 26. Can be found on http://www.nutritionj.com/content/9/1/26


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