The Powerful Link between Depression and Nutrition

Depression is a mood disorder characterized by hopelessness, extreme sadness and loss of interest in activities that are usually pleasurable. In some cases, depression may also be accompanied by preoccupation with death or thoughts of suicide. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of death among higher income countries.

In recent years, researchers have determined that nutrition and depression are powerfully linked. The National Institute of Health confirms that nutrition plays a major role in the onset and severity of depression, as well as the duration of depressive episodes. This is surprising to many people, who understand that nutrition and physical health are connected, but may assume mental health is strictly an emotional problem.

Similarly, nutrition is a critical element in addiction treatment, as lack of a healthy diet contributes not only to depression, but to fatigue and anxiety – all factors that can trigger relapse. However, most people with substance abuse disorders have poor nutrition, caused by eating poor quality food, or simply not eating enough food. For example, many alcoholics are seriously malnourished because although alcohol is high in calories, it provides little in the way of nutritional value. Similarly, some drugs can cause users to gain weight, while other drugs may suppress appetite.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression and/or substance abuse, a qualified nutritionist can help you establish a diet that will help restore a healthy balance while reducing symptoms of depression. Here are a few general tips to keep in mind:

Carbohydrates– Nutritionists agree that most people benefit from a diet low in sugar and refined carbohydrates. Although carbs are the body’s primary source of energy, low-glycemic index foods such as vegetables and whole grains help maintain a balanced blood sugar without marked peaks and valleys that can trigger depression and cravings.

Omega-3 fatty acids– The National Institute of Health reports there appears to be a strong link between depression and healthy fats, primarily Omega-3 fatty acids, which aren’t produced in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids are available in many types of fish, including trout, salmon, mackerel, sardines and herrings. You can also increase your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids by eating flaxseeds or walnuts, or by taking supplements.

Amino Acids– According to the National Institute of Health, the human body needs high-quality proteins that contain critical amino acids. Amino acids, often called “the body’s building blocks,” have been found to reduce symptoms of depression. Although approximately 12 amino acids are produced in the body, at least eight others must be provided through diet, usually by combining a variety of foods with a high protein content. Foods that provide all the necessary amino acids include eggs, meat, quinoa and buckwheat. Other high-protein foods that contain many, but not all of the amino acids include beans, nuts and certain vegetables.

Vitamins and Minerals– While there are no magic bullets when it comes to depression and nutrition, other important nutrients linked to mood include iron, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins (especially folic acid and vitamins 6 and 12) and vitamin D, which is often implicated in depression.

Thyroid function should also always be investigated, as should iron-levels in women and hormone levels in both genders.

Nutritional counseling has been proven to improve treatment outcomes, much like proper nutrition helps people with diabetes or heart conditions manage their illness and minimize risk of complications.

In order to fully understand the physiological causes of our clients’ addiction, we at Paracelsus analyze the biochemistry of our clients with comprehensive laboratory tests. Based on these tests we create a tailor-made mix of nutritional supplements (including amino acids, vitamins and other micro-nutrients) and a personal nutrition plan. Together with adapted physical activity and purposive relaxation, the biochemistry can be restored and symptoms such as cravings, anxiety, depression or sleep problems can be reduced and often eliminated. A healthier body is much more receptive for talk-therapy and other forms of psychotherapeutic interventions, critical for overcoming addiction and building self-esteem.

“A healthy soul and mind ideally resides in a healthy body” – paraphrased from the old saying in Latin: Mens sana in corpore sano.

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