Preventing and Treating Depression with Diet


Written by Clare Abercrombie Do you or a loved one struggle with persistent sadness, anxiety, decreased energy, or guilt? How about aches and pains, headaches or digestive problems without a clear physical cause? These are all telling signs and symptoms that you may be experiencing depression. Major depression or clinical depression is a serious mood disorder that affects a growing number of Americans. World Health Organization (WHO) data shows that this disorder accounts for 4 out of 10 disability claims worldwide. By 2020 the WHO estimates that this disorder will be the leading cause of disability in women and children. Is there a way to prevent and treat depression with a non-invasive, integrative approach?

Genetics and Depression

To understand the ways in which we can work to prevent and treat depression holistically, we must first understand what causes this complicated mood disorder. Current research of the National Health Institute shows that a combination of: genetics, environmental, psychological, and biological factors cause depressive disorders. While genetics are a key link to depression; environmental, psychological and biological factors may change and manipulate our genetic structure making us prone to depression. Environmental factors such as cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol, psychological factors such as stress, and biological factors such as the foods we eat- all contribute to the likelihood of developing the disorder. The good news is that while we cannot change our genes, we can impact their expression by our lifestyle choices! How we respond to stress, exercise and what we eat all can play a role in the treatment and prevention of depression.

Preventing and Treating Depression with Diet

Integrative medicine looks to prevent and treat health conditions in a non-invasive manor, so when it comes to depression, we focus on changing a person’s diet and optimizing nutrition. When looking for foods to enhance your mood, we must look for foods that will contribute to gut health. Research has shown that neurochemicals made by beneficial gut bacteria contribute to neurologic function. In fact, recent research shows that up to 95% of our serotonin, our feel good neurotransmitter, is produced and lives in our gut! We now know that a healthy gut may improve mood.  It is important to boost your gut health with probiotics and probiotic rich foods, especially foods plentiful in Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria species. Good food sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, kombucha and fermented vegetables. We also must feed our good bacteria by consuming adequate fiber. The goal is 25 to 30 grams a day. Fiber is abundant in fresh vegetables and fruits but also found in ground flaxseed and chia seeds.

In addition to hormone production, the gut is responsible for proper nutrient absorption. To balance and prevent depression, try eating foods that contain: B12, Vitamin D, Selenium, and Omega-3 fatty acids. B12 is found primarily in animal products such as grass fed beef, chicken and dairy. Apples and brazil nuts are excellent sources of Selenium. Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel.

While incorporating foods rich in specific vitamins and minerals, you may want to avoid antidepressants such as: alcohol, caffeine, a high-calorie/low nutrient diet, and “diet” foods containing aspartame. As with any health changes, it is important to discuss prevention and treatment options with your provider. An integrative practitioner can work with you to treat your depression holistically and can aim to minimize the amount of medications needed for treatment by addressing epigenetic factors. Specialized testing can pinpoint certain nutrient deficiencies and bacterial health within the gut to understand your depression in a more holistic manor.