Yellow September: depression and nutrition

em 28 de Sep de 2023

Can food cause or avoid mental disorders such as depression?

On September 10 we celebrate the World Suicide Prevention Day.

To give more visibility to the cause, the Yellow September campaign was launched 8 years ago to create awareness about it and avoid this serious problem that causes the death of more than 700,000 people every year, according to the World Health Organization.

Among the main factors associated with suicide are diseases such as depression. Although the causes of this disorder are yet not completely known, they are believed to be related to biological, psychological and social factors.

In the following article, learn how brain functioning is affected by nutrition and how can food cause or avoid mental disorders such as depression.


Depression: far beyond serotonin?

Typical symptoms of depression, such as feelings of sadness and lack of motivation, irritability, low self-esteem, sleep and appetite disturbances, are usually associated with changes in brain functioning and nervous system.

According to the traditional approach, this disease is caused by an imbalance of chemical messengers such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These substances, also called neurotransmitters, are responsible for the communication between neurons and the regulation of several body functions such as control of emotions, appetite and movement.

In 2022, a paper published at the Molecular Psychiatry journal rocked the scientific community by stating that depression results from complex interactions and is not necessarily linked to low levels of serotonin, also known as the “happiness hormone”.

Therefore, the occurrence of this pathology can be associated with conditions such as stress, sleep disturbances, potentially inflammatory diets, as well as poor gut functioning.


Nutrition and mental health

Some eating habits are fundamental to help maintain a balanced brain functioning, protect the brain from damage and reduce the incidence or minimize the effects of mental disorders.

It is no exaggeration to say that what we put on the plate every day help or impair certain neurochemical activities. It is here that some foods with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties can make a difference.


Depression: what to avoid on the plate?

Who has never given in to the temptation of eating sweets and junk food at times of fatigue and stress?

In situations like this, the body usually asks for an immediate reward As the ingestion of sugar and fats causes a discharge of serotonin, increasing the sense of well-being momentarily.

It doesn’t take long for this pleasant sensation to come to an end and again the body asks for those types of food. However, the excess glucose and fat in the blood can impair body’s functioning and favor inflammatory conditions, which affect the balance between neurotransmitters.

You should also avoid coffee, alcoholic beverages, energy drinks and ultra-processed foods.


Foods to fight depression

A diet rich in fibers, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats contributes to protecting the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation.

Therefore, always include the following items in your diet:

tryptophan: amino acid precursor of serotonin that can be found in meat, fish, chicken, chickpeas, rice, lentils, oilseeds, eggs, banana and pumpkin;

omega-3: fish like tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines have anti-inflammatory effects and stimulates the formation of new neurons thanks to their high levels of omega-3;

fibers: these nutrients are beneficial to the intestinal microbiota, contributing to the availability of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, whose receptors are found in the intestine. Therefore, eat vegetables and fruits.

minerals: can be found in green leaves, grapes, banana, avocado, grains and seeds. Calcium and magnesium help in neural regulation;

B-complex vitamins: meat, milk, eggs, oats, broccoli, walnuts, carrot and tomato improve mood and cognitive performance;

antioxidants: ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, apple, beans, walnuts and spinach protect the brain from oxidative stress;

probiotics: foods like yogurts, fermented milk, kefir and kombucha help maintain the health of the intestinal microbiota and support the availability of neurotransmitters and nutrients.

Besides being careful with the diet, it is important to consider other heathy habits in everyday life, such as exercising regularly and keeping an active social life.

And remember: the diagnosis and treatment of depression and other mental disorders must be made by a psychologist or psychiatrist.

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