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Updated 23 June 2014

Diet and depression

There are many exogenous and endogenous factors that can cause depression. Diet and depression tend to be reciprocally linked to each other, writes Dr Ingrid van Heerden.

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There are many exogenous and endogenous factors that can cause depression. Diet and depression tend to be reciprocally linked to each other.

Firstly, a deficient diet that is lacking in B-vitamins, minerals, protein or carbohydrates can either cause depression, or contribute to depressive states. In addition to dietary deficiencies caused by unbalanced eating (for example when slimming, or because of dietary problems experienced in old age), alcoholism can lead to severe depression, which is in part due to the lack of vital nutrients such as B-vitamins in the diet.

There is also a link between depression and conditions such as obesity. On the one hand, severe, endogenous depression can cause either pronounced weight gain or loss, while on the other hand diet-related conditions such as obesity and anorexia can be responsible for causing depression.

The basics
Human beings need a healthy, balanced diet to provide adequate amounts of B-complex vitamins, amino acids and minerals to guarantee a healthy nervous system. It, therefore, stands to reason that dietary deficiencies of B-vitamins, minerals, protein and even carbohydrates, can lead to a malfunctioning nervous system and depression.

Typical examples of deficiency-induced depression are found in the aged, and individuals who use unbalanced slimming diets or suffer from alcoholism.

a) Geriatric depression
As people age, they are more prone to nutrient deficiencies, which are of multifactorial origin. Lack of resources, inability to purchase, prepare and eat a balanced diet, problems with chewing, insufficient stomach acid to properly digest food, increased nutrient requirements due to chronic diseases and chronic use of medications that interfere with nutrient absorption, and general apathy are all factors can prevent senior citizens from eating a balanced diet.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the majority of older people suffer from depression to a greater or lesser degree. It has been suggested that all individuals older than 50 should take a multivitamin and mineral supplement and that this would not only prevent the chronic diseases that plague us in old age, but also counteract geriatric depression and loss of mental acuity.

There are many excellent multivitamin and mineral supplements available, which you can take prophylactically to prevent geriatric illnesses and depression. Ask your general practitioner or chemist for a multivitamin and mineral tonic.

Discuss the type of vitamin and mineral supplement you should use with your chemist. If you have problems with digestion and absorption, syrups or effervescent tablets (which promote absorption) may be more beneficial than tablets.

b) Unbalanced slimming diets
Many dieters suffer from depression, which is usually caused by one or more deficiencies in the diet. Very-low-energy diets are deficient in most nutrients (carbohydrate, protein and amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids) and should really only be used under the guidance of a clinical dietician.

If you are on a very-low-energy diet, be aware of the danger of nutrient deficiencies. Preferably you should switch to a more balanced slimming diet or at least take a complete vitamin and mineral supplement, as well as salmon oil capsules to provide essential fatty acids (omega-3) and an amino acid supplement.

High-protein diets can also cause vitamin and carbohydrate deficiencies. Because carbohydrates affect the serotonin balance in the brain, eating a diet that is practically devoid of carbohydrate can cause a drop in brain serotonin levels and result in depression.

The sugar cravings dieters experience when they use very-low-carbohydrate diets may be due to low brain serotonin levels. Reintroducing low-GI carbohydrates to the diet can usually cure cravings.

c) Alcoholism
Patients suffering from alcoholism tend to develop multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Such patients not only stop eating because the alcohol they drink suppresses their appetites, but they also have an increased requirement for B-vitamins and other nutrients. This is due to the increased demands that are made on the liver and other organs by the large quantities of alcohol they ingest. Alcohol-induced deficiencies, which can lead to depression among other symptoms, are usually treated by means of B-complex injections or tonics.

Recovering alcoholics may also require supplemental nutrition in the form of meal replacement products. Ask your doctor or chemist about these products, which can help to restore the liver and help recovering alcoholics to gain weight.

If you are suffering from depression, make sure that your diet is not deficient. If you are over 50, or using an unbalanced slimming diet, or recovering from alcoholism, ask your doctor or pharmacist about supplementing your diet to counteract depression. – (Dr Ingrid van Heerden, DietDoc)

 
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