Mousab Kassem Azzawi
2020 / 10 / 18
Researched by Academy House Team
Edited by Mousab Kassem Azzawi, MSc, MD, PhD.
In this lecture, we will discuss several natural approaches that people can do to improve their overall mental health, and specifically treat depression symptoms. We will also explore some research on antidepressant medications and how they compare with few other natural remedies. Research clearly demonstrates that a diet of low-glycaemic foods, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a lower rate of depression and bipolar disorder. Depression can also be improved by replacing missing nutrients, such as vitamin D and magnesium, and by adding supplements, such as SAM-e and Saint-John’s-wort. In addition, people with depression should get out into the sunlight and exercise.
The human brain needs a balance of nutrients to maintain a positive mood, and if it does not get all of the nutrients it requires, it does not work correctly.
The human brain is fuelled by nutritional molecules, which come from our diet, and just as in the case with the rest of our body, some of the foods we eat promote brain health while others may actually cause harm.
The micronutrients that are important in brain -function- include the B vitamins (folate and B12), calcium and chromium, minerals like magnesium and zinc, and antioxidants like vitamin E and selenium.
Altering the micronutrients that are found in our food supply can have an effect on our brain’s health. Processed foods generally lack a lot of essential vitamins and nutrients which are lost during their manufacturing process. Therefore, you need to make sure that you are eating whole foods not processed foods as much as possible. And always remember that folic acid, which is essential to brain health, is found in whole grains, as well as green leafy vegetables.
Trans fats, processed vegetable oils, alcohol, and sugar impair a very important enzyme called delta-6 desaturase, which forms omega-3 fatty acids naturally within the body. The blocking of this enzyme by trans fats, processed vegetable oils, alcohol, and sugar causes the body to not be able to make essential omega-3s. Mounting evidence now links omega-3 deficiency in humans to a number of disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder.
The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children demonstrated that a diet of lots of vegetables, fruit, fish, and grains was associated with a lower rate of depression and anxiety.
A prospective study of over 10,000 adults was conducted to assess the links between the Mediterranean diet and depression. The Mediterranean diet is high in fruit, legumes, beans, lentils, green leafy vegetables, and fish, is low in saturated fat, and uses the good source of oil—olive oil. Of the people that were followed, the more fruits, nuts, legumes, and monounsaturated fats that were consumed, the less depression there was.
There also appears to be a link between depression and bipolar disorder to diets with a high glycaemic index, which are diets that are high in simple sugars and simple carbohydrates, which usually concerned at fast food outlets. Of the 691 women that were studied, 23 were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers concluded that bipolar disorder was linked to diets with a high glycaemic index.
Food sensitivity causes a wide array of symptoms, including gas, bloating, arthritis, joint pain, skin rashes, and even mood changes. Food sensitivity has also been implicated in neurologic disorders of unknown cause.
Gluten sensitivity is known to cause neurologic problems— particularly seizures in people who otherwise have no medical problems. According to a study published in The Lancet in 1996, gluten sensitivity is a contributing factor in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety.
When it comes to mental well-being, micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, appear to be equally as important as macronutrients—the proteins and fats that are found in the foods that we eat.
The problem of being deficient in magnesium, which comes mainly from green leafy vegetables, is widespread. A study that evaluated the link between diet and depression in over 5,000 people found an inverse correlation between magnesium intake in the diet and depression scores.
Vitamin D, which is of paramount importance to bone health, affects also so many other mechanisms and systems in our body. A 2005 study showed that low levels of 25-hydroxy vitamin D are significantly associated with a higher depression score. Another study found that psychiatric patients had significantly lower levels of vitamin D than a control group.
Folate, a B vitamin, is one of the most important vitamins for treating depression. Folate can be used to treat depression with´-or-without antidepressants. When folate is taken with an antidepressant medication such as Prozac, research shows that there is an improvement in depression beyond the effect of the antidepressant alone.
Exercise is another ideal treatment for depression. The problem is that many depressed people do not feel like exercising. An hour per day of exercise is recommended for people with´-or-without depression, but a person who is depressed should at least start with 15´-or-20 minutes of exercise per day and slowly increase the time.
S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) is a compound found naturally in the body. SAMe helps produce and regulate hormones and maintain cell membranes structurally and -function-ally. A synthetic version of SAMe is available as a dietary supplement in North America. However, in Europe, SAMe is a pre-script-ion only drug. SAM-e is a potent antidepressant that should be taken under a physician’s guidance because the dose has to be increased slowly over time—starting at about 200 milligrams per day and possibly increased to 800 milligrams per day. One of the side effects of SAM-e is that it can produce a manic state, so people that have bipolar disorder—which is a combination of depression and mania—or a family history of bipolar disorder should not take SAM-e.
Saint-John’s-wort is almost as common a herbal remedy for mild to moderate depression as Prozac and Paxil are pharmaceutical remedies. The research shows that Saint-John’s-wort might not be as effective for severe depression. For mild to moderate depression, 900 milligrams per day of Saint-John’s-wort is a good option. However, depending on the preparation, Saint-John’s-wort can interact with a long list of medications, so always remember to consult your physician before taking it.
Nothing is better for depression than exercising in the sunlight. There are some people that live in areas where they do not get a lot of sun—particularly in the winter—and light therapy can help.
In Canada, 100 patients with depression in the winter months— called seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—were treated with either Prozac´-or-exposure to light. Depression improved equally in both groups, but those receiving light therapy had a faster response to that improvement. The authors concluded that light therapy is as good as the standard antidepressant approach with fewer side effects and much less overall risk.