Nutrition plays a major role in the onset, severity and the duration of depression. A closer look at the diet of depressed people shows they aren’t eating enough nutrients. So, the first step to beat depression is to address nutritional deficiency:
* Be smart about the carbs: The production of serotonin and tryptophan chemicals associated with well-being are triggered by carbohydrate-rich diets. Go for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fibre-rich foods that raise blood sugar gradually and have a lasting effect on the brain rather than simple sugars that only provide temporary relief.
* And the fats: The membranes of the brain cells contain a high concentration of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Eat walnuts, flaxseeds, canola oil and deep sea fish such as tuna, mackerel and salmon.
* As for protiens: When the diet lacks in amino acids (building blocks of proteins), production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, associated with good mood, get suppressed.
To ensure a balance of these chemicals, eat protein-rich foods like dairy products, fish, eggs and beans with carbohydrate-rich foods.
* The right vitamins and minerals: B complex vitamins affect energy supply to the brain and are vital for people with anxiety and depression. Vitamin B12 and folate improve mental abilities and enhances the effect of antidepressants. Selenium improves mood and lowers anxiety levels. It is found in beans, legumes, lean meats, and nuts. Vitamin D increases the level of ‘feel-good’ hormone serotonin.
Zinc, found in pumpkin seeds, poultry, lean meat and fish is linked to depression and a diminished sense of taste. It is a first line defense against free radical damage and improves the effect of anti-depressants.
* Alternate therapies: Herbs like brahmi, jatamansi, cardamom, ashwagandha and turmeric soothe nerves and relax the mind. Ayurvedic treatments like Shirodhara, in which oil is poured down on your head and abhyanga, an oil massage, also help relax the mind. Yoga, pranayam and meditation help focus on positive thoughts.
* And finally: Treat yourself to 3-4 pieces of dark chocolate a day if you’re feeling low. It produces ‘feel- good’ hormones endorphins and serotonin. Cut down on caffeine, alcohol and drugs to improve sleep quality.
- Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a Mumbai-based nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre