Nutrition, Exercise and Depression

December 11, 2014

Nearly fifteen million adults in the U.S. suffer from depression, and the number is increasing every year and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimates that  one in 20 children and adolescents are depressed! Sadly, more than 80% of the people who show symptoms of clinical depression receive no treatment. Recently, the links between nutrition, exercise and depression have become more understood and accepted; both can play key roles in helping to prevent the onset and severity of depression. One of the most comprehensive studies that link diet, inflammation and depression was published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, women who consume a high amount of foods that trigger inflammation --sugar, refined grains, red meat, and soft drinks -- have up to a 41% greater risk of being diagnosed with depression than people who eat  a less inflammatory diet. While a diet that specifically addresses the issue of depression hasn't been developed yet, we do know that including certain healthy foods in your daily dietary regimen will help protect against depression. Here are a few of them:
  • Antioxidants. Beta-carotene and vitamins C and E combat the effects of free radicals and reduce the damage they cause. Studies have shown that the brain is especially vulnerable to free radical damage. You can get your beta-carotene from apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, collards, pumpkin, spinach and sweet potatoes; your  vitamin C from blueberries, broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, peppers, strawberries, and tomato and your vitamin E from nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, wheat germ.
  • Healthy Carbohydrates. Carbohydrate craving may be related to decreased levels of the mood-elevating serotonin, so be smart about your carb intake! Drop the sugars and go for whole grains and with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and legumes for your healthy carbs and fiber.
  • Protein. Protein-rich foods, such as fish, beans, turkey, and chicken, are rich in an amino acid called tyrosine which may help boost levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. This boost helps you feel alert and makes it easier to concentrate.
  • Folate and Vitamin B12. A Spanish study found that rates of depression increased in men and women as folate intake lessened, particularly if they were smokers! Legumes, nuts, and dark green vegetables are excellent sources of folate.
  • Vitamin D. Research has found a higher risk of  depression for people with vitamin D deficiency. A study from the University of Toronto found that people who suffer from depression - especially seasonal affective disorder - improve as their levels of vitamin D increased over the course of a year. Supplement your sunlight-derived vitamin D with fatty fish.
Different studies have also mentioned selenium and omega-3 fatty acids as important dietary additions to prevent depression, but more research is needed! Research has shown that exercise is also an effective  treatment for mild to moderate depression. Exercise prompts the body to release endorphins, chemicals that interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling. Additionally, regular exercise has been proven to:
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Lessen stress
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Improve sleep

It's an important equation to remember ... a healthy diet and fitness regimen equals a longer, happier life!

Please, see your health professional if symptoms of depression persist.

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