Recent studies conducted in the U.S.A and in South Africa note that the negative economic impact of depressive illness is anticipated to come second only to that of severe cardiac and vascular disease in the early part of this century. Already costs of decreased productivity due to lost working hours are enormous even before expensive tertiary treatment of these disorders is accounted for. As people have already adopted certain diets to prevent the cardiac and vascular diseases, so too are researchers looking at dietary solutions to depressive disorders. The existing body of research in this field lends support to the belief that diet does indeed impact on mood.
CARBOHYDRATES VS. PROTEIN
Certain studies have examined the effect of a carbohydrate rich – protein poor diet on stress-prone individuals when performing a stressful task. Findings indicated that on the carbohydrate-rich diet, stressed individuals did not show any stress-induced rise in depression or any decline in vigour (which is typical in depression). In contrast, the protein-rich group deteriorated in these areas. Intellectual performance was also shown to be protected in the carbohydrate-rich group. It can be concluded that carbohydrate-rich, protein-poor diets might increase personal control, thereby decreasing risks of depression, as well as helping depressed patients gain control over their depression. South African psychiatrist Dr Dora Wynchank and Dietician Tabitha Hume discuss the complex interaction of food and mood in their book “Women and Food”. The pair of experts conclude that: “Eating a high carbohydrate – low protein diet improves depression”.
Other studies show that a deficiency in certain amino acids shows a direct link with mood. These results indicated an increased rate of relapse in susceptible patients.
Another contentious issue concerns the role of cholesterol. Numerous study findings have validated the proposition that lowering cholesterol by diet or other means may increase the risk for depressive illnesses and suicide. So although it is healthier to maintain a diet with limited cholesterol intake, lowering the level of cholesterol too much may be unwise.
OTHER ESSENTIAL VITAMINS
Further research assessed the adequacy of dietary intake in depressed individuals and found that a substantial percentage of depressed individuals consume less than the Required Daily Allowance of one or more nutrients. One study showed that both men and women experienced a significant improvement in their mood after taking a high potency multivitamin for one year.
It is clear that a healthy diet may indeed have a positive impact on the depressed individual, by allowing the patient to gain control over their depression, and also to lower the chances of relapse once the patient is well. Supplements, together with a healthy diet and exercise, may be helpful in combating depressive illnesses.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Support Group has a team of highly qualified counsellors who will be able to assist you with information regarding diet, as well as other means of combating depression. The support group is open Monday – Friday from 8am – 7pm, and on Saturday from 8am – 5pm.
The evidence that dietary manipulation can positively influence the prevention and management of mood disorders has significant implications, especially in South Africa where funds are channelled into primary health care. A lower incidence of depression will create positive economic effects by increasing worker productivity and diminishing tertiary treatment costs so that more people may be treated.
If you suffer from depression here are some dietary tips to remember:
Ø Be cautious with caffeine, a stimulant, which can disrupt sleep patterns.
Ø Be wary of alcohol, a depressant, which impacts negatively on brain chemistry and can exacerbate depression.
Ø Don’t miss breakfast. Missing breakfast has been shown to interfere with cognition and can lead to concentration disruption for the rest of the day.
Ø Keep your diet high in carbohydrates and low in protein.
Ø Eat healthy. If you can’t or won’t eat well, consider taking an all-purpose vitamin and mineral supplement.
Ø Food allergies and intolerances can negatively impact on your mood. If your mood swings, think about when this happens and whether or not you ate a specific food beforehand.
Ø Be conscious of your diet and your wellbeing, both physical and emotional, will improve. In conjunction with medication and/or psychotherapy, watching your diet can lift your depression. Diet is a powerful tool, but don’t neglect seeking professional treatment for your depression. Contact the Depression and Anxiety Support Group for counselling and our trained counselors will refer you to the best help available.