Can your diet affect your mood? In this episode we cover what science says about your diet and its effect on anxiety, depression and mood and diet factors that could help.
Depression and anxiety are often lumped together in discussion because symptoms, causes and treatments often overlap, but they are different. The Blurt Foundation describes each like this:
“When we have depression, everything can feel very muted and dull. We often feel very low. Everything can feel very slowed down, including our thoughts and reactions to things. When we have anxiety, everything can feel very heightened. We often feel very jittery and on edge. Our thoughts can speed up and it can feel as though our reactions to everything can feel very extreme.”
Some of the overlapping symptoms of anxiety and depression are sleep issues, trouble concentrating and fatigue.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States or 18% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36% of those suffering receive treatment. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says it's not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. There are many possible causes of both including genetics and brain chemistry so it is important to work with a doctor to figure out what type of anxiety or depression someone has for proper treatment.
The main focus of this episode is not to treat these conditions, but to discuss how a healthy lifestyle can positively impact more than your physical health. When it comes to food, anxiety and depression, consider these diet factors:
Choose complex carbohydrates, like oats, over simple carbs, like white bread. Complex carbohydrates are metabolized more slowly and help maintain a more steady blood sugar level, which creates a calmer feeling. In addition, eating at regular intervals, say every 3 to 5 hours when hungry, can help you avoid low blood sugar and the anxious feeling that comes with it.
Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine especially if these make you feel poorly, interfere with sleep or you use them to self-treat.
In a 2012 study of mice, low magnesium was found to increase anxiety related behaviors. Food sources of magnesium are dark green vegetables, beans, cereals, whole wheat bread, fish, and nuts. Some of the highest sources among these are almonds, peanuts, spinach and oats.
Folate may help to improve mood by preventing an excess of homocysteine from forming in the body. This is important because homocysteine prevents blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain, and interferes with the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine—all regulators of mood, sleep, and appetite. Folate is found in mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, lean beef, potatoes, whole wheat, citrus fruit and beans.
Omega-3 fatty acids might increase the volume of gray matter in the parts of the brain responsible for regulating emotions. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon, sardines, tuna, flaxseed, walnuts and canola oil.
Vitamin D which aids in the production of serotonin, a chemical that relays messages from one part of the brain to another. Vitamin D is found in fish liver oils, fortified milk, herring, canned sardines, and other fortified foods (Also sunshine! The sun's UVB turns a chemical in your skin into vitamin D3, which is carried to your liver and then your kidneys to transform it to active vitamin D).
We can’t leave out exercise in this conversation. We know exercise can help manage stress despite how much we stress ourselves out deciding whether or not to get up and go to the gym. No matter what type of exercise you enjoy, it will increase your endorphins; the molecule responsible for decreasing pain signals and producing a sense of well being. Exercise has also been shown to increase overall motivation and improve your mood. "For some people it works as well as antidepressants, although exercise alone isn't enough for someone with severe depression," says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. With depression, it can be very hard to get started with exercise so doctors suggest starting with five minutes and letting that grow over time.
We can’t stress enough the importance of getting professional treatment for depression and anxiety. A healthy lifestyle is an important adjunct to treatment. This information is not intended to be medical advice or replace the advice of your doctor!
Listen to the full episode here.