Inflammation is the catch word in medical circles as the cause of many of our dreaded diseases. But the latest research shows an undeniable connection between inflammation and mental health, particularly depression. “We gone light years beyond the notion that certain foods like carbohydrates create a good mood,” Dr. James M. Greenblatt, a Boston-based psychiatrist and author of “Breakthrough Depression Solution: Mastering Your Mood with Nutrition, Diet and Supplementation,” tells Newsmax Health.
“We know from many research studies that a poor diet causes a variety of mental disorders including depression.”
Greenblatt says that the recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention study citing that suicide rates leaped by 24 percent over the past 15 years is partially a reflection of our junk-food society.
“Particularly at risk, in my personal experience, [are] adolescents with eating disorders,” he says. “The most dramatic increase in suicide rates was seen among girls between the ages of 10 to 14. Since 1999, the suicide rate for this group has exploded by an incredible 200 percent.
“Part of this is due to social media, but a large part is due to malnutrition. The adolescent diet is characterized by increased intake of refined grains and processed sugars, and devoid of essential nutrients.”
Greenblatt explains that your brain consumes a whopping 25 percent of our metabolic energy and therefore needs the correct food sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals along with omega-3 fatty acids to ensure optimum functioning.
“Research has shown that low levels of vitamins D, B-12, magnesium, and particularly omega-3 essential fatty acids have been linked to depression and increased risk of suicide,” he says.
Dr. Adrian Lopresti, PhD., a clinical psychologist and senior researcher at Murdoch University in Western Australia, has over 18 years of experience working with people suffering from a range of mental health conditions including depressive and anxiety-related disorders. He explains how important a nutrient-dense diet is to prevent depression and other mental disorders.
“Our diet can affect mood in a number of ways,” he tells Newsmax Health. “Brain chemicals often associated with mood are known as neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are reliant on several nutrients derived from food.
“For example, to produce the mood-lifting neurotransmitter serotonin, we must eat protein. This protein then gets broken down into an amino acid called tryptophan which in turn gets converted to serotonin.”
Lopresti adds that we also need enzymes to facilitate this process. For those enzymes to work properly they require adequate levels of vitamins and minerals. The B vitamins from the fruits and vegetables we eat are especially important for the conversion.
“Foods that we eat can also have an impact on inflammation of the body,” he says. “Too much inflammation has a negative impact on several hormones and neurotransmitters. So eating inflammatory foods such as fast foods and soft drinks can lower the levels of mood-lifting neurotransmitters.
“Excess inflammation is damaging to the brain. On the other hand, eating a healthy diet comprised of lots of fruit and vegetables, spices and lean protein has a protective, anti-inflammatory effect on the brain.”
Spices like turmeric and saffron are particularly beneficial, says Lopresti.
One of the best nutrients to protect the brain and stave off depression is omega-3 fatty acid say the experts.
“Eating fatty fish at least three times a week or taking a supplement is highly recommended,” says Greenblatt. “As we age it becomes increasingly difficult to get all the nutrients we need for optimum brain health from food alone, so I do recommend supplementation.
“The best way to tell if your body is lacking key nutrients in this fight against premature brain aging and depression is to get tested for deficiency. Remember that we are all individuals so a certain diet plan doesn’t work for everyone.
“What we do know is that there is a direct link between vitamin and mineral deficiencies along with low levels of omega 3 fatty acids and depression. So by choosing nutrient dense foods over junk foods, you are helping your mental health as well as your physical health.”