Eat healthy – that is the slogan you hear everywhere, and if you follow-up this popular appeal, it might definitely help you with multiple physical and mental health issues. But what is healthy? Some specialists consider healthy diet as well balanced diet, other recommend strictly vegetarian or vegan diets. But that is just the beginning of the healthy diets definition list. You may find completely well-rounded scientific explanations on the usefulness of high-protein and other special diets. Who is right, and who is wrong? I guess, one size does not fit all. What may be a good idea for one individual, might be absolutely bad idea for another.
In this post we will review the concept that vegan diet might lead to the clinical depression due to the lack of certain food-related components, which are not received by the strictly restricted food consumption.
In general, a vegan diet might or might not cause depression, depending on the individual characteristics of the person and how it is applied. It is, however, well known that transitioning to a vegan diet most likely will cause all sorts of physical and emotional symptoms while your body gets used to it, just like transitioning to any new diet or even a new altitude or lifestyle can. These symptoms generally pass after a few weeks. While that is understandable and acceptable, a vegan diet can put you at risk for certain nutritional deficits if you are not careful about meeting your nutritional needs, specifically protein, iron and B12, with B12 being the most worrisome.
There is increasing evidence that diet may play a causative role in some cases of depression. The food production in industrialized societies uses intensive farming and processing techniques. This can contribute to depleted levels of omega 3 fatty acids, certain amino acids and other essential nutrients in the food we eat. Also over time our food choices and preferences have changed, which has led to a skewed ratio of fats in out diet.
Omega 3 is an important essential fats for the body. Its deficiency has been linked to depression, anxiety, aggressiveness and even insomnia. In some studies it was observed that patients suffering from depression have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their cell membranes. More startlingly, its deficiency worsens the conditions of ADHD children considerably. Research has shown that patients with bipolar depression who increased their consumption of foods containing omega 3 showed remarkable improvement in mood, which supports the role of omega 3 fatty acids in the treatment of depression .
Omega 3 is required in the diet and cannot be made within the body. Foods rich in omega 3 include oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, flaxseeds walnuts, olive oil, pumpkin seeds. Ensuring 2-3 portions of oily fish per week should provide adequate omega 3 in your diet.
Amino acids are also not produced within the human body. Tryptophan is an amino acid which is converted into serotonin in the body and is a natural relaxant. This can be used in the treatment of depression to assist with a good night’s sleep, treat migraines and even boost the immune system. Deficiency in the essential amino acid Lysine may cause fatigue, irritability and a lack of concentration. Good sources of lysine include meat, chicken, and eggs and legumes.
Carbohydrates are important in the fight against depression. They help to release the chemical monoamine serotonin. This chemical is found in the brain and is a mood-enhancer. It induces sleep and brings on relaxation. Depression seems to stem from reduced serotonin in the brain. Hence the feeling of satisfaction as soon as a person eats a meal with carbohydrates. Increasing complex carbohydrates that are absorbed slowly such as brown rice, whole grain wheat, bran, fruits and vegetables may be important in the treatment of depression, as this will help ensure a steady supply of serotonin.
Depression can also be intensified or even caused by deficiencies of vitamins and minerals, like folate, B12 and vitamin C and magnesium. In a major study, a direct link between low folate levels and neuropsychiatry disorder was established. It has also been suggested that an increased intake of folate can help reduce the high levels of homocysteine often present during depression. Foods rich in folate and vitamin c include spinach, broccoli, tomato juice, kidney beans, lentils and asparagus and increasing amounts of these foods in the diet could be useful in the treatment of depression.
Vitamin B12 is found in animal products such as milk, meat, cheese and yogurt. Vegans and strict Vegetarians who do not drink milk products can be lacking in Vitamin B12. Elderly people often suffer from malabsorption of this vitamin due to a lack of acidity in the stomach (which assists in its digestion) and this can lead to mood disorders or even depression. Vitamin B12 is therefore a key vitamin to consider in supplementing for the treatment of depression. It takes a long time for B12 deficiency to show up, because your requirements are quite low and it stays in the body for a long time, so someone could be vegan for years before they have problems. The best vegan source for this nutrient is nutritional yeast. Many vegetarians/vegans make the mistake of eating refined carbohydrates. Avoid these as much as you can; they deplete the body of B vitamins, which can make you feel depressed/anxious. Make sure you get enough protein, too–the brain needs it!
A deficiency of magnesium is sometimes associated with forms of depression. A diet rich in magnesium such as nuts and grains, spinach, and meat may be beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of depression.
The most common mineral deficiencies in vegetarians are related to poor iron intake. Iron is a mineral that comprises hemoglobin, necessary for oxygenating the blood. A diet that does not include animal products requires higher percentages of daily intake from alternative sources. If you are not getting enough iron through dried beans and dark leafy green vegetables every day, you can develop an iron deficiency, which results in fatigue, depressive symptoms and anemia. These generally go away as soon as your iron is back on track. You can definitely prevent this by eating lots of beans, leafy greens and whole grains.
Protein deficiencies can also cause depression. For example, long term veganism leads to a lack of Tryptophan in the diet. Tryptophan is an amino acid found only in animal protein, and is the precursor to the neurotransmitter Seratonin, which is directly responsible for happiness.
Too many simple carbohydrates can also cause depression, especially when protein is low. Try leafy greens such as collards (calcium and magnesium are essential).
While vegans generally report good overall health, some staples in their diet are common allergens. For example, peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans and wheat are repeat offenders that cause an array of symptoms from leaky gut syndrome to mental disturbances such as depression. When the body suspects a foreign antigen is present, it quickly responds via the immune system. Over an extended period of being exposed to an allergy, the body remains in attack mode, depleting many other resources and increasing the likelihood of autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disease is both a cause and effect of depression.
Candida, or candida overgrowth, is common in the vegetarian diet. This is due to the high consumption of fruit and fruit juice, pasta, breads, honey and similar products laden with parasites, bacteria or yeasts. The National Candida Center reports that a single yeast cell produces over 75 known toxins that act like poison in the human body and result in a weakened immune system. They impair the brain and central nervous system. Depressive symptoms are not uncommon, as the body simply cannot stave off multiple attacks.
Diet and depression may well have a cyclical relationship. Depression may be exacerbated by dietary deficiency in the first place and can go onto lead to a loss of appetite or apathy towards food and wellbeing. A dietary approach to the treatment of depression is by no means the whole answer but it could play an important role.
And most important, no matter what you eat, do not forget that health diet is only a part of the healthy lifestyle. You also need sun, exercise, friendship, therapy, and a spiritual practice such as meditation for best results.
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