Depression has become a common ailment affecting millions of individuals both young and old all over the world. Per the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2015 over 6.7% of the United States population over the age of 18 had experienced at least one depressive episode in the previous year, and per the CDC, from 2011–2014, 12.7% of persons aged 12 and over had taken an antidepressant medication in the past month (August, 2017).
Unfortunately, many health care providers utilize medication therapy as the one and only modality of treating depression without addressing some of the most effective strategies for emotional health which can often be achieved with simple lifestyle modifications. Oftentimes medication therapy can worsen the situation, especially considering that many of them (such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – SSRIs) can increase impulsivity, therefore increasing suicide risk. In addition, these medications can often cause unwanted symptoms such as weight gain, decreased libido, and sleep disturbance which create other health disparities for unsuspecting individuals.
I am pretty sure there has never been a case of someone deficient in Zoloft, Effexor, or Paxil so why are we utilizing such medications as a band-aid for anyone that expresses symptoms of depression? There is a simple fix that can be implemented prior to resulting to pharmaceutical intervention in the form of nutrition. There has been a barrage of studies that correlate the quality of diet as a contributor to mood stability and emotional expression. Both vitamin B-12 and folate play an active role in the process of neurotransmitter production, phospholipids that coat myelin sheaths, and cell receptors. There are several other nutrients that play a role in reducing depressive symptoms as well including selenium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and zinc. A well-balanced plant-based diet can provide many of these vitamins and nutrients necessary for enhanced emotional health. For instance, dark leafy greens, whole grains, and legumes are a great source of folate.
On the other hand, there are several foods and nutrients that can worsen depression, including refined sugars, alcohol, caffeine, and processed oils. Several studies have linked sugary food and beverage intake to common mental disorder and depression. A study conducted by Knuppel, Shipley, Llewellyn, and Brunner (2017), demonstrated a 23% increased risk of incident common mental disorder in men with the highest intake of sugary foods and beverages over the course of five years.
A simple plan of temperance and the implementation of a plant-based diet could provide benefits that may alone prevent and treat depression symptoms without resorting to pharmaceuticals that only compound negative health issues.
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food"
— Hippocrates, father of medicine, 431 B.C.