Research shows that several essential nutrients may affect your mood. If you're being treated for major depression, some ways of eating may even add to the effectiveness of your medications. While it's difficult to know exactly how much food contributes to your mood and mental health, the evidence is fairly strong for the following nutrients.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
You've probably noticed everything from designer cereal to bread, eggs, and milk labeled high in omega-3. "These essential fatty acids are vital to good health in so many ways," notes Amy Ogle, MS, RD, a San Diego-based dietitian and personal trainer. "They promote healthy cell membranes and help reduce the low-grade inflammation caused by a chronically poor diet, stress, illness, and depression." With respect to major depression specifically, the omega-3s DHA and EPA seem to be lead players. Your brain's neural membranes depend on DHA for structure and function, which may help with cell communications.
Good sources of omega-3s include fatty fish, such as salmon, and designer foods fortified with omega-3s.
This water-soluble vitamin is important to red blood cell formation and DNA synthesis. It may also help balance the level of neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin, dopamine) in your brain. In a large study, women age 65 years and older who were deficient in vitamin B12 were two times as likely to be severely depressed as the women who were not deficient.
Good sources of B12 include fortified breakfast cereal and foods of animal origin.
Another water-soluble B vitamin, folate occurs naturally in foods. Folate is required to produce new cells in your body, as well as RNA and DNA. Like B12, folate affects your brain's neurotransmitters, which play a role in depression. Some research shows that adding a bioactive folate supplement to your depression treatment plan may reduce depression symptoms.
Good sources of folate include fortified grains, leafy green vegetables, and dried beans.
Selenium is a trace mineral used to make selenoproteins (important antioxidants). In a recent study, women with low dietary intakes of selenium were three times as likely to develop major depression.
Good sources of selenium include seafood, meat, poultry, nuts, and grains from varying regions (soil levels of selenium vary by location).
Minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc found in a normal diet also support physical and mental vitality. Not getting enough of these nutrients can increase your risk of depression symptoms due to health conditions such as iron-deficient anemia. Be cautious of getting too much of a supplement. Avoid multivitamins and supplements that provide more than 100% of the Daily Value (DV) unless prescribed by your doctor.
Importance of Varied Diet
Eating a well-balanced diet with a lot of variety—including 12 ounces of fish or seafood a week—will likely ensure you have sufficient nutrition. For women specifically, certain life stages can make you more vulnerable to depression. "Try to be proactive about protecting your nutrition," Ogle suggests. "Find exercise options you enjoy."