Depression today is now recognised as an illness and a general definition is unipolar disorders can manifest with episodic causes that can vary in degree of severity. Depressive symptoms can start insidiously in childhood or adolescence and some signs are lethargy, being gloomy, being pessimistic, being self critical and/or being self-reproaching.
To understand depression it is important to be aware that there are these different symptoms, but regardless of this the feelings experienced can be the same. Being self loathing, heaviness so strong that it’s difficult to get out of bed, let alone out of the chair, feelings of fear and anxiety so strong you are too scared to go out of the house, in some cases there are suicidal tendencies and self harming.
The causes of depression
The reasons here can vary as to why a child or adult may develop depression, but children are being treated for depression and have been for the past ten years. It was back in the early 1980s that investigations into childhood depression were starting to take place, since prior to this it was viewed as not possible, although this is not the only link. There are views that childhood abuse is linked to adult depression in women and women who have been in abusive relationships regardless of whether the abuse was emotional, mental or physical are more prone to depression to those women who have not. This tells us that mental health problems of women are rife among those who have been in abusive relationships, compared to those that have not and whether they choose these partners to fuel the depression cannot really be measured. So, unless the woman can identify that this is a link, she may always find herself depressed and in abusive relationships until the cycle is broken.
Genetics is another aspect that cannot be ignored. There are studies to support the role of heredity of manic depression, but, which particular gene is involved is yet to be resolved. Although it is thought that only life events can trigger depression. Research by McGuffin (1999) has suggested that life events coupled with an inherent pre-disposition to depression will trigger a personal experience of an episode, so the genes may influence the degree of anxiety.
Diet and Depression
One of the keys to help improve mood is diet. A poor diet may be a factor with depression or is depression a symptom of poor nutritional status? Either way it’s a factor, since we need to have the necessary nutrients to stimulate the hormones that can keep moods balanced. If we look at how nutritional status can become compromised, it can start from a very early age, where there is no family history of depression. There can be situations where in childhood, no physical abuse has taken place, but there is a lack of emotional stimulus, and this can cause a child to withdraw and retreat into their own world and when faced with reality triggers an anxiety that will cause physiological impact.
These physiological changes will affect our digestive system, and it was as far back as 1971 when a link was made with the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system and the influence it can have on the functions of the digestion system. This is still the feeling today, with more exploration looking at how emotions can affect even healthy individuals.
This link is between our nervous system and emotions that plays a major role in the regulation of the digestion functions. To aid digestion it is imperative that you have the right level of hydrochloric acid (HCL) in the stomach to initially break down foods into smaller components which is a vitally important function. HCL is also the first line of defence in the immune system armoury. It has been shown that stress is a contributory factor in low levels of HCL, which will lead to a change in the gut ecology; this overtime can lead to various inflammatory responses that can lead to Intestinal permeability. This basically means the intestine wall has become permeable. The result is undigested food particles can then pass directly into the blood stream. The main problem is the absorption of necessary nutrients, such as B12, Folic Acid, and vitamin B6. All of which play an important role in supporting the hormones that are involved with good mood factors.
Mood neurotransmitters and amino acids
The main hormone that is involved in mood is serotonin, although dopamine is another hormone associated with the pleasure system of the brain, providing feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement in motivation and cognition. Gamma-Amino butyric acid (GABA), is classed as an amino acid and is perhaps not that well known, but low levels can GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and low levels can increase anxiety and emotional stress, plus poor memory. Theanine, is an amino acid derivative found naturally in green tea (Camellia sinensis), but has been recognised to have calming properties.
Serotonin also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) is a neurotransmitter that will transit messages along the nervous system. It is found in three main areas of the body: the intestinal wall, blood vessels, and the central nervous system. Research has indicated that approximately 95% of serotonin resides in the gastro-intestinal tract (GIT). It appears to play a major role in intestinal movement, controlling perception of pain, and mediating secretions such as release of water. So serotonin helps the digestive system function normally. It is very probable that a person that suffers with constipation may suffer with depression. Serotonin is manufactured in the human brain using the essential amino acid tryptophan which must be obtained from the diet. Tryptophan can be found in oats, bananas, dried dates, milk, cottage cheese, meat, fish and peanuts .
Low levels of serotonin can be linked to low Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Folic Acid, and Vitamin B12 and Omega 3 obtained from oily fish. So a diet deficient in omega-3 oils may lower brain levels of serotonin and could trigger depression. Complex carbohydrates, such as wholegrain wheat, brown rice and oats can raise the level of tryptophan in the brain resulting in a calming effect, hence why some people can feel very tired after eating a starchy carbohydrate.
GABA must be made by the body, since it is not found in food, and one of the major nutrients required is B6, found in Bananas, and an amino acid called Taurine, found in meat, fish and cows milk. Caffeine can depress levels of GABA, but alcohol can increase this, that’s why people will feel very relaxed after a glass of wine.
Helping to alleviate depression
To help manage depression, it really is imperative that the diet is managed effectively, a good probiotic to help support the gastrointestinal tract. Increase levels of oily fish, such as mackerel, sardines and salmon. Eating foods that are rich in Vitamin B6, such as bananas and avocados, legumes such as beans. walnuts, oats, sunflower seeds, liver, soy and egg yolk. Avoid or cut back on caffeine drinks, by replacing it with green tea or lemon balm tea, especially if you are feeling anxious.
There are other self-help techniques, such as going for a brisk walk, or even dancing. The main thing which is of prime importance is the individual’s willingness to acknowledge to themselves they want improve their mood. That way they will find it easier to implement changes in diet to help manage their moods.
Recipe for a more energising lunch
Fresh chicken, tuna or salmon
Sesame and sunflower seeds
Mix the salad ingredients in a bowl and top with the dressing.
For dessert, enjoy a sliced banana and Greek yoghurt. For a drink,
try a cup of Camomile tea or Lemon Balm tea
BSc (Hons) Health Science in Nutritional Therapy, PGDip Teaching and Learning, mBANT, rCNHC
Maggie is an educator, researcher and writer in Nutrition.
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