Can personalised nutrition help with depression?
Nutrition is the cornerstone to good mental health. In today's hectic environment there are many factors that can impact on our nutrient levels. From ongoing or acute stress, lack of sleep or a lack of sunshine exposure can compromise our nutrient status, and our mental health, in a significant way.
On the face of it, our diets may seem to be sufficient but our digestion, absorption, health history and inherited health traits can affect the amount of nutrients our body needs. One or more of these factors can tip the balance towards poor mental health. A personalised approach to diet and lifestyle can also help you regain physical and mental well-being.
For some people, low levels of vitamin D can contribute to depression. When this happens the most difficult time of year will be from November to February. This is when stored vitamin D levels from the summer plummet. A simple blood test run by your GP or a test ordered through a registered nutrition practitioner can help identify if this is an issue for you. If you spend a lot of time indoors, work night shifts or wear sun block or cover up in the summer then you might be at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Another important factor is the balance of essential fats. Simply put, too much vegetable oil, seed oil or hydrogenated fats and not enough omega 3 in your diet can lead to an imbalance that can contribute to low mood and depression. This type of imbalance can affect your brain’s ability to respond to neurotransmitter signals. This means serotonin signalling might be affected. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that helps you to feel happy and relaxed. There may also be problems with dopamine signalling which helps with feeling motivated. You can see how problems with neurotransmitter signalling might affect your mood and contribute to depression.
There is also some evidence to suggest that the inflammation caused by the essential fats imbalance can cause depression. This problem is perhaps the biggest health challenge facing the UK today. With so many food producers relying on vegetable-based omega 6 fats and damaged fats combined with a general low intake of omega 3 fats creating chronic inflammation and the illnesses associated with it. Hydrogenated fats are particularly problematic as they are capable of blocking the uptake of omega 3 fats. Increased aggression, behavioural disorders and learning/memory issues can all be associated with fatty acid imbalances.
Vegetarians and vegans should be mindful about conversion issues that might affect their essential fats status. Theoretically, you should be able to get omega 3 fats from some seeds and nuts but there might be issues with converting these fats to the longer chain fats needed to lower inflammation and support brain function. This conversion process requires certain nutrients which can be in short supply if there are digestive or absorption issues.
The balance between key minerals is a vital part of mental wellbeing. Mineral deficiencies and imbalances can occur as a result of heavy metal exposure, excessive iron supplementation, stress and blood sugar issues deplete minerals, changes in the post natal period, digestive disturbances and sudden changes in diet.
The nutritional and lifestyle factors influencing the development of depression are individual. A personalised approach is needed to tease apart the influences and design a programme to restore good mental health.
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About Sarah Hanratty
Sarah is an experienced practitioner at the Brain Food Nutrition Clinic specialising in the link between gut health and physical and mental well-being.