About one in 10 Americans aged 12 and over takes antidepressant medication.
“Antidepressants were the third most common prescription drug taken by Americans of all ages in 2005–2008 and the most frequently used by persons aged 18–44 years . From 1988–1994 through 2005–2008, the rate of antidepressant use in the United States among all ages increased nearly 400%.”
There is a mental health epidemic in the United States. It breaks my heart knowing that so many around me are suffering from depression and anxiety, most of whom are probably suffering in silence. Digging my way out of depression and anxiety-related disorders took many painful years because despite my intense interest in health, I did not understand what a healthy diet was. Most Americans–even health-conscious ones–do not.
Even though I am speaking particularly of mood disorders here–especially depression–I could just as well be talking about most any other mental disorders, including anxiety (which afflicts nearly 1 in 5 adults), OCD, schizophrenia, and others. Depression often co-exists with other mental disorders. (Some statistics for Mental Disorders)
What Causes Mood Disorders?
Mood disorders seem to stem from both inadequate nutrition and the inability to detox sufficiently. The whole body needs good nutrition, including the brain and nervous system, and the liver which is an important detoxing organ. Without good nutrition the organs will cease to function properly. Depending on what deficiencies and toxins are most prevalent, a person will experience various symptoms. Deficiencies in nutrients important for brain function will result in a mental and/or mood disorder.
Also, when the body isn’t cleaned out properly, toxins can wind up in the brain, also causing problems. Toxins and nutritional deficiencies will affect other parts of the body as well, so if a person is depressed/schizophrenic/bipolar, etc, they likely have other issues going on as well. The symptoms may be obvious or they may be sub-clinical, often resulting in unexplained chronic fatigue syndrome, brain fog or inability to concentrate, irritability, abdominal discomfort or other unexplained pain/discomfort.
In the case of chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue is often a contributing factor. Adrenal fatigue results from inadequate nourishment, too much stress and too little sleep. Stress can deplete the body’s nutritional reserves, so it is important not to overlook this factor. (Could be why traumatic events often lead to depression, anxiety and related disorders.) I don’t mean to downplay psychological factors, here, but it seems to me that a well-nourished, well-functioning body will be able to handle stress much better. This has certainly been the case for myself.
Standard American Diet
Without proper nutrition, our bodies, all the organs in our bodies–including the brain–cannot function properly. Ever heard of depression as a chemical imbalance? There are chemical reactions happening in our bodies constantly. Nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, glucose, enzymes, etc, take part in these metabolic processes. So does it not make perfect sense that if there is a nutritional deficiency then there will be a chemical imbalance as well?
The hard part is figuring out just how to nourish our bodies so that the brain and other organs are getting the nutrition they need for proper functioning. Here we can point the finger to the Standard American Diet as a major precursor to depression and other mood disorders such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), premenstrual disphoric disorder (PMDD), postpartum depression (PPD), seasonal affective disorder (SAD), anxiety disorder, etc. The Standard American Diet (also known and S.A.D., ironically) contains a lot sugar and white flour which deplete nutrients from the body. It is also full of fake (read: toxic) foods like margarine, artificial flavors, coloring and preservatives, and sub-optimal foods such as meat, dairy and eggs that are improperly raised on factory farms, rancid vegetable oils such as canola oil, produce grown on depleted soils and sprayed with toxic chemicals, etc.
The American diet is abhorrent. Even if we ate foods of optimal quality, many of us are still confused of how much of what to put into our bodies…and some of us have a compromised gut (a result of modern foods, toxins and antibiotics) that will not allow us to be properly nourished no matter how well we eat!
A traditional diet (as outlined by Nourishing Traditions or the Weston A Price Foundation) brings us much closer to healthy eating. A traditional foods diet recommends only whole grains that have been properly prepared by soaking and fermenting. Eating meat and fish are recommended, as well as the highly nutritious fats and organs that come with them (toxins are stored in fat, so it’s important to buy dairy, meat, fish, and eggs from reputable sources, which ideally would be from pastured or wild animals). Pasteurized milk is not recommended, but raw milk, and especially cultured full fat dairy is.
Indeed, a traditional diet recommends eating a higher amount of animal fat and coconut oil, and therefore saturated fat and cholesterol, than the USDA recommends. WAPF also recommends keeping omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid ratio close to 1:1 and no higher than 4:1. In a S.A.D diet the ratio is closer to 20:1. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds also have value, however, they are not recommended to replace animal products. Cultured foods are highly valued, as well as taking cod liver oil and consuming bone broths.
In the paleo diet, animal products as mentioned above are highly prized. Dairy is usually avoided, but if consumed it should be as described above. Coconut oil and coconut milk are often prized in this diet. Grains, beans, and legumes are avoided because they are hard to digest. Vegetables and fruit may or may not be valued depending on who you talk to (personally I think most people would do well to eat them).
Cod liver oil is also valued. Other elements of traditional diet such as probiotic foods and bone broths are also important. I believe many people have found healing on this diet because it cuts out sugar and modern foods, replacing them with nutrient-dense foods including healthy fats (such as pastured animal fats and coconut oil), and also cuts out foods that are difficult to digest. In fact, it terms of types foods eaten, it’s similar to the Selective Carbohydrate Diet, which GAPS (see below) is based on, except it allows certain “safe” starches, whereas SCD doesn’t.
I call this the “missing link” diet. The GAPS diet links traditional and paleo diets together and gives us more reasons to avoid the S.A.D diet. Many people these days do not have healthy gut flora. This leads to malabsorption of nutrients and leaky gut, among other things. It also increases the toxic load in our bodies. Those with gut and psychology syndrome (GAPS) must avoid all starches and complex sugars. This diet is very similar to a paleo diet, except that even the “safe” starches and some natural sugars such as maple syrup are completely removed. This is because people with GAPS cannot digest them well and they feed pathogenic bacteria. There is also greater emphasis on foods that heal the gut, such as bone broths and cultured foods; in fact, a protocol designed for maximum gut healing is outlined in GAPS.
Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety fall into the GAPS category. If you have a mood disorder, the GAPS diet may be a good option for you. However, going from a typical American diet (even one that follows the USDA guidelines) to a GAPS diet can be a challenge as it requires huge changes in the way one eats and prepares food, and will probably require breaking some food addictions. I took baby steps toward a traditional diet, then toward a paleo diet, then towards the GAPS diet, and it worked very well for me. Along the way, my seasonal depression and PMDD disappeared. (Update 4/24/13: after being on GAPS for several months, the rest of my emotional issues also disappeared.)
Important Nutrients for the Brain
What nutrient isn’t important for the brain? Here I’m going to mainly list nutrients that are commonly consumed in insufficient quantities by many Americans and contribute to mood disorders, particularly depression.
Thought I’d start with the big one. Americans are encouraged by the USDA and many nutritionists to be on a lowfat diet, particularly low in saturated fat. This poses some problems. For one, all the cells in our body need fat for proper structure; saturated fat and cholesterol contribute to giving cells necessary stiffness. DHA and EPA are types of Omega-3 fatty acid (unsaturated) and are important structural components for the brain.
I want to point out that saturated fat is a nutrient, not the devil it is made out to be. Cholesterol is a nutrient, too. 25% of all body cholesterol is taken up by the brain, and it is a building block for vitamin D production in the body. If you’ve been avoiding these two things, you could be deficient. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, auther of Gut and Psychology Syndrome and Put Your Heart in Your Mouth says the ideal fat ratio is that found in breastmilk: 48% saturated, 33% monounsaturated and 16% polyunsaturated. This corresponds well the the recommendations given by the Weston A Price Fountain. Animal fats are particularly healing for those with mood disorders, so you will likely need higher amounts in the beginning of the healing process.
I find it important to note that fat from pastured animals contains an ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Fish have a lot of omega-3, and so does flax, but for the most part, fats contained in plant foods are going to contain omega-6 fatty acids. Flax does not contain preformed EPA and DHA which need various minerals for the conversion, so nutrient-deficient GAPS people should not count on using flax oil for their omega-3’s. Eating eggs, dairy and meat from pastured animals, and oil from wild-caught fish will be most beneficial to those with mood disorders, as they have pre-formed EPA and DHA. Pastured animals are the type that our ancestors consumed, and they have a different nutritional composition than factory farm animals, which are fed diets high in omega-6 and are full of toxins.
An added benefit to eating fat is that it helps satisfy the body. Eating fat will help abate sugar cravings. This is important because sugar robs the body of nutrients, and can cause blood sugar and insulin spikes. Just eating sugar can cause irritability and mood swings in some people. For people who need to cut back on carbohydrates, eating more fat is necessary to prevent excess hunger and carb binging.
Fat is also rich in nutrients, particularly animal fats that come from pastured animals. Fat is required to utilize fat soluble vitamins like A, D, and E. Fat is also a better source of energy than carbohydrates, so it can boost one’s energy level which may help lift depression to some degree.
“The brain is the fattest organ in the body and requires fat-soluble vitamins to protect the cell membranes. The omega-3 fatty acids [particularly EPA] are the most abundant of the essential lipids in the membrane of the brain.” (Orthomolecular.org)
Sources for healthy saturated fats: animal fat from pastured animals, coconut oil and butterfat. Cholesterol: animal fats, fish, and cod liver oil. EPA and DHA: Fish, cod liver oil. Omega-6: nuts and seeds.
COD LIVER OIL
Cod liver oil is a fantastic source omega-3 fatty acids rich in DHA and EPA (very important for brain function), as well as vitamins A and D. CLO is one of the best fish oils available to take as a health supplement (some think krill oil is better, but any natural fish oil is better than none). Even those who eat lots of seafood may benefit from a CLO supplement. However, if you do not consume much seafood, oily fish in particular, then you absolutely need to take fish oil that is rich in EPA and DHA. Cod liver oil is actually a traditional food–it’s been consumed in healthy populations for centuries.
“In numerous studies, the elongated omega-3 fats found in cod liver oil have been shown to improve brain function, memory, stress response, immune response, allergies, asthma, learning and behavioral disorders, including bipolar syndrome and manic-depression.” (It has many other benefits, too!)
Recommended: Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil (this brand is unrefined and high in natural vitamins A and D), Carlson Cod Liver Oil (refined, tastes better, but vitamins are lost).
It’s well-known that the “sunshine” vitamin is linked to mood. Vitamin D deficiency plays a role in seasonal affective disorder, which affects people when they do not get enough sunlight in the winter.
Food sources of vitamin D: Fish roe (caviar), cod liver oil (fermented CLO has more than non-fermented), egg yolks, butter. Sunshine is the best overall source of vitamin D, but this shouldn’t be relied on as the only source of vitamin D, unless you live somewhere that winter doesn’t exist (late fall through early spring sunshine is insufficient for producing enough vitamin D in the body).
The brain is one of the body’s biggest users of vitamin C. Even subclinical deficiency of vitamin C can cause depression.
Surgery, inflammatory disease, stress, pregnancy, and lactation increase the body’s requirement for vitamin C (as well as other nutrients). Birth control pills, alcohol, and medications (including antidepressants, ironically) also deplete it. Diets high in carbohydrates also have a higher requirement for vitamin C because carbohyrates compete for it. (Vitamin C Deficiency and the Ketogenic Diet).
Vitamin C also helps detox the body by binding to heavy metals.
Good food sources include citrus fruit, brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, spinach, kiwi, berries and peppers. Many other fruits and vegetables have a fair amout of vitamin C.
Coenzyme Q10, is an enzyme that is essential for life. It plays a very important role in metabolism, helping the body utilize nutrients and create energy. It’s part of every cell in the body, but found in highest quantities in the brain, heart, kidneys, liver and skeletal muscles. Without CoQ10 we’d all be useless blobs in a state of death. Yes, it’s that important. CoQ10 is known to alleviate symptoms of depression, including in bi-polar patients and hard-to-treat cases of depression. Those with depression and chronic fatigue are often deficient in this nutrient. Deficiencies of CoQ10 in the brain are also seen in degenerative brain disorders.
Best food sources include oily fish, organ meats from beef, lamb and pork, and eggs.
“Low serum zinc levels have been linked to major depression. Furthermore, zinc treatment has been shown to have an antidepressant effect.” (PubMed)
Zinc is calming, and is necessary to keep copper levels balanced (too much copper causes irritability). Zinc is important for proper digestion (which is at the core of good health, including mental health), and is necessary for absorption of magnesium (which is also important for mental health). It is also important for liver function and other functions important for mood. (More on zinc and copper here)
The best food source of zinc is oysters. Beef is also high in zinc, especially the liver. Pumpkin seeds are a good source as well as other seeds, nuts, and wheat germ. The problem with plant food sources of zinc is that they are also high in copper, usually too high in copper so that the zinc can’t balance it out without including animal sources of zinc. Without enough zinc in the diet, the body will accumulate inorganic copper in the tissues, causing toxicity. Too much copper can cause, among other things, emotional fragility.
“Zinc is involved in at least 100 enzyme systems in the brain alone.” (Overcoming Depression, Orthomolecular.org)
Magnesium is the second most abundant mineral in the body after potassium. It is difficult to test for in blood because the body will leach it from the bones if necessary to maintain normal blood levels. However, deficiency doesn’t just equal weakened bones. Magnesium is a cofactor for hundreds of enzymatic reactions, including energy production.
“Serotonin, which elevates moods, is dependent on Mg. A Mg-deficient brain is also more susceptible to allergens, foreign substances that can cause symptoms similar to mental illness.” (Dr Carolyn Dean, author of Magnesium Miracle)
8 out of 10 Americans are deficient in magnesium. This could be the result of a too-high carbohydrate diet since high blood glucose causes certain minerals such as magnesium to be flushed out of the body as well as a too high calcium to magnesium ratio (calcium is the antagonist of magnesium–these two minerals should be consumed close to a 1:1 ratio) (newtreatments.org/depression). Americans also tend to consume too many refined grains, and grains are never soaked to reduce phytic acid which bind magnesium. Sugar requires a lot of magnesium to process, therefore wasting it.
Magnesium is found in whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds; however, these foods also contain phytic acid. Therefore, these foods should be sprouted or soaked to reduce phytic acid content. Buckwheat is very high in magnesium. Some high Mg foods like dried herbs, bran and flax seeds are only consumed in small quantities. Chocolate is high in Mg but is an unreliable source due to its caffeine, phytic acid (and usually sugar) content (caffeine also wastes magnesium). Certain types of seafood, such as salmon, halibut and oysters are a good source. Leafy green vegetables and herbs can be good sources of magnesium if grown in mineral-rich soils. Bone broths may contain some magnesium, as well as natural spring water. The key with magnesium is to make sure you are eating magnesium-rich foods throughout the day since very few foods will provide 100% of the RDA in one serving. (Update: I have learned that the RDA for magnesium is low, and that our soils are depleted of this mineral, so most people will have to supplement in addition to eating magnesium rich foods.)
While a subclinical deficiency of calcium (see subclinical deficiencies) can cause depression, it would see that calcium toxicity may be a more common cause. This makes sense since most of us get too little magnesium and therefore too much calcium in comparison. Also, a lot of people take calcium supplements because they don’t tolerate milk, but do not also take magnesium in the correct ratio (opinions vary on what that ratio should be, but generally it varies between 2:1 and 1:2).
However, if you consume enough Mg and not enough Calcium, or not enough of either, then a deficiency could be reason for your symptoms. It seems that PMS-related depression is the most common form of depression related to calcium deficiency.
Good sources of calcium include dairy, green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, flax and herbs, almonds and other nuts, tofu, sesame seeds, fish with bone, white beans and to a lesser degree, whole grains. Note that many of these foods are also good sources of magnesium–but dairy is not. Also note that while soy is a nutrient-rich food, it is loaded with phytates and must be fermented. (If you eat a lot of soy, make sure you are informed about the various anti-nutrients of this food.) Lastly, bone broth should also be a good source of calcium.
Iron helps with the production of hemoglobin which is responsible for the production of red blood cells and absorbing oxygen in the red blood cells, which carry it throughout the body. A person with anemia (low blood cell count, low hemoglobin) will not get enough oxygen to the various cells in their body, including the brain. This causes fatigue, brain fog, moodiness, and depression.
Food sources of iron come in two forms: Heme, coming from animal sources, is better absorbed. Nonheme, coming from plant sources is not as easily absorbed. Good sources of iron include clams, oysters, beef, liver, egg yolks, pumpkin seeds, blackstrap molasses, beans and lentils, dark green leafies such as spinach, and dried fruits such as prunes and raisins. Certain herbs are also good sources, nettles being a popular one for correcting anemia. Calcium interferes with iron absorption. Those with a GAPS condition (mood and mental disorders included) will likely do better on a heme form of iron due to impaired digestion.
Manganese is important for amino-acid formation, and a deficiency could result in low levels of serotonin and norepinephrin, directly causing depression. It also maintains blood sugar levels, which can prevent hypoglycemic mood swings. Manganese deficiency is not common.
Manganese can be found in a variety of foods, including herbs and spices, whole grains (in the wheat germ and bran), nuts and seeds, shellfish, cocoa, chili powder, soybeans, and many other foods. Our bodies don’t require a lot, so eating a variety of whole foods will probably get you there.
Potassium deficiency is probably not one of the main dietary causes of depression. However, I’m listing it anyway because it could still apply to someone reading this, and it can also be pretty serious. Potassium deficiency (hypokalemia) has many causes including anything that flushes nutrients out of the body such as diuretics and enemas, vomiting, diarrhea, some kidney disorders, adrenal disorders, excessive sweating, use of insulin, and medicines such as those used for asthma or emphysema, and cortisone, aspirin, cardiac drugs, steroids, and even licorice. Of course malnutrition is a cause. Excessive sodium, and deficiencies in zinc and magnesium play a role. (More info on potassium deficiency)
Potassium is a type of electrolyte and is the most abundant mineral in the body. It is important for heart and kidney function, muscle contraction, and other functions.
According to emedicine, almost one out of five people hospitalized in the United States has a low potassium level. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, patients with AIDS, alcoholics, and those who have had bariatric surgery have a higher incidence of hypokalemia than others. Abnormal psychological behavior resulting from hypokalemia include depression, psychosis, delirium, confusion, or hallucinations.
High potassium foods include dried herbs, avocado, banana, cocoa, chili powder, dried fruit, nuts and seeds, fish, and beans.
B VITAMINS (These work synergistically together and deficiencies in any and all have been linked to depression. Never take a singular B supplement unless told to do so by a qualified health practitioner.)
B1: From Recent-Health-Research: Thiamine (Vitamin B1) increases brain chemicals such as the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that elevates mood and memory. The brain requires Thiamin to convert blood sugar to energy. A deficiency of B1 can result in fatigue, irritability, memory lapses, insomnia and depression. Most people not supplementing with B1 are deficient. It is sensitive to heat and destroyed in cooking. Sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, tea, exercise and an overactive thyroid increases your requirement for thiamin. Great sources include organ meats and fish.
B3: Vitamin B3 (niacin) deficiency has been associated with depression, anxiety, irritability and other mental disturbances. Great source include organ meats and fish.
B5: Riboflavin (B5) is essential for growth and general health . It functions as a part of a group of enzymes which are involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Sources include dairy, organ meats, and leafy vegetables.
B6: Vitamin B6 has a major importance in regulating mood and, according to depression-guide.com, it is the most implicated of all the vitamins in the cause and treatment of depression. Birth control pills and other forms of estrogens can create a deficiency. Vitamin B6 deficiency usually arises from malabsorption of the vitamin due to disease, drugs, and an unusually fast metabolism. Vitamin B6 performs several important functions in the brain. It is essential to the manufacture of serotonin.
Dietary deficiency is actually rare, according to depression-guide.com, which means other health/drug use issues need to be addressed in order to increase the absorption of this important vitamin. The top 10 sources for vitamin B6 are wheat germ, dried herbs and spices, pistachios, raw garlic, liver, fish, sunflower and sesame seeds, pork tenderloin, molasses, and hazelnuts. Other good sources are yeast, soybeans, and other nuts.
B12: The mental changes caused by deficiency of Vitamin B12 can range from difficulty in concentrating or remembering, mental fatigue and low moods, to severe depression, intense agitation, etc. It is also indicated in ADHD. Food sources include: Meat, liver, eggs, shellfish, fish eggs, other seafood, dairy, and probiotics.
FOLATE: It seems to be unclear whether folate deficiency can cause depression or whether it is just associated with it. Either way, those with depression are often low in folate. Sources include green leafy vegetables, fruit, yeast, organ meats, and mushrooms.
Note: Fermented foods contain B vitamins as a result of the probiotic action, so be sure to include in your diet things like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and fermented veggies like sauerkraut.
Healing the Gut
“All disease begins in the gut.” –-Hippocrates
Below are some recommendations for healing the gut. All health and illness begins in the gut.
Probiotics improve gut health which leads to improved digestion which leads to improved absorption of nutrients which leads to a healthier, happier person. That one’s pretty simple, right? Actually, probiotics also produce vitamins such as B-vitamins. Lacking sufficient physiological flora in the gut is a double whammy to our ability to get the nutrients we need. They also keep the number of pathological flora down, which is important because pathological flora create toxins, impair digestion and damage the gut, and use up nutrients. So really like a triple whammy.
There is also this study done on mice which seems to indicate that there is a direct positive correlation between gut flora and the brain (as if probiotics actually signal directly to the brain through a certain nerve to be happy and calm).
Food sources include anything cultured or fermented and then not cooked or pasteurized. This would include kefir and yogurt, homemade sauerkraut and kimchi, fermented fish and fish sauce, raw apple cider vinegar, and even raw milk.
Those with impaired gut function (most people with depression and other mood disorders) will need a high quality, high-count probiotic supplement with many different strains to help reestablish a good balance of gut flora. According to Gut and Psychology Syndrome, a good quality probiotic can increase nutrient absorption by 50% or more! However, if one had to choose only food sources, cultured/fermented foods should be eaten ideally with every meal, kefir possibly being the most therapeutic due to its wide range of beneficial bacteria and yeasts.
Those with GAPS conditions often have low stomach acid. Low stomach acid allows pathogenic bacteria to live in the stomach. One of the things these bacteria can do is weaken the flap that closes the stomach from the esophogus, thus allowing acid reflux to occur (naturally, antacids only deepen the problem). Low stomach acid also increases the risk of food-borne illness. When food leaves the stomach and enters the duodenum, it needs to have the correct pH to trigger the pancreas to release digestive enzymes and the gall bladder to release bile (which digests fat). Therefore, if you can fix the stomach acid issue, a plethora of other issues will correct themselves.
Dr Campbell-McBride (GAPS author) recommends temporarily supplementing Betaine HCL with pepsin before meals if you have low stomach acid. She also suggests drinking cabbage juice or sauerkraut juice before each meal to increase stomach acidity. This article also has suggestions for increasing stomach acidity, including sauerkraut and quality sea salt, and also restoring mineral levels which are important for acid production, especially zinc.
Vitamin A is important for gut function. Those with impaired guts cannot turn betacarotine (found in plant sources of “vitamin A”) into usable vitamin A. Without the preformed and ready to use vitamin A found in animal products, the gut of a person with gut dybiosis (a GAPS person) will never heal. Preformed vitamin A is found in cod liver oil, meat and organs, butterfat, and eggs.
OTHER GUT-HEALING FOODS
Bone broths, gelatin, meats, animal fats, raw foods.
Many pharmaceuticals damage the gut or otherwise set one up for depression. Birth control pills are a common one, and of course antibiotics. Even antidepressants can damage gut flora, possibly deepening the illness. If your condition isn’t serious, you may be able to wean off your medicine and replace it with a good diet and/or supplements. Never go off any medication without talking to your health care provider!
Other Factors Important for Healing
SUGAR AND CARBOHYDRATES
I won’t go too much into this, but simply put, sugar robs the body of nutrients. Refined grains rob the body of nutrients. Diets that are very high in carbohydrates seem to be a factor in depression (this blog post contains various links that may be of interest). High amounts of sugar and other carbohydrates can cause blood sugar spikes which can lead to mood swings. Undigested carbohydrates feed pathogenic bacteria which leak toxins into the blood. Protein and fat help keep blood sugar stable. If you eat a lot of carbs, consider cutting back, or possibly limit them to the ones in the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which are easier to digest (but beware of cutting out too much, since the thyroid needs carbohydrates to function well, and you don’t want to trade one problem for another). Definitely cut out all refined sugars and grains. You don’t have room for them in your diet anyway–you need to pack your diet with the above mentioned nutrient-dense foods!
Sometimes depression is the result of intense stress or trauma. Even in cases of purely psychologically-induced mood disorders, the stress of the trauma and the disorder will likely cause nutritional deficiencies, especially since victims will often reach for “comfort foods,” which are often not very nourishing. Those who have this type of depression or other mood disorder would likely benefit from both a better diet and psychotherapy and/or counseling.
Mood disorders can also be the result of a high toxic load in the body. This may be related to gut dysbiosis, external toxins, treatments, amalgam fillings, etc, and the inability to detox well. Poor liver function and chronic constipation can lead to waste backup in the body, and toxins have nowhere to go but into the tissues of the body, including the brain.
Chronic diarrhea leads to malnutrition, despite efforts to eat well. This condition can often be cleared up with a healing protocol (GAPS addresses this issue, although it may depend on the exact cause).
Stress can be very damaging. However, many people find they can handle stress better with a good diet, especially one high in B vitamins.
Those with depression and other mood disorders have a high toxic load in their body due to the waste products of pathological bacteria in their gut leaking through the gut wall, and also due to an inability to detox well.
Major organs for detoxification include the liver, the bowels, the skin, the kidneys, and the lungs. Nutrients that are deficient in those with GAPS conditions (which includes those with mood disorders) are also important for proper liver function. GAPS people also have digestion problems that can also include bowel problems, including constipation. That means those with depression and other mood disorders are not detoxing efficiently. Extra toxins in the body get stored mainly in fatty tissue. The fattiest parts of the body are the brain and the rest of the central nervous system!
Luckily, there is a time-tested, safe method of detoxification that doesn’t require the use of special drugs or treatments. It’s called juicing. Again, we find our medicine in food. The vitamins and minerals found in fresh, raw produce bind to toxins and carry them out of the body. Nutrient-dense fresh-pressed juices are also a great way to get the nutrients found in produce into the body in a form that requires almost no digestion (really important for GAPS people). Increased nutrition from consuming vegetable juices will help improve liver function and other body functions, improving the body’s overall ability to detoxify.
Keep your toxin exposure as low as possible. Switch to natural products for everything you can, and air out your house on a regular basis and/or get a HEPA air filter.
Hopefully, after reading all this, you are not thinking, Oh, my, now I have 20 different supplements I have to take! or How will I EVER figure out what I am deficient in?? Rather, I hope you would recognize that those with mood disorders have a problem that begins with DIET and the GUT.
The diet should be one that is rich in the aforementioned foods. Some pop up on the list more than others: Fish and fish oils, organ meats and eggs top the list. Nuts and seeds are also quite common, as well as leafy vegetables. Probiotic foods are also extremely important. A “traditional” or “Weston A Price-style” diet that is not too high in grains, legumes or dairy is very rich in these types of foods. A “paleo” diet is rich in these foods.
The GAPS diet does not specify eating a lot of organ meat or fish eggs (which may be a relief to those of you who cringe at the thought of eating them), but it is still very rich in all the nutrients needed for healing. The GAPS protocol also goes beyond just a diet and focuses on healing the gut, which is just as important for those with mood disorders and other GAPS disorders, and also recommends detoxification with juicing.
Sometimes vitamin and mineral supplements are helpful, but they can just as easily cause problems, including nutritional imbalances. Nutrients are designed to be consumed together in food. They come in the right quantities in food, and it’s virtually impossible to overdose on nutrients in food. Furthermore, most vitamin supplements are synthetic, which do not work as well and can end up becoming another toxin your body has to deal with. People with a weak gut also cannot absorb vitamin and mineral supplements very well, which makes for very expensive urine. This doesn’t mean they can’t help you, but I wouldn’t rely too heavily on them. If taken, they should be a in a formula with a high absorption rate and ideally from cold-processed raw food sources.
What To Do
Changing diet is hard. Going on a healing protocol is harder. Baby steps may be required for you. Here are some things to get you started (do them one by one if necessary):
- Replace refined grains with whole grains, then slowly cut down on grains altogether (try not to replace them with other starches).
- Start cooking with coconut oil or animal fats. As you increase fats, you will probably need to cut back on carbs (cutting down on grains will do this nicely for you).
- Try “paleo” or GAPS-approved desserts. They are free of refined sugar and have a lower overall sugar content.
- Learn to make other paleo or GAPS baked goods, such as almond bread and almond-butter pancakes, to replace grain-based products.
- Have yogurt or kefir instead of milk. Use whole-fat dairy products.
- Replace margarine with butter from grass-fed cows.
- Start taking a quality cod liver oil supplement.
- Start taking a quality probiotic supplement and/or eat more probiotic foods.
- Eat eggs for breakfast. Poached, soft-boiled or over-easy is best but any form will do.
- Switch to pastured-raised animal products.
- If you aren’t already, eat a little meat or fish every day. Eat the fat, too. Beef, salmon, halibut and oysters are particularly rich in the nutrients you need.
- Learn to make bone broth. Always buy whole chickens and use the carcass to make broth. Use broth for soups and/or cooking, or as a beverage.
- Begin juicing. Make sure to use leafy greens in your juice recipes.
- Learn to make salad dressing with an olive oil/apple cider vinegar base.
- Get enough vitamin D: sunshine, cod liver oil.
- If you aren’t afraid of organ meats, eat them. They are rich in nutrients you need.
- If you don’t exercise, try walking for 10 minutes or more each day.
- Drink enough water. If you drink soda, cut it out. Try: herbal teas, lemon water.
- Identify and remove unnecessary stress from your life.
- Read Gut and Psychology Syndrome to understand how your gut affects your mental health.
Work on the above recommendations as you can handle them. The problem with depression and other mood disorders is that they can really weigh you down. They decrease motivation, energy and focus, making changes very difficult. Be very gentle with yourself. Temporarily take supplements if you need to. Temporarily take medication if you really need it to function. Don’t let either become a crutch!
Having depression and other mood disorders usually indicates nutritional deficiencies. These deficiencies can lead to numerous health problems besides mood disorders, including but not limited to cancer, heart disease, and infertility. Depression, anxiety, irritability, etc are symptoms that are telling us something is not right and we need to fix it. Not treating depression and other mood disorders with nutrition can lead to serious health consequences over time. I cannot express enough how important nourishing your body is!
Note: If you are suffering from severe depression please don’t wait to get professional help. This article is for informational purposes only. Please do your own research and consult with a qualified health care provider if necessary. I am not a doctor.
Rebuild From Depression is a nutrient guide for depression. I haven’t read the book, but she has some good posts on her blog and she recommends traditional foods such as soaked grains and bone broths and a lot of the foods listed above.
If you have food allergies or other GAPS conditions, then the GAPS diet may be the path for you. However, any of these other diets mentioned (traditional, paleo, SCD) should still greatly benefit you.