You probably know that the food you eat affects your body. Cutting back on junk food and choosing healthier options helps you maintain a healthy heart, strong muscles and an appropriate weight. Your mood may also be affected by what you eat. For example, have you ever felt down after eating a lot of fast food? Do you have a more positive outlook after eating a green salad or some stir-fry vegetables?
Medical researchers are studying the effects of dietary choices on mood and mental health. This is sometimes called the “food-mood connection.” There are many questions that haven’t been answered yet. For example, do vitamin deficiencies make people feel more depressed? Do dietary supplements only improve the emotional well being of people who have nutritional deficiencies? What amount of a certain supplement will improve a person’s mental health?
Mental illness is serious. In some cases, it can even be life-threatening. If you are struggling with mental health issues, talk to your family doctor. He or she can help you find the right type of treatment.
Studies about the “food-mood connection” have been limited and have shown mixed results. Because so many questions remain, dietary changes are not recommended as a substitute for professional treatment of mental health problems like depression.
Limited evidence does suggest that certain nutrients may support emotional well being. All of these nutrients are part of a balanced diet. Proper nutrition is likely to keep you feeling better physically and emotionally.
Omega-3 fatty acids improve heart health by reducing “bad” cholesterol in your body and increasing “good” cholesterol. Omega-3 has also shown promise for improving mental health. In some studies, people who took omega-3 supplements reported improvements in their mood. Researchers think that omega-3 fatty acids may affect the way your brain sends signals throughout your body.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in seafood, such as salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel. They can also be found in flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and walnuts.
Tryptophan is an amino acid (a building block of protein) that your body needs so it can produce a chemical called serotonin. People who have depression often have a low serotonin level. Studies have examined the use of tryptophan to treat depression, but there is not enough scientific evidence to recommend this use.
Tryptophan can be found in red meat, dairy products, soy and turkey.
Magnesium is a nutrient that helps your body produce energy. It also helps your muscles, arteries and heart work properly. Some researchers are studying whether patients who take extra magnesium recover more quickly from depression.
Magnesium can be found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, nuts and avocados.
Folic acid and vitamin B-12 are B vitamins that play an important role in metabolism (the pace of your body’s processes) and production of blood cells. They also are related to chemicals called dopamine and noradrenalin. In many cases, people who are depressed don’t have enough of these chemicals. Increasing a person’s levels of folic acid and vitamin B-12 may increase his or her response to medicines that treat depression.
Folic acid is found in foods such as leafy greens and fruits. Vitamin B-12 is mainly found in fish, shellfish, meat and dairy products.
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The role of diet in the prevention and management of adolescent depression by Bamber, D.J., Stokes, C.S. and Stephen, A.M. (Nutrition Bulletin 32 (2007): 90-99 )
BBC NEWS. Mental Health Link to Diet Change. Accessed August 11, 2011
Nutrition and depression: A review of the evidence by Harbottle, Lynn, Schonfelder, Nicola (Journal of Mental Health 17.6 (2008): 576-587 )
Diet and Mental Health in Children by Tomlinson, Diane, Wilkinson, Heather, Wilkinson, Paul (Child & Adolescent Mental Health 14.3 (2009): 148-155 )
Junk Food Blues: Are Depression and Diet Related? by Zeratsky, Katherine (Mayo Clinic August 11, 2011, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-diet/AN02057)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff