Nutrition not only has a huge influence in the prevention of depression, but may also have an influence on treatment of it. Current research is inconclusive, however many believe it has the potential to dramatically improve symptoms whilst also reducing the likelihood of developing other health problems.
Certain nutrient deficiencies may contribute to depression. Once depression has developed it makes good sense to ensure adequate consumption of those nutrients. As long as we are not consuming these nutrients in excess there may be beneficial effects. For example folic acid consumption may improve depressive symptoms (Alpert and Fava, 1997) however this is likely to only have an effect in those who are folate deficient (Lazarou and Kapsou, 2010).
It has been suggested that omega 3 supplementation may reduce depressive scores (Nemets et al, 2006; Su et al, 2003). Therefore it would appear beneficial for individuals diagnosed to look to increase consumption of food sources high in omega 3 such as oily fish, seeds and nuts.
Increased consumption of B vitamins, in particular vitamin B12, may also be of benefit when looking to reduce symptoms of depression (Coppen and Bolander-Gouaille, 2005). However these results are not always replicated and cannot be exclusively applied to all B vitamins (Williams et al, 2005; Hvas et al, 2004), more research is needed in this area.
Instigating weight loss through manipulating nutritional consumption to ensure a calorie deficit appears beneficial to overweight individuals diagnosed with depression looking to improve their symptoms (Smith et al, 2007).
Research into the possibilities of nutrition in the treatment of depression is ongoing. As yet is appears that the only strong evidence suggests that individuals would ideally look to consume a balanced diet to prevent any deficiencies, particularly with regards to folate, iron and B vitamins. Weight loss also appears efficacious in overweight populations displaying symptoms and omega 3 may be of benefit in order to reduce inflammation which may contribute.
Overall it’s typically recommended that individuals diagnosed with depression consume a range of foods including well sourced meats (organ meats can be particularly beneficial), fruits, vegetables and healthy unsaturated oils. Whenever considering a nutritional approach it’s important to ensure sustainability and accessibility. Individuals diagnosed with depression often experience periods of low motivation and therefore identifying foods which require little preparation or that can be prepared in advance can also be of benefit.
Jack Barton (Researcher, Rescon Ltd)
Alpert, J. E., & Fava, M. (1997). Nutrition and depression: the role of folate. Nutrition Reviews, 55(5), 145-149.
Coppen, A., & Bolander-Gouaille, C. (2005). Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 19(1), 59-65.
Hvas, A. M., Juul, S., Lauritzen, L., & Nexø, E. (2004). No effect of vitamin B-12 treatment on cognitive function and depression: a randomized placebo controlled study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 81(3), 269-273.
Lazarou, C., & Kapsou, M. (2010). The role of folic acid in prevention and treatment of depression: an overview of existing evidence and implications for practice. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 16(3), 161-166.
Nemets, H., Nemets, B., Apter, A., Bracha, Z., & Belmaker, R. H. (2006). Omega-3 treatment of childhood depression: a controlled, double-blind pilot study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(6), 1098-1100.
Smith, P. J., Blumenthal, J. A., Babyak, M. A., Georgiades, A., Hinderliter, A., & Sherwood, A. (2007). Effects of exercise and weight loss on depressive symptoms among men and women with hypertension. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 63(5), 463-469.
Su, K. P., Huang, S. Y., Chiu, C. C., & Shen, W. W. (2003). Omega-3 fatty acids in major depressive disorder: a preliminary double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 13(4), 267-271.
Williams, A. L., Cotter, A., Sabina, A., Girard, C., Goodman, J., & Katz, D. L. (2005). The role for vitamin B-6 as treatment for depression: a systematic review. Family Practice, 22(5), 532-537.