The scientific community is in agreement that eating well can be an effective therapy for persons who struggle with mental health conditions including depression and anxiety.
At the age of 14, Jane Green was on her way off stage after competing in a tap-dancing competition when she suddenly passed out.
She had no sensation in her arms, legs, or feet. Her entire body was numb. She was sobbing uncontrollably, and her entire body was sweating profusely. She was struggling to catch her breath.
The light in green went off for ten minutes. She found her mother cuddling her when she came to herself again. It took thirty minutes for her heart rate to become stable enough for her to be able to breathe normally again.
Green was experiencing her first panic attack, but it wouldn’t be the last one she had. Her parents took her to the doctor, who diagnosed her with anxiety and depression and gave her a prescription for an antidepressant. She has been taking the medication since the doctor’s diagnosis.
“There have been some really great periods in my life, but there have also been some really bad points. “There were times when I didn’t want to live anymore,” Green reveals to Healthline. “It got to the point where I couldn’t function.”
Her anxiousness was made worse by the fact that she had an abnormal thyroid, which was discovered after many trips to the doctor. At the age of 20, she started going to visit a therapist, which was helpful, but only to a certain extent.
Green had a breakdown in front of her friend Autumn Bates when she was 23 years old. This occurred after a particularly trying appointment with her doctor, during which the physician informed Green that there was nothing that could be done about her problems.
Bates was a dietitian who overcame her personal struggles with anxiety by making changes to the foods that she ate. She was successful in persuading Green to try a new diet in order to determine whether or not it improved how she felt.
Green’s diet was already very well-rounded, but he frequently ordered takeout for dinner. It was a must to consume sugar on a daily basis, and this was accomplished by eating candy throughout the day and ice cream in the evening.
Bates provided Green with some updated recommendations, which included a ban on grains and dairy, a reduction in sugar intake, an increase in the consumption of good fats, a maintenance level of protein intake, and, most significantly, an abundance of veggies.
Green adds that during the first three days of the changeover, he was convinced that he was going to pass away.
However, after a few days, she began to notice that her level of energy was on the rise.
She goes on to say, “I wasn’t focusing on what I couldn’t eat; rather, I was focusing on how amazing I felt physical, which in turn made me feel better mentally and emotionally.” “I am no longer subject to the erratic highs and lows that sugar-induced in me. I am finally having bowel motions, which has a really positive effect on my disposition.
As for those panic attacks, what can I say? Green claims that she has not suffered from an anxiety attack in several months. “I am fully off of my antidepressants, which I owe one hundred per cent to the modifications in both my diet and my lifestyle.
It is essential to keep in mind that discontinuing the use of any drug, including antidepressants, without first discussing the matter with your physician may not be safe. Discuss with your medical professional the possibility of discontinuing or cutting back on the dosage of any medications you take if you are thinking about making adjustments to either your diet or your medicine.
- 1 The foods that may help and hurt your mental health
- 2 Foods that may help with depression
- 3 Going sugar-free to fight depression and anxiety
- 4 The connection between food and mental health
- 5 Should you try it?
DO NOT MISS: Diet and Mental Health: Can What You Eat Affect How You Feel? Everything You Should Know 2022
The foods that may help and hurt your mental health
Anika Knüppel, a postdoctoral researcher in nutritional epidemiology at the University of Oxford and contributor to the European MooDFOOD programme, which focuses on preventing depression through food, says that changing one’s nutrition can be a great addition to traditional therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and medication, “but it comes at a much smaller cost and can be a great way to self-care.”
Nutritional interventions have the potential to improve mental health in two different ways: by encouraging healthy behaviours and by discouraging bad behaviours. According to Knüppel, if you want the best result, you need to do both.
The research has shown the most evidence for two different diets: the DASH diet, which focuses on lowering sugar, and the Mediterranean diet, which stresses eating more healthy fats.
The focus of the Mediterranean diet is on the foods that are consumed more frequently, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes that are rich in protein, fatty fish, and olive oil (high in omega-3s).
A limited study published in 2017 looked at the effect that diet plays on the mental health of 67 persons who were clinically depressed and receiving treatment for their condition, some of which included the use of medication. After 12 weeks of following a modified version of the Mediterranean diet, the researchers discovered that the subjects’ symptoms improved to a significant degree.
Researchers found that those who followed the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle the most closely had a risk of developing depression that was fifty percent lower than those who didn’t follow the diet or lifestyle as closely. The study was conducted in 2016 and included 11,800 people.
And research published in 2018 indicated that older persons who followed a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of developing depression than those who did not.
Alternately, the DASH diet focuses on what you are omitting from your diet, specifically sugar.
Knüppel was the lead researcher for a study that was published in 2017 and studied the sugar consumption of more than 23,000 persons. Researchers discovered that men who consumed the most sugar — 67 grammes or more per day, which is equivalent to 17 teaspoons of sugar (or just under two cans of Coke) — had a 23 per cent increased risk of developing common mental disorders over the course of five years compared to participants in the bottom third of the study who logged fewer than 40 grammes of sugar per day. Participants in the bottom third of the study ate fewer than 40 grammes of sugar per day on average (10 teaspoons).
And a study conducted in 2021 found that among older persons, those who adhered strictly to the DASH diet had a lower risk of developing depression over the course of 6.5 years as compared to those who had a diet more characteristic of the Western diet.
Foods that may help with depression
According to the findings of a meta-analysis conducted in 2018, maintaining a healthy diet may be linked to a reduced chance of developing depression. On the other hand, researchers point out that the evidence is inconsistent and that eating “unhealthy” foods is not related with a greater probability of developing depression.
Nevertheless, include these healthful foods in your typical diet might not be harmful at all.
Fruits and vegetables
The majority of diet programmes that led to an improvement in depression outcomes advocated eating a diet high in fibre, fruits and vegetables, or both, according to the findings of a review of studies on the relationship between food and depression that was published in 2015.
These foods have a high vitamin and mineral content, both of which have been shown to be useful in reducing the severity of depressive symptoms.
People who suffer from depression may take fewer important vitamins and minerals, according to a study of research from the year 2021 that was published in Trusted Source. According to the findings of some researchers, the antioxidant properties of vitamins A, C, and E assist the body defend the brain against conditions such as anxiety, depression, and cognitive loss.
Examples of foods that are rich in vitamin A include:
- oily fish like salmon, bluefin tuna, and king mackerel
- liver, such as beef liver, lamb liver, and liver sausage
- cod liver oil
Foods high in vitamin C include:
- chile peppers
- fruit like strawberries, blackcurrants, kiwis, and oranges
- herbs like thyme and parsley
- greens like mustard spinach and kale
- vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts
Foods high in vitamin E include:
- sunflower seeds
- nuts, like almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, and peanuts
- cooking oils, like wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, and almond oil
- goose meat
Low levels of vitamin D are found to be correlated with depression. Foods high in vitamin D include:
- fortified foods, like nondairy milks and cereals
- egg yolks
- fatty fish like salmon and mackerel
Finally, eating foods high in vitamin K was associated with lower symptoms of depression. These foods include:
- leafy greens
- Brussels sprouts
According to the findings of a study that was conducted in 2018, drinking tea on a regular basis may be related with a lower risk of depression.
Foods high in omega-3s
An analysis of the research in 2020. According to Reliable Source, there may be a correlation between low levels of vitamin B12 and an increased likelihood of developing depression.
Included on the list of foods rich in vitamin B12 are:
- salmon, sardines, trout, and tuna
- fortified cereal
- fortified nutritional yeast
- fortified nondairy milk
- dairy products
Foods containing magnesium
A distinct research overview for the year 2020 According to a reputable source’s research, taking magnesium supplements may be beneficial for persons who suffer from anxiety. Nevertheless, this assertion has to be supported by additional study.
Magnesium can be found in the following foods:
- dark chocolate
- beans, lentils, and chickpeas
- whole grains
Herbs and spices
A summary of the research in 2021. According to a reliable source’s research, various entire plant extracts may assist in the reduction of depressive symptoms in nations with lower incomes. These are the following:
- ginkgo biloba
- St. John’s wort
Going sugar-free to fight depression and anxiety
Catherine Hayes, a mother from Australia who is now 39 years old and who has spent the better part of her life on and off antidepressants and in and out of mental health counselling offices, has found that cutting out sugar alone has completely revolutionised her life.
“My emotions would swing wildly, but they were almost always negative. I frequently had the thought that I was unworthy of living, and on bad days I wanted to end it all. Then there was the anxiousness to the point where I couldn’t leave my house without being violently unwell,” Hayes adds. “It got to the point where I was unable to drive.”
It wasn’t until she realised how much it was affecting her family that she started looking into alternative therapies because she wanted to get better for her kids. She also wanted to get better for herself. Hayes began a healthier lifestyle by reading “I Quit Sugar” and participating in yoga.
During that time period, Hayes had the habit of snacking on cookie packages in the afternoon with her cup of coffee, and she frequently had cravings for dessert even before she had dinner.
“My new way of eating consisted of lots of greens and salads, healthy fats, protein from meat, switching sweet dressings for olive oil and lemon juice, and limiting fruits to those with low fructose like blueberries and raspberries,” she says. “My new way of eating consisted of lots of greens and salads, healthy fats, protein from meat, and switching sweet dressings for olive oil and lemon juice.”
It was a challenge to abstain from sweets. “I was exhausted with headaches and sensations similar to the flu in that first month of getting off sugar,” Hayes said. “I felt like I had the flu.”
She was able to gradually wean herself off of her depressive medication after being sugar-free for a number of years. According to Hayes, “It’s not for everyone, but this is what worked for me,” and I quote him:
The connection between food and mental health
According to Knüppel, there is no apparent reason why changing your diet can’t change your mood. This is because we don’t know all the answers, medically speaking, behind the causes of anxiety and sadness.
But there are some things that we are aware of.
According to Knüppel, “Vitamins in the body assist the activity of enzymes that enable processes such as the creation of serotonin, which plays a crucial part in human pleasure.”
In the meantime, research conducted in 2019 discovered that consuming an excessive amount of sugar is associated not only with the onset of anxiety and depression but also with cognitive impairments and a reduction in the brain’s ability to develop new connections when learning or after suffering an injury.
In addition, there is new evidence that reveals the microbiome in our gut plays a vital role in both our physical and mental health.
“The microorganisms in our gut can communicate with the brain and several other systems that could play a role in depression and anxiety,” Knüppel adds, and the composition of the gut microbiota is influenced by nutrition. “The gut microbiota may play a role in the development of depression and anxiety.”
According to Michael Thase, MD, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania who also serves as the head of the Mood and Anxiety Program, there are a few more elements at play here.
When it comes to the treatment of depression with medicine, the actual’magical’ chemical elements only matter about 15 percent of the time. “The act of working with a doctor and finding the desire to acknowledge the problem and take measures toward healing it is really what counts for most of the good,” says Thase. “This is what counts for the majority of the good.”
According to what he has to say, “You can get that much of the good in a non-drug intervention that combines diet, exercise, and talking to someone,” and this intervention does not involve the use of medicine.
Taking steps toward ensuring that you get the necessary amount of nourishment is unquestionably an act of self-care for depression. Thase comments further by saying, “Your spirits pick up, and that’s an antidepressant.”
In addition to seeing a therapist for your depression and taking antidepressant medication, you can also attempt these supplementary treatments in order to assist improve your mental health.
According to Knüppel, “Diet is a terrific technique of active self-care and self-love — a cornerstone in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT),” which is a form of therapy that is frequently utilised to treat anxiety and depression. The realisation that one is deserving of self-care and, consequently, of being nourished with wholesome food is a step in the right direction, in my opinion.
Should you try it?
According to Thase, there is no such thing as a perfect cure, and there is no treatment that is effective for everyone. Thase and Knüppel are in agreement that seeing a mental health expert as soon as possible after recognising symptoms of sadness or anxiety is the best course of action to take.
It is possible that the improvements will be enhanced if, in addition to the other steps you and your doctor decide to take, you also attempt making nutritional adjustments.
However, according to Thase, eating is not a magic cure for mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
“I’m fully in favour of having individuals take a look at their fitness and food as part of a holistic approach to help recover from depression,” says Thase. “However, I wouldn’t bank on it simply as a treatment.”
Nutritional intervention has the potential to be an excellent primary treatment for certain patients. Thase notes that dietary interventions are more effective when used in conjunction with other forms of treatment, such as medication, for some people, especially those who suffer from specific diseases such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
And even though Thase does not use nutritional therapies with his patients, he adds that he could foresee this being another tool that psychiatrists and other professionals working in the field of mental health could consider using in the future.
In point of fact, there is a subfield of psychology known as nutritional psychology that is gaining popularity.
‘There is a real movement toward mindfulness and holistic approaches in our culture right now, and in psychiatry, there’s a movement toward personalised medicine, in the sense that our patients are the captains of their own ship and they are responsible for their own treatment planning,’ he explains. “There is a movement toward personalised medicine in the sense that our patients are the captains of their own ship and they are responsible for their own treatment planning.”
As more individuals grow interested in alternative therapies such as this one and continue to observe positive outcomes, it is possible that in the future a greater number of conventional doctors would prescribe nutritious diets to their patients.