by Nancy Mehlert, MS
We often refer to the Standard American Diet as “SAD” and it really is – it is a very depressing diet! The suggested food plate and previous food pyramid have led Americans into eating a very inflammatory and congesting diet of fast and processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners, chemical preservatives and dyes, MSG, grains, and grain fed meats. We live fast and don’t take time to figure in fresh vegetables, fruits, and undamaged, healthy fats which should make up the largest part of our diet and benefit our overall health more than any other foods. And layer on top of that the toxic nature of our water, another fundamental aspect of our nutrition, and we are in depression trouble. Eating this SAD diet quickly leads to nutrient depletion and inflammatory diseases. Our body is no longer in balance; it becomes overwhelmed with a lack of nutrients and an excess of inflammation. Nutrient depletion in and of itself is a known cause of depression.
The human body needs balance. It is made to function optimally when everything is working in proper balance. Depression occurs when there is an inadequate supply of our “happy” brain chemical called serotonin. Many aspects of our dietary habits can inhibit the successful production of serotonin. Sugar in general and high fructose corn syrup specifically is one such culprit. Fructose and high sugar diets have been shown to degrade the availability of tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin. As a result, there is barely any tryptophan available to the body for the production of serotonin. Sugar, especially fructose has also been shown to suppress activity of a key growth hormone called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) that promotes healthy brain neurons. BDNF levels are consistently low in depressed individuals.
A more complex issue arises with aspartame (eg. Nutrasweet and Equal) and monosodium glutamate. These neurotoxins interrupt the balance between neurotransmitters in the brain, thus promoting depression.
There is something out of balance about 6-11 servings a day of grain. At a minimum, if you happen to be able to make time to eat three times a day, you’d need to eat two servings of grain at every meal in order to meet the minimum recommendation. Gluten, found in the grains wheat, rye and spelt, is another food that can block the production of critical brain neurotransmitters including serotonin and has been demonstrated to be especially problematic for those with gluten allergies or sensitivities.
More recent research into the balance of healthy bacteria in the small and large intestines has also revealed that in truth, more of our serotonin is made in the gut lining than in the brain. This critical neurotransmitter, which we usually call a “brain chemical” is actually a “gut chemical”! But this fact reveals that having a healthy gut full of favorable bacteria and not overcome by yeast, parasites or pathogens is mission critical to resolving depression. The gut is the human body’s second brain and its health is highly correlated to brain health. A healthy gut is a healthy brain. Balancing gut flora, sealing a leaky gut and addressing unwelcomed inhabitants is a primary step in resolving depression. Unwelcome gut inhabitants prosper and grow well on processed and sugary foods, but are not especially fond of fresh vegetables and healthy fats!
Overburden the body with anything and balance is lost. What do water, toothpaste and anti-depressants all have in common? Fluoride! It is added to over two-thirds of our nation’s water supply and is in all of our basic toothpaste products as well as found in anti-depressant drugs! Yet it is a known endocrine (ie: hormone) disruptor and especially impacts the thyroid, which is essential to good mental health. Depression is a common symptom of endocrine malfunction and we ingest considerable levels of fluoride through the water we drink and bathe in, to the toothpaste we put in our mouths, to the prescription drugs we take, and this imbalance creates havoc.
Bottom Line: When it comes to nutrition and overcoming or avoiding depression:
- Eliminate sugar from your diet and limit intake of fresh fruits
- Avoid artificial sweeteners, especially Aspartame that is found in common brands such as NutraSweet and Equal.
- Eliminate gluten from your diet especially if you are allergic to gluten or sensitive to it. Regardless, we recommend trying a gluten elimination diet for several weeks to see if it helps you to feel better over all. Gluten is highly associated with many diseases.
- Avoid monosodium glutamate normally found in fast foods and processed foods and also know as MSG. Be careful to avoid other names for MSG which include hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured vegetable protein, yeast extract, Torula yeast, just to name a few.
- Be a detective and find out all the ways you are ingesting fluoride and begin to trade for fluoride free options. Household water can be filtered to remove fluoride, many fluoride free toothpastes exist on the market today and try our supplement suggestion in this newsletter instead of an anti-depressant (be sure to consult a physician before stopping an antidepressant medication)
Pursuing a whole food diet, rich in vegetables, herbs, spices, undamaged natural fats such as those found in pastured eggs and butter, Pacific salmon, nuts and seeds, coconut oil, and olive oil can help to bring balance to the inner workings of the human body and ward off and overcome depression.