The voice on the other end of the phone said, “I don’t know if this is something you do, but I didn’t know who else to call.”
I recently received this frantic call from a distraught mother. Her 19-year-old son had been admitted to the hospital after trying to commit suicide and she didn’t want to begin the lifelong cycle of pumping him full of prescription drugs just to keep him stable. She wanted a permanent and, preferably, natural solution and didn’t know where to turn. She began searching for answers online to find out if diet could be a factor in his depression, and that’s when she found my number.
As a mother, and as someone who has faced this same terrifying experience, my heart broke for her.
I explained to her that I’m not a doctor and could not provide medical advice. However, I was able to share some valuable information with her – research which shows that diet can absolutely contribute to underlying factors involved in cases of depression.
The Depression And Inflammation Connection
In 1887 scientist Julius Wagner-Jauregg discovered that inflammation triggers depression. Although his discovery was scoffed at for decades, some doctors are now using anti-inflammatory substances to treat mental health disorders, including schizophrenia and bi-polar.
It’s important to note, too, that many people who suffer from depression develop heart disease, autoimmune disorders, cancer, diabetes, obesity, asthma, allergies, and other health issues. The reason being that all of these health issues are related and stem from the same internal inflammation.
Diet Is A Major Factor In Regard To Internal Inflammation
Based on extensive research and scientific evidence, a principal cause of internal inflammation is the modern human diet. Below, you’ll find some of the most pro-inflammatory substances which you should limit or avoid entirely, to reduce inflammation and symptoms of depression:
Simple carbohydrates include all of the white stuff – white bread, white pasta, white rice, potato chips, French fries, sugar, etc..
Unlike complex carbohydrates, which provide sustained energy and are slowly absorbed in the bloodstream due to their fiber content, simple carbohydrates lack fiber, are highly processed, and are quickly absorbed in the bloodstream causing mood and energy swings. In fact, simple, refined carbs cause the same types of blood sugar spikes and crashes seen with processed, white sugar intake. The low-grade, internal inflammation is similar whether you consume something like a piece of white bread or a sugar-filled soda.
Pre-prepared foods contain several pro-inflammatory substances including high levels omega-6, trans fat, and MSG.
High levels of omega 6 exist in all processed, packaged, and fast food. And, although the human body needs a certain amount of omega-6, an imbalance and abundance of this fatty acid leads to inflammation in the body.
In addition to directly causing inflammation, excess omega-6 prevents your body from absorbing adequate levels of omega-3 – the essential fatty acid that is proven to reduce inflammation and depression symptoms.
Almost all adults and most children are deficient in omega-3 and have unhealthy and exceedingly high levels of omega-6 in their body.
About Trans Fat
Another dangerous substance often found in packed and processed foods is trans fatty acid. You’ll find this pro-inflammatory ingredient listed as hydrogenated oil, and you should avoid it at all costs.
MSG is chemical that is added to food to enhance flavor, and it causes inflammation. It can be found in fast food, Asian restaurant food, soy sauce, deli meats, soups, and salad dressings, among other things.
Animal protein, including beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, goat, mutton, horse, dairy, eggs, etc… contains numerous substances that cause inflammation and depression, including endotoxins, saturated fat, Neu5Gc, and arachidonic acid.
Endotoxins are present in bacterial cells and are found in animal protein. Studies show that when circulating levels of endotoxin rise in the body, a protective response is mounted by your immune system. This autoimmune response results in internal inflammation.
This explains the findings of a 2010 study revealing that within hours of being injected with this toxin, study participants developed feelings of disconnectedness and depression. The participant’s feelings were corroborated with blood tests and brain scans, which showed that inflammatory bio-markers rose in their bloodstream, and the pleasure center in their brain failed to respond to stimuli after endotoxin injection.
About Saturated Fat
Not coincidently, saturated fat causes endotoxin levels to rise in the body, and they are also a direct, pro-inflammatory substance.
Neu5Gc is a sugar molecule that exists in all animal protein in varying amounts. Although most other mammals are able to process this molecule, the human body lost the ability to do so approximately two to three million years ago due to a mutation that occurred in our genes. Since then, the human body actually developed anti-bodies to protect you from Neu5Gc. Because it is viewed as a foreign invader by your body, when you ingest animal protein your body launches an autoimmune attack against the Neu5Gc molecules. Again, this autoimmune attack results in internal inflammation.
About Arachidonic Acid
Arachidonic acid is a naturally-occurring acid in the human body. However, when excess amounts of this acid are taken in via the diet, it causes low-grade, internal inflammation. And, unlike the animal protein sources of inflammation listed above, which are more concentrated in beef, pork, veal, lamb, and other red meat, the most abundant source of arachidonic acid is chicken according to the National Cancer Institute.
Vicious Cycles Found In Diet And Depression
There is evidence to indicate that depression itself incites pro-inflammatory biomarkers in the blood, making it difficult to escape this vicious cycle.
Another cycle found in regard to depression is that of a high-fat diet’s effects on the microbiome. Harvard scientists recently reported that a high-fat diet leads to changes in gut bacteria which not only promote weight-gain, but also cause changes in the brain that incite depression. In turn, the depression and weight-gain causes low-energy and a negative self-image which often leads to consumption of more high-fat and simple-carbohydrate foods.
Foods That Reduce Inflammation And Depression
Research shows that the consumption of whole foods, high in fiber, low in fat, and rich in phytonutrients, successfully eliminate internal inflammation, and a recent study of more than 16,000 adults confirmed that high-fiber intake reduced the symptoms of depression.
Foods that meet this criteria:
- Whole Grains
Seek Medical Attention If You Or A Loved One Is Experiencing Depression
There are, of course, a multitude of other factors that can cause or contribute to depression, so it’s imperative to seek the advice of a medical professional to determine whether medication is necessary or if you or a loved one are at risk of other health complications.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression and have had suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 800-273-8255.
- Mcintyre, Roger S., MD, and Carola Rong, MD. “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire.” Psychiatric Times. May 31, 2018. Accessed July 11, 2018. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/special-reports/where-theres-smoke-theres-fire.
- Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice K. “Stress, Food, and Inflammation: Psychoneuroimmunology and Nutrition at the Cutting Edge.” Psychosomatic Medicine 72, no. 4 (April 21, 2010): 365-69. doi:10.1097/psy.0b013e3181dbf489.
- Brown, Mary J., PhD. “Does Sugar Cause Inflammation in the Body?” Healthline. November 12, 2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sugar-and-inflammation.
- Mazidi, Mohsen, Hong-Kai Gao, and Andre Pascal Kengne. “Inflammatory Markers Are Positively Associated with Serum Trans-Fatty Acids in an Adult American Population.” Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism 2017 (July 11, 2017): 1-6. doi:10.1155/2017/3848201.
- Nakanishi, Yuko, Koichi Tsuneyama, Makoto Fujimoto, Thucydides L. Salunga, Kazuhiro Nomoto, Jun-Ling An, Yasuo Takano, Seiichi Iizuka, Mitsunobu Nagata, Wataru Suzuki, Tsutomu Shimada, Masaki Aburada, Masayuki Nakano, Carlo Selmi, and M. Eric Gershwin. “Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): A Villain and Promoter of Liver Inflammation and Dysplasia.” Journal of Autoimmunity 30, no. 1-2 (February/March 2008): 42-50. doi:10.1016/j.jaut.2007.11.016.
- Harte, A. L., M. C. Varma, G. Tripathi, K. C. Mcgee, N. M. Al-Daghri, O. S. Al-Attas, S. Sabico, J. P. Ohare, A. Ceriello, P. Saravanan, S. Kumar, and P. G. Mcternan. “High Fat Intake Leads to Acute Postprandial Exposure to Circulating Endotoxin in Type 2 Diabetic Subjects.” Diabetes Care 35, no. 2 (January 16, 2012): 375-82. doi:10.2337/dc11-1593.
- Herieka, Mohammed, and Clett Erridge. “High-fat Meal Induced Postprandial Inflammation.” Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 58, no. 1 (July 12, 2013): 136-46. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201300104.
- Eisenberger, Naomi I., Tristen K. Inagaki, Nehjla M. Mashal, and Michael R. Irwin. “Inflammation and Social Experience: An Inflammatory Challenge Induces Feelings of Social Disconnection in Addition to Depressed Mood.” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 24, no. 4 (January 4, 2010): 558-63. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2009.12.009.
- Peri, Sateesh, Asmita Kulkarni, Felix Feyertag, Patricia M. Berninsone, and David Alvarez-Ponce. “Phylogenetic Distribution of CMP-Neu5Ac Hydroxylase (CMAH), the Enzyme Synthetizing the Proinflammatory Human Xenoantigen Neu5Gc.” Genome Biology and Evolution 10, no. 1 (December 30, 2017): 207-19. doi:10.1093/gbe/evx251.
- Li, Duo, Alice Ng, Neil J. Mann, and Andrew J. Sinclair. “Contribution of Meat Fat to Dietary Arachidonic Acid.” Lipids 33, no. 4 (August 1998): 437-40. doi:10.1007/s11745-998-0225-7.
- Harizi, Hedi, Jean-Benoît Corcuff, and Norbert Gualde. “Arachidonic-acid-derived Eicosanoids: Roles in Biology and Immunopathology.” Trends in Molecular Medicine 14, no. 10 (September 4, 2008): 461-69. doi:10.1016/j.molmed.2008.08.005.
- Xu, Hui, Suyun Li, Xingxing Song, Zongyao Li, and Dongfeng Zhang. “Exploration of the Association between Dietary Fiber Intake and Depressive Symptoms in Adults.” Nutrition 54 (March 21, 2018): 48-53. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2018.03.009.