A recent study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry gives new meaning to the hackneyed expression: you are what you eat.
A study conducted by British and French epidemiologists revealed a startling connection between junk food and depression. The study assessed the dietary patterns of 3,486 men and women using a ‘daily intake’ questionnaire to determine nutritional value, calculate portions and gauge frequency of meals. Five years later, the participants were asked to complete a new survey. This time the questionnaire was designed to assess depression. The results were tallied and adjusted to accommodate variables such as age and lifestyle factors (smoking, lack of exercise, etc.). The scientists discovered that participants who followed a healthier diet (daily servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains) had a significantly lower rate of depression than those who regularly snacked on junk foods (fried foods, foods high in refined sugars and carbohydrates, processed meats, high-fat dairy products, and carbonated beverages).
We all know what junk food can do to our bodies, but many of us are unaware of the role that our diet plays on our mood. Until recently, we assumed that depression was the result of a psychological disturbance thought to be brought on by some sort of chemical imbalance. However, new studies have determined that certain foods lower the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin and interfere with the body’s natural ability to regulate mood, sleep and can also cause cognitive impairments such as memory loss and foggy thinking. Serotonin-lowering foods include salmon, milk, eggs, avocado, apples and horsemeat.
Low-carbohydrate foods should also be avoided at all costs. Carbohydrates aid in the production of serotonin – eating ‘low-carb’ options deprive your body of essential carbohydrates and in turn diminish the production of serotonin. Some low-carb foods that play a role in lowering serotonin include berries (raspberries and cranberries), mushrooms and eggplant. Tryptophan also helps normalize the production of serotonin. Foods that are low in the essential amino acid known as tryptophan should be consumed in moderation to avoid feelings of depression. Foods with low tryptophan include lean meat, fish and turkey.
Another huge catalyst for depression is alcohol. Alcohol is widely known as a depressant and has been linked to a variety of diseases including diabetes, atherosclerosis and cancer and has also been known to lead to heart attack and stroke. Alcohol has been proven to lower not only serotonin but also the chemical norepinephrine. In addition, alcohol destroys essentials vitamins, causing premature decay of tissues, organs and organ systems. Alcohol can also inhibit the effects of stress hormones on the body. This is why hangovers leave you feeling physically, emotionally and mentally drained.