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Mediterranean diet

Mediterranean diet may reduce risk of depression

Eat vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and fish People who live in Mediterranean countries, such as Spain, Greece, France, Italy and others that surround the Mediterranean Sea, may eat foods that lower their risk of depression. Individuals who follow a Mediterranean type diet—rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and fish—appear less likely to develop depression, according to a report in the October issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

The lifetime prevalence of mental disorders has been found to be lower in Mediterranean than Northern European countries. Researchers think it may be because the diet commonly followed in the region, may be protective against depression, in part, because of the monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil—used abundantly in the Mediterranean diet.

In a study of 10,094 healthy participants completed in 2005, 480 new cases of depression were identified. Individuals who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely had a 30 percent lower risk of depression than those who had the lowest Mediterranean diet scores.

Mediterranean diet

Researchers aren’t sure why the Mediterranean diet could help to reduce the occurrence of depression. Components of the diet may improve blood vessel function, fight inflammation, reduce risk for heart disease and repair oxygen-related cell damage, all of which may decrease the chances of developing depression.

But the combination of omega-three fatty acids together with other natural unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants from olive oil and nuts, flavonoids and other phytochemicals from fruit and other plant foods and large amounts of natural folates and other B vitamins in the Mediterranean may provide some protection against depression, according to the authors.

Key components of the Mediterranean diet, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:

  • Eating a generous amount of fruits and vegetables
  • Consuming healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Eating small portions of nuts
  • Drinking red wine, in moderation, for some
  • Consuming very little red meat
  • Eating fish or shellfish at least twice a week

Omega 3 fatty acids can ease symptoms of mood disorders

While some fats, such as saturated fats and trans-fatty acids, are responsible for heart disease, obesity and other health hazards, there are other, good fats that are essential to good physical and mental health.

Several studies have established a clear connection between omega-3 fatty acids and the treatment of depression, memory loss and cognitive function. People who added a daily fish-oil supplement to their antidepressant treatment had significant improvement in symptoms, including anxiety, insomnia, sadness, decreased sexual desire and suicidal thoughts. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have successfully used fish oil to treat bipolar disorder.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Fish oil contains EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which is essential to normal brain function, and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Low DHA levels have been linked to low brain serotonin levels and an increased tendency to depression and suicide.

Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in fish, especially oily, coldwater fishes. Good fish choices include mackerel, salmon, canned sardines, herring, bluefish and squid. (A 3-oz. serving of mackerel provides 2.5 grams of omega 3 fatty acids, while the same size serving of tuna provides only .3 grams.) A healthy diet for everyone should include three servings a week of these fish.

Flax seed is the second best source of omega-3s. Whole flax seeds can be ground and added to food and it's found in some cereals. Flax seed meal or flax seed oil (one tablespoon/day) can be added to food. Flax seed oil capsules can be taken two to three times a day. Omega 3 fatty acids in flax seed are not as easily processed by the body as those in fish.

People with mood disorders should supplement their dietary requirements with fish oil capsules containing DHA and EPA for a daily dosage of 6000 mg/day, which contains 2000 mg/day of EPA. Take two to three capsules three times a day, 30 minutes before meals, if possible, with water. Do not skip a dose if you missed taking it with a meal. If you use a brand concentrated for EPA, you would take fewer pills to equal 2000 mg EPA. Do not use cod liver oil as your source of omegas. It contains too much vitamin D.

Possible side effects include a fishy aftertaste. (Eating a piece of citrus fruit afterward can help or you can buy a flavored version of fish oil.) Burping may also occur. It helps to keep pills in the freezer, which makes them release more slowly and thus farther down in your intestine. Omega-3 fatty acids can also cause stomach irritation, and may affect blood clotting in persons with bleeding disorders.

Fish oil supplements are not FDA approved as a treatment of mood disorders. Dr. Francisco Fernandez, chairman of the department of psychiatry at Loyola University Medical Center, says that fish oil is effective and well tolerated, but points out that no drug company is likely to put resources into further study for approval, because it cannot be patented, and therefore cannot produce profit.