Published on July 11th, 2013 | by Evita Gahagan

Natural Treatments for Mood Disorders

Cultural trends in eating seem to change fast. Trying to research healthy eating and natural treatments can leave you confused by all the seemingly contradictory advice.

Where does that leave us in our quest to not only have healthy bodies but healthy minds as well?

There is no denying that what we eat affects more than our physical appearance. I’m not a nutritionist, rather I’m a woman whose mind had a break several years ago, resulting in a foggy and undiagnosed depression. You can read more about my successful attempt at natural adrenal fatigue treatment in last month’s issue of Wyn.

I learned the hard way that what we eat matters to our bodies, our minds, and even our emotions.

Why whole foods matter for health

The latest eating trend I keep hearing and reading about is “whole foods” or “real food.” Processed and engineered foods are becoming more and more stigmatized as bad for us and close-to-source ingredients are being heralded as nature’s medicine for all our ailments.

Whether it’s to complement psychiatric medications or to recover from depressive seasons in a natural way, there is a lot we can learn from this latest nutritional trend.

Much of the mainstream information, as convincing and passionate as it may be, seems to me (a simple but avid Google-researcher) to come from the fervor of the trend rather than science. In America, the FDA is still recommending “low-fat” dairy products, which advocates of the whole food movement label as poison. Your average course in nutrition may recommend steering clear of saturated fats like coconut oil, yet the loudest voices in whole food nutrition are yelling that coconut oil may actually have magical powers, just short of sautéing your broccoli with unicorn tears.

To cut through the hype, I looked more into the science regarding the connections between food and mental health.

In a paper written by Dr. Karen Vieira (Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences), I found some interesting correlations between deficiencies in our diets and the effects on our mental health, specifically mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder.

Here’s is a brief excerpt:

“Depression has for some time now been known to be associated with deficiencies in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and GABA. As reported in several studies, the amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine are often helpful in treating many mood disorders, including depression. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and is usually converted to serotonin when taken alone on an empty stomach. Therefore, tryptophan can induce sleep and tranquility and in cases of serotonin deficiencies, restore serotonin levels leading to diminished depression.”

What does that mean practically?

It means that if we can find easily accessible sources of tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine, if will only help treat depression-like symptoms we may be experiencing. And would you know, the most common and safe sources of these amino acids are some popular whole foods like sea vegetables, game meat (elk, deer, rabbit, and buffalo), grass-fed/pastured/free-range cattle and poultry, spinach, tamari soy sauce, wild-caught fish, egg whites, and some organic soy products.

Dr. Vieria and her colleagues also found a link between the decrease of consumption of omega-3 fatty acids in fish and an increase in incidences of major depression. Interesting, huh?

Natural treatments for mood disorders

This means, in her words: “Consuming omega-3 fatty acid dietary supplements that contain 1.5 to 2 g of EPA per day have been shown to stimulate mood elevation in depressed patients.”  And then there’s the fact that natural sources of Vitamin C and B can help with the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder.

(Keep in mind that it’s important to consult your doctor and/or nutritionist before taking any kind of dietary supplements or making drastic changes to your regular eating patterns. Especially, but not exclusively, if you are on antidepressants.)

I’m still new in my exploration of natural treatments for mood disorders, yet knowing that nutritional help is available gives me hope.

In addition to exercise—which releases endorphins (“feel-good” hormones) and burns away stress chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine (or as I call it, “the freaking-out feeling”)—we have natural options to lift our moods. So the next time I’ve had a disheartening day and the shadows start to creep over my mind, I think I’ll go for a jog and then fix a spinach, seaweed, and tuna salad for dinner.

Image of a market in Barcelona by Gabriel Currie via Stock.Xchng.

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