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How Diet Can Be a Powerful Ally in the Struggle Against Depression and Anxiety

How Diet Can Be a Powerful Ally in the Struggle Against Depression and Anxiety

Medically Reviewed by Chelsey Lahr, PMHNP-BC


Everyone has a different reason for their depression or anxiety. For some, there is a chemical imbalance that needs treatment with medication. For others, there are persistent, troubling thought patterns which require therapy. For still others, the depression is a natural reaction to current circumstances or past trauma.

No matter the cause of poor mental health, the most successful treatment requires battling the illness on all fronts, and it is here that people often overlook the impact of diet. While eating right is unlikely to be enough in itself, food can be an excellent ally when used alongside other treatments. Here are six nutrients which can help.


1) Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in regulating brain function. Studies have shown that a diet rich in omega-3 can reduce mood swings, counteract aggressive tendencies, and increase cognitive performance. While this won't be enough to treat established depression in its own, omega-3 can undoubtedly provide a degree of extra stability while other treatments tackle the underlying causes.

Good sources include of omega-3 include oily fish such as tuna and mackerel, plus nuts and seeds, and egg yolks.


2) Vitamin B

One symptom of a vitamin B deficiency is an increased risk of panic attacks coupled with generally heightened levels of anxiety. In severe cases, hallucinations and even psychotic episodes are possible. While this deficiency may not be at the root of ongoing poor mental health, it certainly won't help keep the symptoms under control.

To increase your vitamin B intake, eat more animal and dairy products, especially liver, oily fish, and high-fat cheese such as feta. If you wish to avoid animal products, supplements or fortified foods are perhaps the best solutions. Few plant-based foods, for example, contain vitamin B12.


3) Zinc

Several tests have shown that people suffering from depression and anxiety tend to have lowered levels of zinc in their blood. It's not clear whether this is a cause or effect, but other research suggests taking zinc supplements can have a mild antidepressant effect. However, it's possible to overdose on zinc, leading to nausea, cramps, and headaches, so it's preferable to rectify a deficiency through consuming natural foods.

You can find high levels of zinc in oysters, poultry, beef, pumpkin seeds, spinach, and dark chocolate.


4) Potassium

Potassium deficiency affects nearly half of the adult population, and the long-term effects can include extreme fatigue, mental dullness, and even hallucinations. None of this is especially helpful if you're already suffering from poor mental health or are prone to it. A simple blood test to diagnose or rule out a deficiency is a sensible step to take.

However, a potassium overdose is even more dangerous than a zinc one, significantly increasing the risk of heart failure. However, eating more potassium-rich foods is safe, as healthy kidneys can easily cope with naturally occurring levels.

Excellent sources of potassium include bananas, tomatoes, pumpkins, summer squash, spinach, beans, nuts and seeds.


5) Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an amino acid which acts as a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter with a profound influence on mood. Eating more tryptophan is thought to boost serotonin levels, which stabilizes attitude, while many people with depression or anxiety test positive for tryptophan depletion.

Tryptophan is present in all types of nuts and seeds, as well as in poultry, oily fish, dairy products, and avocados.


6) Crocin

Several studies have shown that crocin, a compound found mainly in the spice saffron, is a useful reliever of anxiety and depression. Some researchers believe it balances out the levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin to give a calmer, more stable mood.

Although crocin supplements are available, dry saffron contains several other compounds thought to be beneficial to mental health, and it's delicious when used in all kinds of rice and seafood dishes, especially those from India and the Middle East.


Depression and anxiety, which can be serious conditions requiring medical treatment, are best fought from as many directions as possible. Diet can provide an excellent foundation upon which to build more formal therapies.





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