Having clinical depression can lead to a lot of negative consequences in a person’s life. People always think that tragedies and other negative life events are entirely to blame, but did you know that what you eat can also make you depressed?
Depression is no joke
Major depressive disorder, or more commonly known in popular culture as depression, is a clinically recognized illness formally classified as a mental health disease by the American Psychiatric Association in their well-known protocol, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, currently in its fifth edition (DSM-5).
Based on this, we must understand that clinical depression actually exists – it is not just simple sadness that a person can brush aside and discard off his thoughts.
According to recent studies, as much as 7% of people in the United States are affected by the disorder – that amounts to no less than 22 million people with clinical depression.
The numbers are projected to go higher, with many people not reporting the disease or consulting with their psychiatrists about their condition, thinking it’s just a phase that would go away over time.
The DSM-5 guidelines state that depression is a serious matter. Symptoms that point to this disease include loss of appetite, preoccupation towards grief, sadness, or melancholy that is so gripping it prevents you from doing everyday activities including bathing, cleaning oneself, and even going to work.
Sometimes, it can lead to an absolute loss of self-worth that prods people to kill themselves. Needless to say, depression is no figment of the imagination, and people should be vigilant about it.
How can you avoid depression?
To steer ourselves clear of getting the disorder, we must learn how to do proper relaxation and coping techniques. It could be from any techniques that have been thoroughly researched and proven to be effective, including meditation, breathing techniques, therapeutic counseling, and the like.
However, it is important to note that the mentioned therapeutic techniques are curative in nature. This means that while they can certainly be of great help to those who already have clinical depression or symptoms of it, it doesn’t help in avoiding the occurrence of the disorder altogether.
As the popular adage goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The principle of that maxim certainly applies here.
When one thinks of ways of avoiding depression, they immediately think of avoiding grave situations. It could be a loss of a love one, a stressful event like an earthquake, which could lead to loss of life and property, and the like.
Certainly, many events that belong to that category are inevitable or inescapable. We can barely prepare for them and we are always caught off-guard when it comes.
But what about the many small things that can contribute to depression? It’s those little things that people take for granted and barely notice. As such, it is knowing these small risk factors that will help us prevent depression from occurring.
One of those factors that we can certainly control is food. Many studies in recent times suggest that what we eat plays a significant role in maintaining the chemical balance in our brains, which is crucial in keeping our hormones and thus our emotions in check.
With that in mind, here are four foods that we must avoid in order to steer clear of depression.
1. Fast food
If you find yourself feeling a bit low, you might be like one of the many people across the world who prefer to jump in a fast food chain and grab a cheeseburger or pizza on the go.
For many, it provides instant relief and some sort of happiness whenever people eat them. But according to scientific studies, the long-term effects of binging on fast food is actually more depressing than joyful.
According to a recent study conducted by the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, in partnership with the University of Granada in Spain, they found out that people who ate twice as much fast food are twice as likely to develop depression than those who ate less fast food.
One of the most important reasons for this in fast food’s ability to stimulate insulin. Fast foods are rich in what are known as simple carbohydrates. This means that they don’t need as much processing before they can be absorbed and be readily available in our bloodstream.
An increase in our blood sugar, also called blood glucose, is the main trigger for the release of the hormone insulin, which is the main hormone required so we can get rid of the sugar in our blood and bring it into our body’s cells.
One of the effects of insulin is increase the levels of cortisol. Cortisol is another hormone that does a lot of things, including stimulate the release of epinephrine which makes us feel hyper, and thus create the sensation of happiness – “the sugar rush”.
The problem with the sugar rush is that after it dissipates, our body crashes and our internal systems become depressed, including our brains.
2. Processed food
In today’s day and age of modern technologies, everything has to be done at a breakneck case, and our needs are deemed to be no exception.
We look for “instant” services, as well as food – thus many of us have resorted to eating processed foods and canned goods at home so we can prepare our food quickly and instantly. Unfortunately, this habit can drastically affect our mental health.
According to a study by the Royal College of Psychiatry in England, people whose diet consisted primarily of processed or instant foods were more likely to develop clinical depression than those whose diet consisted primarily of whole foods, such as complex carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables.
This weird but very definite association stems from the lack of folic acid in processed food. Folic acid, also known as folate, is a subtance that is readily found in various meats, such as chicken, beef, and pork.
However, once these food products go through preservation processing to be sold as canned products, they lose many of the various micronutrients available in them in the process, including folate.
According to the study, a lower amount of folate in food makes people more susceptible to developing a deficiency of various hormones in the brain, which leads to a depletion of serotonin, the brain’s happy hormone, and thus, this makes us feel depressed and could lead to a worst case of clinical depression.
3. Sugar and high-sugar foods
When was the last time you felt a bit down in the dumps and needed to have for yourself a bite of cake?
Cake seems to lighten everyone’s mood. Cake, along with other pastries and sweet delights have been termed as happy food in popular culture in recent years. But studies suggest that these delectable desserts may not actually help us be happy in the long-term.
According to a study released by the American Journal of Nutrition in 2015, it was found that foods that have a high glycemic index, or simply put, foods high in sugar, such as cakes, sweetened beverages like milkshakes and other pastries, have been linked with an increased risk for developing depression.
They stated further that the more you eat these kinds of foods, the greater the risk of developing depression.
One way that this happens is similar to that of how fast foods increase the risk of depression – the sugar rush and sugar crash principle. It is important to note that if this phenomenon happens frequently over time, our brains become desensitized to its effect.
In a nutshell, we become “numb” to the effects of sugar as such we would need to take in more sugar to achieve the same effect. In our brains, this translates to more sugar being needed for us to release happy hormones like serotonin, as our brains become sluggish and less productive.
4. Artificial sweeteners
Looking at the three foods above, it’s safe to say that we must avoid carbohydrates if we want to steer clear of the increased risk of depression. So you decided to go on a low-sugar diet and replaced it with artificial sweeteners.
You may think you’re safe, right? Well, maybe not.
According to a study done in the University of North Dakota, people who ingested a high-aspartame diet developed more irritable moods, exhibited less ability to focus, and were more susceptible to depression than those who took in a low-aspartame diet, which was quantified as maximum intake of 10mg per day.
It has been found that the major component of aspartame, phenylalanine, can act as an excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain.
On this note, it can actually make you feel euphoric and happy. With an influx of synthetic stimulants, our brain now goes into balancing mode, and decides to remove serotonin from our body, thinking we no longer need it.
This creates a problem: if we don’t take in aspartame, we are suddenly exposed to a drastically low level of serotonin and we become susceptible to depression.
This yo-yo of stimulation and inhibition of the brain causes it to go haywire – we would no longer produce happy hormones even though we no longer have any – and we become depressed as a result.
From these four foods, the best takeaway to leading a happy life is to eat healthy, and eat in moderation.
Binge-eating, and indulging ourselves with sweets and sugary products may feel fun in the short-term, but they bring catastrophic repercussions down the road that we can easily avoid with some discipline and better, healthier eating habits.