Your diet affects everything in your body, including energy, serotonin production, and a slew of non-depression related things which might exacerbate your moods.
Feeling physically bad will make you feel mentally worse than you otherwise would. Adequate sleep and exercise are also way more helpful than a lot of people think. For many people, depression poses a major obstacle to accomplishing even the simplest of tasks and can contribute to chronic diseases or worsen existing health problems. Luckily, evidence suggests dietary changes can improve mood and quality of life without the need for medication.
A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry analyzed the dietary patterns and risk of depression in 3,486 participants over a five-year period. Individuals eating whole foods reported fewer symptoms of depression compared to those who ate mostly processed foods.
Both the protective effects of fruits and vegetables and the harmful effects of animal foods play a role when it comes to diet and mood. Plant foods are high in antioxidants and phytochemicals, which generally help to repair damage and decrease inflammation in brain cells. In addition, plant foods can help restore balance to neurotransmitters. Many people suffering from depression have elevated levels of an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO). This enzyme breaks down serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine—neurotransmitters which help regulate mood. High MAO levels lead to low levels of these specific neurotransmitters, causing depression.
One of the biggest changes you can make is very simple: Drink more water! Dehydration can impact your mental wellbeing by making it harder to think clearly and focus. The brain cells require water just as the body does, and this explains why individuals who are dehydrated are more susceptible to mental stress.
Dehydration can also lead to cravings for unhealthy food with refined carbohydrates and drinks containing alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is particularly bad for mood regulation; it reduces cognitive function by dehydrating the body, as it requires water to expel the alcohol from the bloodstream and this leads to the hangover symptoms the next morning.
A balanced diet feeds the brain, providing it with the nutrients it needs to support a positive mood, and improve signaling pathways between brain cells for optimal brain function. The nutrients required to support a healthy mind and brain are so vast and it’s important to consume a varied diet and supplement nutrients that are low or missing in the diet.
The magnitude of our mood has far-reaching implications, from our ability to focus on work, to maintaining healthy relationships. Following a plant-based diet, rich in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, can serve as an inexpensive, natural, and noninvasive therapeutic means to support mental health.