Does Your Diet Depress You?

When it comes to depression, our society relies heavy on drugs for an answer.  Even counseling is a late effort.  Maybe primary care physicians should not be the first choice in this realm.

Drugs first, counseling second, lifestyle never.  I’d probably suggest a revision.

When patients come into my office who are on antidepressants, I always ask if they help.  While I do get a few who say they couldn’t survive without them, the vast majority give me a sheepish shrug and admit that they’re not really sure.  The real test, however, is always beyond the 3 month mark, when the massively strong placebo effect begins to wane and you’re left with the true benefits (or lack thereof) of the antidepressant medication.

When it comes to healthy lifestyles, supplements and depression, the research is solid and continues to accumulate (feel free to check out my eBook on Depression Risk Factors by clicking here).  While St. John’s wort tops the list as the supplement that comes to mind with depression, omega-3 fatty acids are really the heavy hitter.

This particular study adds weight to this fact.  In it, researchers looked at the relationship between depressive scores (as measured by the 20-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies–Depression Scale, aka the CES-D).  A CES-D score of 16 or more was suggestive of elevated depressive symptoms (EDS).   Here’s what they found:

  1. EDS prevalence was 18.1% in men and 25.6% in women.
  2. In women, those with the highest dietary intake of omega 3 fatty acids had a 49% lower risk of EDS.
  3. Those with the greatest omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid ratios had an impressive 53% lower risk of EDS.
  4. For the somatic CES-D subscales (measuring things like sleep problems, sadness and fatigue), higher intakes of omega–3 fatty acids led to lower scores.

Clearly, higher intakes of omega 3 fatty acids (fatty fish, flaxseed, nuts, seeds, chia seeds) and a lower intake of omega 6 fatty acids (oils like corn, sunflower, peanut, safflower and cottonseed) are very good for the brain and will lower you risk of depression.

The biggest concern and problem with depressed people is compliance.  Sure—they all know that exercise is really good for their brains, but few have the motivation to pull off a regular exercise routine.  But increasing your omega 3 to omega 6 ratio doesn’t require motivation, merely a desire.  Depressed patients are still eating.  But McDonalds is not going to cut it.


James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.