Depressed? Your diet could be one of the culprits
According to The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), the impact of Covid-19 and its lockdown restrictions have led to an increase in the number of calls the organisation has been receiving from people showing signs of depression.
Mental illness is a global issue. An estimated 300 million people suffer from depression and in South Africa, more women are diagnosed with depression than men. Half of those diagnosed do not finish their treatment.
In South Africa, clinical depression is common, with 1 in 4 women are diagnosed a year. What many people are not aware of is that the foods they eat play a significant role in contributing towards depression and overall mental health. Bearing in mind the surge in mental health disorders predicted by experts as a result of the pandemic, people need to reduce their risk of developing depression that might be triggered by their diet.
“The need for alternate approaches to enhance the current treatments for depression has sparked interest in the neurobiology of depression and the possible role that diet could play in preventing depression and helping to reduce depressive symptoms in clinically depressed patients,” says dietitian Omy Naidoo of Newtricion Wellness Dieticians.
There are various ways in which depression can affect a person’s diet. These include an increase in or complete loss of appetite, craving salty, sweet or high-fat foods, and fatigue and apathy which reduce motivation to make healthy food choices.
“A growing body of evidence suggests that inflammation is an indicator of depressive and non-depressive symptoms. This means that diets that are high in foods known to increase inflammatory markers (pro-inflammatory) in the body increase the likelihood of depression, while anti-inflammatory foods can protect against depression. Essentially, foods that increase inflammatory markers in the body are thought to trigger the pathway in the brain responsible for depression,” explains Naidoo.
Dietitians promote a diet that is packed with nutrients that prevent and reduce the risk of disease. Studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet reduces such risks.
“For people that may not find the Mediterranean diet fascinating, foods such as unrefined grains, oily fish, lean meat and poultry, peanuts and fresh fruit and vegetables as well as beans, peas and lentils may help reduce one’s worsening depression,” said Naidoo.
Understanding the role that food plays in various medical conditions and adopting a more naturalistic diet with long-term physical and mental health benefits may prevent chronic diseases such as depression.