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Diet

People who eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish are less depressed. This is especially true for boomer-age men, according to a recent study of over 2,000 men in Finland. Weight loss as part of a lifestyle intervention was also associated with a reduction in depressive symptoms. “The study reinforces the hypothesis that a healthy diet has potential not only in the warding off of depression, but also in its prevention,” says Anu Ruusunen, who presented the results in her doctoral thesis on nutrition epidemiology.

It was observed that increased intake of folate and consumption of large variety of vegetables, fruits, berries, whole-grains, poultry, fish, low-fat and fat-free dairy products were associated with a lower risk of depression. For those who enjoy a good cup of java, it’s reassuring that increased coffee consumption is associated with a slight decreased risk of depression. The results of this research indicate that diet may be protective against depression.

On the flip side, the bad news for many Americans is that long-term unhealthy dietary patterns which are high in consumption of foods such as sausages, processed meats, sugar-containing beverages, desserts and snacks, manufactured foods, refined flour products and baked or processed potatoes is associated with an increase in depressive symptoms. Eating a diet without fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, legumes or nuts deprives the brain of the essential vitamins and nutrients needed to regulate it.

The study demonstrated that reducing body weight is also associated with a reduction in depressive symptoms. Nutrition researchers have known that depressed individuals often eat poorly with a lower than recommended nutrient intake. It’s unclear at this point whether foods and nutrient intake are associated with the depression risk in healthy individuals. Additional studies will shed more light on the significance between diet and depression risk.

Another study led by Dr. Lucy Faulconbridge of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine was recently presented to the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior. SSIB, the society primarily responsible for research into eating and drinking behavior, found that after a six-month behavioral weight loss program, depressed patients not only lost 8 percent of their initial weight but also reported significant improvements in depression symptoms. These patients also experienced significant reductions in triglycerides, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The study results highlight the need for further research into the effects of weight loss in individuals suffering from depression. Faulconbridge says, “This research is novel because clinically depressed individuals are not usually included in weight loss trials due to concerns that weight loss could worsen their depression.”

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Do you wonder how diet affects your mood? The brain relies on a mixture of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, particularly Omega 3s, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water to work properly. And we do mean all the essential vitamins, minerals and key nutrients need to be present. Saturated fats and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils can pre-empt the brain’s reliance on EFAs. Neurotransmitters, made from amino acids transmit nerve impulses between the brain cells.

One such key neurotransmitter is serotonin, made from a biochemical conversion process that begins with tryptophan, an amino acid. More than 40 million brain cells are influenced by serotonin. It helps regulate feelings of contentment or anxiety and plays a role in regulating depression. Many of us have low levels of tryptophan because our intake of dairy, nuts, seeds and whole grains is inadequate.

A 2010 national study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that rates of depression are higher in those deficient in vitamin D compared to people who have adequate levels of vitamin D. Researchers from the University of Toronto noticed that people suffering from depression, particularly those with seasonal affective disorder, tended to improve as their serum vitamin D levels increased over the course of a year. Vitamin D receptors are found in the areas of your brain that are linked to the development of depression. And when these receptors are not filled, it is speculated that there is a greater risk of depression. There will be more to come on vitamin D’s role in preventing depression as scientists around the globe complete research projects.

Though it is too early to throw our antidepressants out the window, it is becoming clear that nutrient intake may enhance effectiveness of depression treatment. And lowering the risk of depression is not the only benefit of a healthy diet for boomers. We know too that healthy nutrition helps reduce the risk for stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers including mouth, stomach and colon-rectum cancer. It also reduces the risk of kidney disease, bone loss, dental complications and promotes vision health. Why wait? Begin eating healthier with your next food choice. Anyone for a fruit smoothie? How about a delicious vegetable stir fry?

The Booming section features a monthly column by a member of the Missoula City-County Health Department in order to assist Missoula baby boomer residents to be healthy and resilient. Rebecca Morley provides nutrition services through the Eat Smart Program and can be reached at 258-3827 or at rmorley@co.missoula.mt.us.

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