Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH). It has often been referred to as the silent killer. People suffering from depression struggle with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, and suicidal thoughts and urges. What many people don’t realize is that our diet directly impacts our mental health and can exacerbate depressive symptoms. For example, the most prescribed medication for depression is a group of medication classified as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s). These types of medication release more serotonin into the synapse which gives our body more Serotonin to work with. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to decrease negative affect. In other words, Serotonin helps people to feel less depressed and anxious and assists in mood regulation and stabilization. Over 90% of serotonin in the body is released in the gut which leads to a strong relationship between nutrition and mood regulation and stabilization. If you are undergoing treatment for anxiety at a trauma center, then it is especially critical to understand how food impacts mood. Below is a list of foods that can worsen depressive symptoms.


  1. 1. Alcohol

We all love to hate this fact. Many people feel the effects of alcohol that decreases inhibition and can help them be more sociable and confident. Additionally, many people use alcohol to self-medicate. Unfortunately, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, also known as a downer. It slows down brain activity by affecting the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which leads to drowsiness, decreased inhibition and relaxation. Alcohol mimics the sedating and relaxing effects in the body that GABA neurotransmitters naturally have. It then increases dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is often referred to as the happy hormone and as we learned earlier, serotonin helps to regulate your mood. Therefore, alcohol feels so good in the beginning! However, over time alcohol consumption can desensitize GABA receptors, meaning that we no longer are benefiting or feeling our bodies natural way of relaxing which leads to more alcohol use can eventually lead to alcohol dependence. Further worsening alcohol’s impact on those struggling with depression. Studies have shown that when depression and alcohol dependence are present there is a greater risk for suicidal behavior.


  1. 2. Trans Fats

Trans fat is an artificial fat that is created in the industrial process when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils to make them more solid. Trans fats allow foods to last longer and often give food a desirable texture and taste. Trans fats can be naturally occurring as well in food products that come from animals, such as milk, cheese, butter, etc. The Food and Drug Administration started researching trans fats in the 1990’s and found that there is a strong correlation between artificial trans fats and high cholesterol, the leading cause of death in the United States. In 2015 the FDA reported that artificial trans fats, also known as PHO’s, are no longer recognized as safe and that PHO’s can no longer be added to foods. The FDA gave businesses until January of 2020 to comply with this. In addition to increasing cholesterol, a 2011 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who consumed artificial trans fats were 42 percent more likely to get depression. Although foods on the market should not contain added trans fats, the FDA allows foods to contain up to .5 grams of trans fat and report 0 gram of trans fat on the label. You may still find trans-fat in items, such as vegetable shortening, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, vegetable oil, fried food, non dairy coffee creamers, etc.


  1. 3. Vegetable Oils

Many vegetable oils, including corn, safflower, canola, and soy contain high levels of Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 fatty acids are important in ensuring our cells are functioning properly, however, too many Omega 6 fatty acids can change the way cells react and are harmful to the heart and blood vessels. High levels of Omega 6 fatty acids have been associated with memory issues, depressive disorders, inflammation, inflammatory disease, and Alzheimer’s. When Omega 6 fatty acids are eaten in equal amounts with omega 3 fatty acids, cells seem to continue behaving normally, however, in our society omega 6 fatty acids are far more accessible than omega 3 fatty acids which leads to an imbalance in the brain and, you guessed it, depression.


  1. 4. Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are extremely popular as they are a low to no calorie substitute for sugar.  The most common artificial sweeteners include saccharine, aspartame, and sucralose. Studies have found correlations between artificial sweeteners and depression, anxiety, irritable moods, insomnia, and many other neuropsychological issues. These sweeteners also can lead to high insulin levels which also has a relationship with higher risk for depression.


  1. 5. Meat Alternatives

Vegetarianism is a popular diet that people choose to abide by for a range of reasons from health benefits to environmental benefits. However, make sure to read the label of meat alternatives to better understand what ingredients are in the protein replacement. Many meat alternatives contain the products listed above. A 2021 study found that among 50,000 research participants, vegetarians had significantly higher depression scores. This is not to say that vegetarianism will make you depressed, however, it is an important relationship to note and ensure that if you do choose to abide by this diet, as with any diet, make sure your plate is filled with whole foods, grains, veggies and other, naturally occurring sources of protein, such as, lentils, beans, cottage cheese, greek yogurt, etc.


  1. 6. Toxic Fish

This one seems obvious as the word “toxic” is in the name. However, many of us consume fish with high mercury levels and other heavy metals. Studies have shown that these types of fish have been linked to Alzheimer’s, depression, parkinson’s, lupus, and other diseases. Mercury is known to disrupt the absorption of many important nutrients through the transsulfuration pathway. The consumption of toxic fish can impact calcium, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin A, etc. When these pathways are disrupted, symptoms are linked with a wide array of neuropsychological disorders. An easy way to determine toxic fish versus nontoxic fish is by the size of the fish! Typically, the larger the fish, the higher the mercury and heavy metal content.


  1. 7. Gluten

While this may not be for everyone some studies have found that when patients eliminate gluten in their diet, their depressive symptoms decrease. There is a link between certain food sensitivities and mood disorders. However, it can often be a question of “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” As we learned earlier the gut plays an integral role in mood regulation. Food sensitivities are often related to an issue with the gut and as we’ve learned here, so do mood disorders.

Make the Right Eating Choices with Your Anxiety Therapy

Healthy food in heart and cholesterol diet concept on vintage boards

Whether or not you are undergoing anxiety therapy, it is critical to know that there is a lot of information out there on “good” and “bad” foods for our body. Please know that no food is all good or all bad. The most important rules to abide by are to eat things in moderation, fuel your body with nutrition from food, and do your best to eat whole grains and naturally occurring forms of nutrients and proteins when possible. You’ll notice that many of the foods listed above lead to physical conditions such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which directly relates to the heart. Perhaps there is something to the fact that depression feels a lot like a broken heart. If you are experiencing deep emotional sadness as a symptom of anxiety and are undergoing treatment, a smart diet of moderation can help elevate mood.

Call Serenity Trauma for Depression Treatment

While it is important to note the relationship between depression and nutrition, it is also important to note that not all depressive symptoms can be solved at home. Depression is a serious mental illness that can lead to death by suicide. These are suggestions to aid in the decrease of depressive symptoms impacting your day-to-day experience. However, if depression and suicidal thoughts are greatly impacting you or someone you know it is important to seek treatment from a mental health provider.

**Announcement** On June 11th, our current electronic health system will transition to a new and advanced system to better serve you: Athena. Prior to the transition date, you will be sent a registration link to create a new patient account in Athena. If you have any immediate questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact your therapist, or call our office to speak to a staff member.