We tend to know that our mood can impact on what we choose to eat (i.e the impact of mood on food). How many times have we felt a bit low and reached for chocolate or other goodies only to regret it later! There has been a growing interest of late, however, about how food intake can impact on how we feel, i.e the effect on food on mood, a field that is becoming known as Nutritional Neuroscience.
Brain chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine affect the way we feel. Food intake plays a big part in maintaining optimal levels of these chemicals in the brain. Around the world, research is showing links between diet and mood. Lower dietary intake of folate, zinc, essential fatty acids and vitamins B1, B2 and C are linked to higher rates of depression.
Research into Omega 3 has shown that lower levels of Omega 3 is linked to lower levels of serotonin and dopamine. Japan has shown to have lower rates of depression than those consuming a regular western diet. A strong hypothesis for this is that Japanese people consume more fish which is a great source of essential fatty acids. A study in the UK backs this. It showed that people in the UK who consumed more essential fatty acids as measured by their seafood intake had lower rates of depression, post natal depression, seasonal affective disorder and bipolar affective disorder. Other studies have shown when people diagnosed with depression take Omega 3 supplements, their symptoms improve.
Scientists believe that both Omega 3 and Omega 6 need to be consumed in equal parts. Omega 6 signals the immune system to turn on while Omega 3 signals the immune system to turn off. We tend to hear about the need to keep our Omega 3 levels up more because western diets tend to be deficient in Omega 3. However, while taking an Omega 3 supplement has shown to help with depressive symptoms, taking too much has shown no improvement in symptoms.
While all of this suggests that certain nutritional deficiencies can possibly make us more susceptible to depression, this doesn’t mean we should rush out and purchase bottles of supplements. We should aim to eat a nutrient rich diet by including, for example, lots of fresh and preferably raw vegetables, fish and eggs. Ideally, if we are eating a good diet we shouldn’t have any nutritional deficiencies.