true depression ranges from rational sadness

Although occasional sadness is part of the human condition everyone has days feeling gloomy children sulk off to school, their eyes brimming with tears – true depression ranges from rational sadness and grief to an abnormal state of complete disability. Unless one has actually suffered from depression or been in close contact with someone who has it is hard to appreciate that the whole body can be overwhelmed by hopelessness, negativity and suicidal thoughts. Clinical depression can include disturbed eating, the sufferer may stop eating – and anorexia nervosa may set in -or overeat, which may lead to obesity or bulimia nervosa. Other. symptoms include disturbed sleep patterns. digestive complaints and loss of concentration.

While food on its own cannot cure or prevent clinical depression, a great deal can be done to improve your mood. Changing your eating habits can lift you out of a low period and in more severe cases food can be used in conjunction with psychotherapy and medication

 How food affects your mood

Within your brain, chemicals known as neurotransmitters help pass messages from one nerve cell to another. There are two such substances that seem specifically to affect mood serotonin and noradrenaline, two types of endorphins. The body makes these endorphins by breaking down the food we eat, and therefore we can, to a certain degree, raise the level of these substances in the brain by eating specific foods

Unfortunately, it is not simply a question of the more of certain foods you eat the happier you become. Scientifically, food has been shown to brave a significant effete on raising the mood only if the level of serotonin or noradrenaline is low before you eat. So, what it can do is help to reverse a negative feeling which has been induced by a low endorphin level.

In some people endorphin levels are lower during the darker winter months, which is why they feel gloomy until the sun starts shining. Medication can also temporarily lower the levels of serotonin and noradrenaline, which is why you sometimes feel low while you’re taking a bone of antibiotics, for example, so if we know that levels of these neurotransmitters are low, we can learn how to set them.

Besides physical effects, there is also the psychological effect of comfort food’ to consider. Many of our food preferences are laid down in childhood and as adults we can, when we feeldown, revive good feelings by choosing certain foods that remind us of moments in our youth. Often these are sugary foods that are given as treats and rewards. 

Sources of serotonin and noradrenaline

These endorphins are derived mainly from sugary and other carbohydrate-rich foods, which is why some people feel happier after they have eaten sweets or chocolate cakes, biscuits, white bread, white rice, jams, honey and sugary soft drinks. It also explains why many people crave them when they are feeling down, especially in the winter months. Syrupy puddings and chocolate bars hold more appeal than a piece of fresh fruit. Unfortunately, there is a drawback.

The sugar from these foods is rapidly absorbed into the blood, which causes an initial boost in serotonin levels in the brain. However, another result of a sudden rise in blood sugar level in the rapid production of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body use sugar. If there is a sudden rise in blood sugar level, the insulin acts quickly to take the sugar out of the blood into the cells, causing a slump in both the sugar and endorphin levels.

The slump leaves you feeling even lower than you were before, the temptation is to cat another sugary snack to give yourself another boost, but this will cause your body to run out of its own natural energy you’ll find yourself needing more and more of these foods to feel remotely happy Major swings in endorphin levels can trigger gloom and depression, but in seine people, most noticeably hyperactive children, they can cause moods to become totally unmanageable, with tantrum frenzies and hysterical tears: otherwise responsible adults can become violent and then morose.

Luckily the majority of us don’t find our bodies react in this extreme way for most people, eating a small amount of sugary foods can make them feel temporarily brighter. The best way to experience the highs, without the low is to make sure that you either have a meal as soon as possible after you eat the sugary food or choose to get your sugar fix from a more slowly absorbed carbohydrate. Good examples include a piece of flapjack, a slice of wholegrain bread or a whole meal scone, a bowl of fruit crumble with an oath or whole meal topping, fresh, dried or stewed fruit.

The presence of fiber along with the sugar in these foods helps to lift a low, but not too fast. You are therefore more likely to stay happy for longer L Even these higher fiber sweet foods can upset some people, especially those with digestive disorders. In this case, remember that it’s not just sweet foods that can produce serotonin and noradrenaline they are also made from tryptophan and Phenylalanine, two amino acids present in protein foods, such as meat, fish, chicken and eggs. It has been suggested that people with low intakes of these amino acids are more likely to feel down, or even suicidal.

This means that strict vegetarians, vegans, and people on crash weight loss diets are all at risk. “Dieters may feel low not only because they are depriving themselves of the foods they love, but also because they might be avoiding protein foods.As with sweet foods, it’s not just a question of increasing your consumption of these foods in search of a mood lift. Your brain can only use a certain amount at a time. Vegas and vegetarians should eat a variety of pulses grains, nuts and other non-animal sources of protein. Keeping a food diary is a good way of monitoring your intake and ensuring that your endorphin levels are high enough to prevent your mood dropping.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

Depression is a common symptom of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. A lack of vitamin B12 and C, or of minerals such as iron, potassium and zinc, can cause you to feel low or aggravate depression. There is also a tendency for depressed people to feel uninterested in food, so they don’t eat and hence become deficient in various nutrients.

On top of this, some antidepressants change your methodism and cause your body to become deficient in certain minerals and vitamins People who have gone through periods of not eating properly, feeling unwell, or taking medication that can put you off your food are all at risk Equally if you have been bombarding your body with alcohol, coffee. tea or cola, your body can become depleted of nutrients.

The best way to confirm whether you lack essential vitamins and minerals is to arrange some blood tests through your doctor. Don’t just assume that you are deficient and start taking supplements, as you may not be heading down the right path Vitamin deficiencies don’t just happen overnight, but if you have neglected your diet for a long time, you may be lacking in vitamins B and C. For good sources of these vitamins Iron deficiency anemia can cause you to feel generally run down, if not actually depressed. If you suspect this is your problem, see your doctor and read the chapter on Anemia.

Potassium deficiency sometimes arises after a period of vomiting or diarrhea. Various medications, such as diuretics and antihypertensive drugs, can also cause the body to lose excessive amounts of potassium. The best way to replenish vouch body is to eat foods rich in potassium such as fresh vegetables and fruit but if you can’t face food, sip some orange or tomato juice. Never take a potassium supplement unless prescribed by your GP, as they are potentially very dangerous.

How drinks affect your mood

The positive side is that if you are feeling low a glass of wine with your food can make the whole caring experience much more enjoyable. Alcohol can even rekindle lost appetites. But excessive amounts of alcohol, especially if drunk on an empty stomach, can lead to a hangover, which is never very cheering. Drinking on an empty stomach also causes your blood sugar level to drop which can lead to a lowering of serotonin levels and hence a ‘blue’ mood. If taken over a long period of time, excessive alcohol can cause chronic depression