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  • Depression Support

    Since starting a full (90-95%) Primal diet in November 2012, the depression that has dogged me my entire adult life (I'm 34) has almost completely vanished - leaving me balanced, happier and able to interact with the world in a normal way.

    I am not here to make any generalized claims about the connection between diet and depression, or guarantee that if you are suffering from depression, PB will cure it, but if you have any level of depression in your life, and haven't tried this way of living yet, I urge you to try it for 30 days. I have just a few observations to offer - things that I've learned, regarding the connections (or likely connections) between diet and the condition known as 'depression'

    - Depression refers to what is usually a range of different malfunctions of the brain, other organs and particularly the endocrine (hormone) system - a finely balanced array of processes and chemical interactions that require the right nutrients in order to function. It is primarily a physical condition, with secondary psychiatric symptoms. Some are more prone to it than others, but anyone can have it.

    - The brain is made of over 60% fat (saturated fat and cholesterol) - therefore it doesn't require a scientist to realize that a low fat diet may cause brain malfunction. Anti-depressants will reduce the psychiatric symptoms, but the underlying brain structure will continue to weaken if diet is not improved.

    - The human body is ingenious at using 'substitutes' so if you are on a low fat diet, it will make do with what it has available, which is why depression is usually a long-term condition involving very gradual, almost imperceptible, degradations to the brain and other organs.

    - Absence of a body clock is a symptom of depression. The body clock is regulated by the timed release of different hormones at different times of the day. Exposure to sunlight helps to regulate these, but without the right hormones being made in the first place, you won't have a body clock. The body cannot make hormones (or indeed anything at all) from processed foods.

    - Social interaction is (believe it or not) promoted by the release of endorphins (a hormone) into the body. Not able to make endorphins? You won't enjoy other peoples' company much. Ditto for dating and relationships.

    - Exercise allows an exchange of nutrients to occur in all the body's cells by opening up the blood vessels and capillaries - its like getting an internal spring clean, which is why you feel so good afterwards. Feeling good is a marker of general bodily health. If you want to be in a good mood, start eating fresh produce and do moderate exercise. But if you believe yourself to be depressed, prioritise nutrition and don't do any physically exhausting exercise, even though it may provide temporary numbness from the condition.

    - A diet high in refined sugar, which is bad enough for anyone, is for depressed people like throwing parrafin onto a fire. The highs and lows of the insulin spike (buzzing and then crashing) will throw what is already an unstable system into chaos. Adrenaline is released when blood sugar becomes too low. It dissolves other body tissues and over time causes adrenal fatigue - a serious condition. The slow drip-feed of adrenalin into the body of a depressed individual is the most physically damaging aspect of the illness, and it cannot be seen. With regular consumption of refined sugar, the body and brain are subjected to a perpetual state of low-level panic. Cutting out the sugar alone can be enough to make your life manageable and liveable. For more information on this area, google hypoglycaemia and depression. If this is you - cut sugar out of your diet for 48 hours and see how you feel.

    - Healing your gut lining will hugely help because there is much evidence that when undigested proteins pass into the bloodstream via a leaky gut (especially gluten) this causes inflammation in the body which can interfere with hormone function (see above). Switching your carbohydrate sources form grains to roots and fruits is one of the most effective ways to heal your gut. A very low-carbohydrate diet may not be suitable for depression, and you can still achieve weight loss with moderate amounts of starches in your diet.
    Last edited by Owen; 06-16-2014, 01:30 PM.
    Healthy is the new wealthy.

  • #2
    I have never experienced depression on a low fat diet, even when I was severely hypoglycemic. VLC attempts what led me to depressions. Whenever I try to cut out fruit or VLC, it ends up in black spells. I take 5HTP for serotonin, and I also eat fruit even if it is bad for me.
    My Journal:
    When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.


    • #3
      Owen, thanks for your post and sharing your experience...and that's great you are feeling so much better which coincides with being on the primal diet.

      Leida, that's great your never experienced depression on a low fat diet. I don't think primal necessarily means VLC...plenty do eat their fruits, i know i do!

      All i know is what i've experienced....i have been keeping a daily journal for a couple years of how i feel. And can compare my notes from last year to this year. Last year i had brain fog, and overall a feeling of being depressed. After my almost one year on this paleo/primal diet, i feel so much better compared to the same time last year. I did cut out all the sodas and SAD foods, and incorporated lots of healthy fats and healthy carbs (veggies, fruits) and i do feel a difference. But that's just my experience.


      • #4
        You might find The Mood Cure to be an interesting read. Nameless Wonder turned me on to it, and now that I'm back on my supplements, I have the energy to prosthelytize it everywhere.

        It's not just about dropping sugar. Depressed people use sugar (and alcohol) to increase the serotonin levels in the brain artificially. However, if you have done this often enough without giving the body the building blocks to build more serotonin (tryptophan in your meat, or supplemental 5-HTP), then just dropping sugar for 48 hours will leave you in a black hole for 48 hours.

        Oh yeah- and Leida- apparently women just need more carbs than men for optimal function, so fruit isn't necessarily bad at all. My blog exploring the beginning stages of learning how to homestead. With the occasional rant.

        Originally Posted by TheFastCat: Less is more more or less

        And now I have an Etsy store: CattailsandCalendula


        • #5
          I have had the worst depression during times of my life when I have been most thin, and I always got to my thinnest through extreme exercise and calorie restriction, which is automatically low fat. My normal state, whether fat or thin, has always been to teeter on the edge of insanity, just one outburst away from getting another letter in my personnel file. All that has melted away.

          Last summer while backpacking with a friend he told me how his wife had joined Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous. Regular Overeaters Anonymous lets people decide for themselves what abstinence is but FA prescribes a specific diet: no flour from any kind of grain (whole grain is okay, but it has to be truly WHOLE), and no sugar. Meals should always include a generous portion of healthy fat. My friend, who is a big barrel-chested guy puts 1/4 cup of olive oil in every meal.

          He told me his wife did FA for a couple years before he did it. Over that time she was able to reduce her prozac to a very minimal dose. She was afraid to stop entirely because of her job. She also lost over 100lbs and no longer would participate in nightly squabbles with my friend. She finally encouraged my friend to go and he said the irritability he always felt melted away. They no longer squabble every night. He no longer needs blood pressure medicine. His wife is retired now and no longer needs prozac.

          On our backpacking trip we talked for hours about the incredible changes we both experienced in mood since giving up flour and sugar, him with his FA diet and me with my primal diet. It's a really common occurrence for a lot of people, apparently, but one of the most surprising and least discussed in my opinion.

          All these years, I can look back all the way to my teens and earlier, all those crying episodes, all those times I just locked myself in my room with the lights off, all those times I couldn't get out of bed and wanted to die. All because I ate flour, sugar and crappy oils and avoided real food, real meat and real fat. Growing up right when the whole low fat movement started -- I was 15 or so when it came out -- probably had a huge amount to do with it, I'm sure.
          Female, 5'3", 50, Max squat: 202.5lbs. Max deadlift: 225 x 3.


          • #6
            In my particular case fruit is my skin (and probably more) reacts badly to any amount of fructose. So, yes, I would love to find a way to not consume fruit without turning into a weepy mess.
            My Journal:
            When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.


            • #7
              I did not eat terribly unhealthily prior to primal, but I ate plenty of bread products. Okay, so I guess that is unhealthy . I would eat bread and sugar whenever I could. Sometimes, I only ate dessert for a meal, like cake or cookies. I got away with it for a long time, thanks to genetics, but also thanks to genetics, it didn't last forever. My depression started shortly after puberty, around 13 years old, and I started to gain weight from my refined carb-heavy diet in my early 20's. I had been underweight for my entire life until then, so it was a bit of a shock. I will still a healthy weight, but I felt awful. I had also been tired since the depression started, no bloodwork showed any reason for it.

              Unfortunately, I still struggle with depression (and anxiety). It's handled beautifully with the help of amino acids (The Mood Cure) but there is a noticeable dive in my ability to cope when I introduce too much refined sugar into my diet. I think that mood definitely has a link to gut health as well, but that is a relatively unexplored territory in scientific research. Guts are complex! I notice improved focus when I am taking a probiotic regularly.

              I do believe primal helps. I've found that a moderate carb approach is best for me, for gut function, but low carb or moderate carb or high carb does not seem to matter as long as I stay away from refined sugar and gluten. The occasional miss-step doesn't seem to bother me much now (digestively and mood-wise), so I think I am succeeding in healing my gut. I've been mostly gluten-free and primal-esque for about 2 years now. My energy improved within a few months of starting primal, even more when I started keeping to a regular bedtime (I need at least 7 hrs of sleep).

              I've been taking 5-HTP about 9 months now, starting off at 300 mg and now at 150 mg. I added in L-Tyrosine recently, at 1500 mg per day, after reading about the importance of balancing those two amino acids together. Overall, I feel good. I feel GREAT. I feel a hell of a lot better than I did back when I was struggling on SSRI's, or without any support whatsoever. Maybe my gut is screwed and I will always have to take something, but this is SO much better than SSRI's.
              Last edited by namelesswonder; 06-03-2013, 08:53 AM.
              Depression Lies


              • #8
                Thanks for posting this! I've been in a depression for a few weeks now, so this is good info and reminder for me.


                • #9
                  Thyroid medication, sunshine and eating strictly primal makes my depression go away
                  Sugar is a MAJOR depressant for me. If I eat it I start feeling mopey, sluggish, and start
                  feeling signs of an old ED come back.
                  Makes life SOOOOOO much easier when my brain isn't in a perpetual fog.


                  • #10
                    Such an important topic Owen - and this is a great book about (in part) the mental health benefits of fats:

                    The Instinct to Heal: Curing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Without Drugs and Without Talk Therapy: Dr. David Servan-Schreiber M.D. Ph.D.: 9781579549022: Books

                    Dr. Schreiber talked a fair bit in this and his other books about the better, longer benefits of inclusion of fats as compared to pharmacological options and how our diets have failed to recognize their necessity.

                    ".....and nutrition, "a field almost entirely abandoned" by today's mental health professionals, but of vital importance, he notes, to such conditions as postpartum depression and bipolar disorder."

                    “you aren't what you eat - you are what you don't poop.” Wavy Gravy

                    Today I am Fillyjonk. Tommorow I will be Snufkin.


                    • #11
                      Thanks for the posts on The Mood cure and also Dr Schreiber's book. Nutrition as a field 'almost entirely abandoned' by mental health professionals - this is a very pertinent statement.

                      There seems to be an ongoing debate in these communities about fruit Personally I eat plenty of it. I prefer to get the healthy carbs - I still seem to be able to control my weight, and those carbs definitely help when I am physically active. Fruit sugars just don't seems to have the same negative effects. I have no idea why.

                      On the subject of high vs low fat diets: When I started reading about all this, my brain was a jumbled mess of the words fats/carbs/high this/low that. I've been following the PB advice regarding fats - it amounts to the fact that we need to eat some fat and it needs to be from natural sources so not industrially pressed vegetable oils. Saturated fats appear to be fine, and as they are so satiating to eat, even better in terms of a healthy relationship with food and appetite.

                      I agree it would be good to see some scientific research into the relationship between gut health and depression - perhaps we will see this at some stage. Having read the info regards grains and legumes I took it at face value and cut them out of my diet, I can only say that it works for me. In retrospect I probably didn't have particularly good gut health when i was in my depressed state, although I wasn't necessarily conscious of it, and didn't draw a direct link between those two things. But going back to Dr Schrieber's point - if our professionals ignore the issue of nutrition, it's very easy for everyone else to do likewise.

                      The FA diet - 'giving up flour and sugar' is interesting. During my transition to primal I did it in 4 weekly stages -

                      week 1) Gave up refined sugar,
                      week 2) Gave up bread
                      week 3) Gave up all grain products
                      week 4) Gave up legumes and began refining the diet - eliminating chemicals etc.

                      But the biggest mood improvements occurred in the first 2 weeks when i gave up the sugar and bread.

                      Tryptophan is something I've heard of before but have never really understood it - will check that out, thanks.
                      Last edited by Owen; 06-08-2013, 04:13 AM.
                      Healthy is the new wealthy.



                      • #12
                        Originally posted by MarissaLinnea View Post
                        Thanks for posting this! I've been in a depression for a few weeks now, so this is good info and reminder for me.
                        That's the reason I posted, glad that it may have helped Marissa.
                        Healthy is the new wealthy.



                        • #13
                          Just a quote from Mark on his recently posted 'Open letter to Doctors'

                          "SSRIs and other mental health meds often cover up underlying therapeutic needs for stress reduction and sleep improvement as well as physical conditions like dietary allergies/sensitivities, nutritional deficits, and drug interactions. Can we all back up for a minute and reconsider the conventional teachings and protocols?"

                          Knowing what I now know, he is absolutely right.
                          Healthy is the new wealthy.



                          • #14
                            I think a lot of the time doctors are saying to themselves, "First we'll stabilize this with drugs, and then we'll look for the underlying cause." But then, if the condition improves with drugs, they never bother to look and see whether there is a fixable problem.


                            • #15
                              Thank you so much for posting this. Heads up: long, rambling post follows.

                              For me, much of my depression is tied to my weight. At the very least, when I am already poised for depression, looking in the mirror can set me off. I've been on and off diets for what feels like most of my life. I've been overweight in various stages, although never obese (and probably not even fat). I'm a former bulimic, and I still have severe body dysmorphia; I can't tell how big or little I look because in my eyes, I look fat. I'm working on this, but it's a challenge. (Two years ago, for example, I came within a pound of my holy-cats-awesome goal weight, and I still thought I looked fat.)

                              I've done the diet-soda and other diet-products WOE; I've done SAD eating for most of my life. I even went vegetarian for two years, and then became vegan, which left me feeling tired and sick -- so I went back to a SAD WOE, and that, of course, made me feel like a failure, and boom, it was back to not getting dressed and rocking on the shower floor.

                              I've tried medication. When I was 22, I went on Zoloft for bipolar disorder. While that took the edge off, it left me feeling like I had permanent balloonhead. I quit cold turkey (without my psychiatrist's approval), and eventually parted ways with that doctor. When I was 37, I went on Lexipro for depression. After about a year, I weaned myself off of it.

                              I found primal back in August 2011 (I was 40), after doing a CACO "everything in moderation" WOE since February 2011 (and losing about 15 pounds that way), and I dove in head first. I went strict primal for three months and dropped another 6 pounds; then I went Whole30 and started CrossFit and dropped another 5 in a month. I also became severely orthorexic. I was obsessive over what I could and could not eat, and the thought of having a mouthful of challah at a family shabbat would make me panic. I hit the wall around December 2011, stopped CF and slipped back to a SAD. Most of 2012 was terrible for me; a personal issue sent me spiraling into a black depression that had me wondering what was the point of anything. It was a very bad time, and I'm so grateful for my husband and dear friends who helped me through it. Took the better part of a year for me to get my brain back to a good place. (They all deserve medals, or a national holiday!)

                              This year, at 42 years old, I've been easing back to primal. Just cutting out the wheat and a lot of processed stuff helped me quickly feel better -- my mood stabilized and now I'm more able to just roll with things. I play more. I sleep better. I feel better. I don't know if it's the lack of wheat/grains, lack of processed junk, lack of added sugar, or what. I am, however, convinced that it's an inflammation issue: when I am inflamed, that can trigger depression or make it easier for me to succumb to depression. Sure, I still have my mood swings, but now they're not engulfing. Now I'm not battling darkness. Now I'm able to identify it when it starts, and talk myself through it/breathe through it/distract myself from it. And it passes. And then I let it go, instead of holding onto it and turning it into a vicious cycle.

                              Simply put: eating primally helps me enjoy living. It's like I'm finally breathing after years of holding my breath.

                              I've returned to 80% - 95% primal this June, with some days better than others. For the most part, I've been good about it. I started a Whole30 this week, with a lack of GOTTA DO IT RIGHT pressure. I'm doing my best to stick with it; it's a goal, not an all or nothing. And so far, so good. I feel better with more carbs, so I'm enjoying seasonal fruit (oh, those Rainer cherries! Those blueberries!) and not stressing over fructose or too many carbs or anything of the sort. I'm working to find the right primal/paleo way of eating that makes me feel the best and helps me be healthy. And happy. I have a long way to go before I can look in the mirror and really see what I look like, but I'm working on it.

                              So...yeah, long personal post. Sorry about that. But I really think that at the end of the day, being primal/paleo is going to add decades of happiness to my life.

                              And there's nothing wrong with that.
                              F, 44 years old, 111.8 lbs, 4 feet 11.5 inches (yes, that half inch matters!)

                              **1st place sparring, AAU TKD regional qualifier, 2/15/15 - It's damn good to hit like a girl!**

                              **First-ever 5K race 11/28/13: 37 minutes, 18+ seconds, no stopping**