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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I did not eat terribly unhealthily prior to primal, but I ate plenty of bread products. Okay, so I guess that is unhealthy :D. 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 ([URL="http://www.amazon.com/The-Mood-Cure-Program-Emotions--Today/dp/0142003646/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370273881&sr=8-1&keywords=the+mood+cure"]The Mood Cure[/URL]) 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 [URL="http://criticalmas.com/2012/07/safe-use-of-5-htp-and-l-tyrosine/"]balancing those two amino acids together[/URL]. 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.
Thanks for posting this! I've been in a depression for a few weeks now, so this is good info and reminder for me.
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.
Such an important topic Owen - and this is a great book about (in part) the mental health benefits of fats:
[url=http://www.amazon.com/The-Instinct-Heal-Anxiety-Depression/dp/1579549020/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1370279830&sr=8-10&keywords=servan+schreiber]The Instinct to Heal: Curing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Without Drugs and Without Talk Therapy: Dr. David Servan-Schreiber M.D. Ph.D.: 9781579549022: Amazon.com: Books[/url]
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."