Anti-Inflammatory Diet

All health care starts with diet. My recommendations for a healthy diet are here:
Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Lifestyle.
There are over 190 articles on diet, inflammation and disease on this blog
(find topics using search [upper left] or index [lower right]), and
more articles by Prof. Ayers on Suite101 .

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Your Diet is Depressing

It is no wonder that Americans are depressed. Workers are depressed. College students are depressed. Kids are depressed. New mothers are depressed. And they are all medicated with ineffective anti-depressants. It is an increasing epidemic of poor mental health care.

What is not uniformly recognized is that depression is a symptom of chronic inflammation. Moreover, the same diet changes that help with other degenerative and autoimmune diseases, also help with depression. There was a recent research article that found that postpartum depression in new mothers responded to anti-inflammatory drugs.

I am, of course, dealing in sweeping generalizations here and I explicitly am not attempting to replace medical evaluation in particular cases. There are many different kinds of depression. I just think that the impact of diet on mental health is depressingly ignored.

An evaluation of more than 250 studies on the usefulness of omega-3 oils in the treatment of many different mental health problems, including depression, observed conflicting results. One of the major problems with the studies, was that the researchers did not control the amount of omega-6 oils in the diets of the participants. Since it is the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 oils in the diet that is important in controlling inflammation, this is a shocking mistake. The researchers seem to have been assuming that the omega-3 oils were treating a deficiency, instead of inhibiting the production of inflammatory prostaglandins from the omega-6 oils.
I think that most of the public dietary guidelines get it wrong, because they focus on reducing saturated fats. Replacing saturated fats with omega-6 unsaturated fats, e.g. corn oil, will lead to chronic inflammation. I don’t think that there is any good research that shows that there are health risks for saturated fats in your diet, unless you are in a chronic inflammatory state -- if you already exhibit the metabolic syndrome, then saturated fats are a double whammy.

It would seem obvious that anyone seeing a physician for depression, should be advised to shift to an anti-inflammatory diet. I think that the shift in diet will have greater impact than antidepressants. The first step is to ban trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup and omega-6 rich vegetable oils from the kitchen. Try to only use olive oil. The second step is to increase omega-3 oils by eating fatty fish and supplementing with fish oil capsules. I recommend an experiment to gradually increase omega-3 oils in your diet until you see relief from your depression. Each week keep track of how you feel each day. Starting with four fish oil capsules per day, increase each week by two more capsules per day, e.g. week 1 - 4 caps, week 2 - 6 caps, week 3 - 8 caps. The upper limit is probably about 12 caps/day. It will be harder if you are obese, because fat cells are inflammatory. Digestion of the oil is improved when eaten with other fat-rich foods. The capsules can be spread over several meals.

The bottom line: depression can result from chronic inflammation that has spilled over to become inflammation of the brain. Treating the chronic inflammation by correcting diet should reduce the symptoms of depression. It has been my observation that depressed people seem to benefit from gaining control of some part of their lives, so changing diet may be a good place to start.

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