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Ketamine Treatment Center | 703-844-0184 | Ketamine for Depression | Fairfax, Va 22304 | Loudon County, Va | Alexandria, Va | NOVA Health Recovery


A Nutritional Guide to Managing Your MDD

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Major depressive disorder (MDD) can have a huge impact on your life. You may lose interest in your favorite activities, have difficulty sleeping, or experience a change in appetite. Persistent sadness, irritability, and frustration can also change your relationships with family and friends, or interfere with your ability to concentrate at work or school.MDD, also known as clinical depression, is characterized by sadness that lasts for weeks or months. Some people find relief with treatment. But even with antidepressants and talk therapy, symptoms may linger.If you’re looking for an approach to supplement your current therapy, adding certain foods to your diet can make a difference. Although there’s no specific diet to relieve symptoms of MDD, some foods may provide a much-needed mood boost.

B vitamins

Low levels of vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, and folate can increase the risk of depression. These vitamins affect mood and brain function. A deficiency may occur if you don’t consume enough food rich in B vitamins, or if you have a medical condition that makes it difficult for your body to absorb vitamins. This can happen with digestive disorders, such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease.

Your doctor can test your vitamin B levels and, if necessary, recommend a vitamin B supplement. You should also modify your diet and include foods rich in these vitamins. Good sources of vitamin B include:

  • almonds
  • beet roots
  • dark, leafy greens
  • eggs
  • fish, poultry, and other lean meats
  • lentils
  • liver
  • low-fat or fat-free milk

Vitamin D

If you have MDD, you may be deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to mood disorders. A simple blood test can diagnose a deficiency.

Depending on the severity of your deficiency, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter vitamin D supplements or give you a prescription for vitamin D. If you prefer not taking a supplement, eating the right foods may correct a deficiency.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s essential for strong bones. So if you have a vitamin D deficiency, you may also experience other symptoms like unexplained aches and pains.

Because the sun is an excellent source of vitamin D, increasing the amount of time you spend outdoors can improve your mood and relieve symptoms of depression. If you can’t get outdoors, sit or work under a vitamin D light box for about 30 minutes a day. This box emits light that mimics natural sunlight.

In addition to these suggestions, eating more vitamin D-rich foods can have a positive impact on your mood. Good sources of vitamin D include:

  • beef liver
  • cereals
  • vitamin D-fortified dairy products (milk, yogurt, and cheese)
  • egg yolks
  • fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, and salmon)
  • portobello mushrooms
  • vitamin D-fortified orange juice

Omega-3 fatty acids

If you’re not eating enough omega-3 fatty acids, you may also have difficulty managing your depression symptoms. Fatty acids are essential to good health and offer several benefits. They can:

  • reduce inflammation
  • lower your risk of cancer
  • improve heart health
  • boost mood

Your body doesn’t naturally produce fatty acids. You receive these fats through food.

Mood swings and depression can occur if you have a deficiency. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • fatty fish (tuna, salmon, and sardines)
  • flaxseed
  • dark, leafy greens
  • soybeans
  • walnuts

Increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids alone may not significantly improve depression. But you may see improvement if you eat omega-3 foods along with taking an antidepressant.

If you prefer an omega-3 supplement, talk to your doctor before combining a supplement with your prescription medication.


There’s also a link between low selenium levels and depression. Selenium is a trace mineral with antioxidant properties, so it can protect your body from cell damage. Because this mineral is also important to brain function, a deficiency can trigger low moods.

Taking a selenium supplement along with an antidepressant might help. You can also increase your intake of selenium through food. Good sources of selenium include:

  • brown or white rice
  • cheese
  • chia seeds
  • couscous
  • egg noodles
  • portobello mushrooms
  • poultry
  • seafood (tilapia, bass, oysters, salmon sardines, and crab)
  • sunflower seeds
  • whole wheat pasta
  • yogurt

Other tips

When you’re feeling down, you may crave junk foods to feel better. The good news is that you don’t have to feel guilty about reaching for a chocolate bar. Dark chocolate may improve depression. Chocolate increases the brain’s production of endorphins, which are hormones that affect mood.

However, it’s important to consume dark chocolate in moderation. Too much can raise your blood sugar and cause a sugar crash.

Be aware that alcohol and caffeine may worsen your symptoms. Some people turn to alcohol to numb the pain of depression and feel better. Alcohol is fine in moderation, but too much can reduce serotonin levels and increase anxiety and depression. Caffeine is also linked to lower serotonin levels.

The takeaway

Depression can be debilitating, but there are ways to improve your symptoms. You shouldn’t stop your current treatment unless advised by your doctor. You can, however, supplement your treatment by modifying your diet and adding mood-boosting foods. If it’s more convenient to correct a deficiency with a supplement, speak with your doctor first.

Diet and Depression

Foods That Help to Improve Your Mood

Source: Mitchell Gaynor, MD

Feeling down after receiving bad news is quite natural. The problem, however, is the time it takes for those who feel sad or depressed to work through their issues and snap out of their despondency. Do depressive symptoms last for days? weeks? months? years? The duration of depression makes all the difference in the diagnosis of major depressive disorder.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 25% of adults and 10% of children experience mental illness each year. With the holidays around the corner, some individuals may feel less than festive. And the sweet, delectable treats that are commonly associated with many end-of-year holidays lack significant nutrients that help to combat depression and improve mood.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental illness that is characterized by negative thoughts and behaviors. Mental illness is a worldwide epidemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) data shows that mental disorders account for 4 out of 10 leading causes of disability worldwide. In 2020, major depression will lead the pack of mental illness as the cause of disability among women and children across the globe. Mental illness impairs one’s ability to carry out daily activities and to interact with others. Depression can become so stifling that it disrupts a person’s quality of life and may result in substance abuse and poor work performance. In the U.S., suicide is the 10th leading cause of death taking about 40,000 lives every year. Studies show that feelings of hopelessness and mental illness are associated with suicide. So it’s crucial to seek help for someone you know who has expressed a sense of hopelessness.

Treatment options are effective and often include a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments. And 70 to 90% of mental health patients experience significant improvements in their symptoms. Nutrition can improve depression too. In my new book, The Gene Therapy Plan: Taking Control of Your Genetic Destiny with Diet and Lifestyle, I explain the evolutionary science of epigenetics and how diet and other lifestyle changes can improve your health.

Gutting Out Depression

In epigenetics, DNA doesn’t simply compose the helical structure of the human genome. Rather epigenes, as its name suggest, lies above the genome — adding another layer to the spiraled genetic structure. Environmental factors such as stress, cigarette smoking, and food alter epigenes to change the structure of genes. These epigenetic modifications activate and deactivate genes in ways that help or harm your health.

Food is one essential way in which you can control your epigenetic profile. Because what you eat affects your mood, you should aim for foods that enhance your gut health. In fact, microorganisms produce numerous neurochemicals. These neurochemicals made by gut bacteria play a role in mood and other neurologic functions. So balancing gut bacteria through the consumption of probiotics such as Lactobaccilli and Bifidobacteria help to elevate mood.1,2

Another toxicant linked to depression is aspartame, a chemical used in artificial sweeteners. Aspartame is broken down into smaller molecules that decrease serotonin, which has been dubbed the “happiness” hormone and is an important neurochemical messenger that regulates appetite and mood.

Natural Depressants and Antidepressants — Nutrients to Avoid and Consume

Nutritional epigenetics is a two-way street: Some foods promote health and others bolster disease. To avoid the latter, you should steer away from foods that make you feel depressed:

Alcohol: Although the occasional drink is fine, people should limit their alcoholic intake. Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with anxiety and panic attacks; excessive drinking also depletes serotonin, which makes people prone to anxiety and depression.

Caffeine: Caffeinated beverages lower serotonin and increase the risk for anxiety, depression, and poor sleep. Reduce your intake for coffee, tea, and hot cocoa. Also, avoid the urge to sweeten your caffeinated beverages.

High-Calorie, Low Nutrient Foods: When you eat processed, refined sugars, you enjoy a momentary high-energy jolt. Eating sweets raises blood sugar level, increases fat storage, and promotes a crash-and-burn feeling. Maintaining a steady blood sugar level is important to achieve even-keeled energy levels.

To eat your way to being healthier, consume epigenetic foods that promote wellness, improve sleep, and elevate your mood. For example, serotonin is a feel-good hormone that uplifts your mood and helps you to sleep better. Eat foods such as chickpeas, which are rich in tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin. Balance your mood and prevent depression by also eating the following foods:

B12 and folate prevent mood disorders and dementias.

  • Sources: beetroot, lentils, almonds, spinach, liver (folate); liver, chicken, fish (B12)

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with different mood disorders.

  • Sources: sun exposure; breakfast cereals, breads, juices, milk; high-quality supplements

Selenium decreases depression.

  • Sources: cod, Brazil nuts, walnuts, poultry

Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for cognitive and behavioral function. Low levels of omega-3 fats lead to many health problems including mood swings and depression.

  • Sources: cod, haddock, salmon, halibut, nut oils, and algae; high-quality supplements

Dark chocolate enhances mood by increasing endorphins in the brain that promote a sense of well-being.

There are many healthful foods that act as antidepressants. While these good-mood foods are essential for your diet, there’s still more that you can do. Get in the habit of participating regularly in physical activity. Exercise increases your metabolism, enhances mood, and alleviates tension.


1. Burnet PW, Cowen PJ. Psychobiotics highlight the pathways to happiness. Biological Psychiatry. 2013;74(10):708-709.

2. Logan AC, Katzman M. Major depressive disorder: probiotics may be an adjuvant therapy. Medical Hypotheses.64(3):533-538.

Not by Fish Alone

It takes an array of omega fatty acids to serve—and preserve—the many functions of the brain

Irina Sokolovskaya/Shutterstock

What enables you to solve novel problems is a faculty called fluid intelligence. It’s your on-the-spot reasoning ability, in contrast to crystallized intelligence, which is more dependent on learning. Unfortunately, fluid intelligence begins to decline even before middle age, while crystallized intelligence gathers steam over time.

Fluid intelligence, researchers find, depends on the healthy function of the frontal and parietal cortices, and studies show that it can be optimally preserved by consumption of specific omega-3 fats. These are not the well-known omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, EPA and DHA; all are derived from land-based food. Omega-3 fats from fish are still important. But so are other omega-3 fats.

Nutritional neuroscientist Marta Zamroziewicz, along with neuroscientist Aron Barbey, at the University of Illinois, studied the frontoparietal network of the brain in the healthy elderly, aged 65 to 75. They also looked at the nutritional intake of those subjects. But unlike most researchers, they measured an array of polyunsaturated fats in the blood, because nutrients don’t act in isolation. By measuring blood levels of the fatty acids, the researchers bypassed the limitations of most nutritional research—flawed recall of food intake and variability of nutrient absorption.

As a result, they got a clear picture of which nutrient patterns best preserve the structure of the frontoparietal gray matter. They turned out to be alpha-linolenic acid, stearidonic acid, and eicosatrienoic acid. Subjects with high blood levels of the three omega-3s tended to have a larger left frontoparietal cortex. Further, the size of the frontoparietal cortex predicted performance on tests of fluid intelligence.

Nuts, seeds, and oils are the primary sources of the three omega fatty acids. Alpha-linolenic acid is found in nuts, especially walnuts, and in seeds and their oils, especially rapeseed oil. Stearidonic acid is also found in seed oils. Eicosatrienoic acid is most abundant in flaxseed oil and also found in yellow mustard. Intake of these nutrients, studies show, may prevent or slow cognitive decline.

In a related set of studies, Zamroziewicz and Barbey found that the brain structure most revealing of memory function in the aging process is the fornix, and its integrity hinges on an abundance of both omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats. The fornix is an area of white matter situated between the hypothalamus and the hippocampus. The state of its microstructure, including the myelination of component nerve fibers, is a more sensitive indicator of memory decline than gray-matter studies of its next-door neighbor, the hippocampus.

The researchers measured blood levels of more than a dozen polyunsaturated fatty acids and their relationship to both the white-matter integrity of the fornix and performance on tasks of memory in 94 healthy elderly subjects. A mixture of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is most robustly linked to both. The nutrients directly enhance memory processes and indirectly affect them by maintaining the microstructure of the fornix.

As susceptible as memory is to age-related decline, the fornix is responsive to nutritional interventions. The Western diet oversupplies omega-6 fats relative to omega-3s, making a healthier balance of the fatty acids essential. Such a balance, say the researchers, allows for optimal regulation of the two roles of the fatty acids—incorporation into cell membranes and conversion to inflammatory mediators.

Fats for Fluid Intelligence

Blood levels of three omega-3 fatty acids correlate with fluid intelligence and the size of the left frontoparietal cortex.

Alpha-linolenic acid is found in many seeds and walnuts.

Stearidonic acid is found in walnuts and pumpkin seeds.

Eicosatrienoic acid is found in flaxseed oil.

Feeding the Fornix

The fornix is an area of white matter situated between the hypothalamus and the hippocampus. Refinements in brain-imaging technology have enabled neuroscientists to discover that the microstructure of the fornix is a highly sensitive indicator of memory health. Its microstructure is amenable to nutritional intervention.

Fatty Acid Facts

Omega-3 and omega-6 are the two major classes of polyunsaturated fats in the human body.

Both are long chains of carbon atoms but differ in the location of the carbon-carbon double bond in the chain.

There are 11 different omega-3 fatty acids and 11 omega-6 fatty acids.

All serve two basic functions: They are incorporated into plasma membranes, and are converted into pro- and anti-inflammatory factors.

In general, omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory effects.

Omega-6 fatty acids are generally pro-inflammatory compounds, but some have anti-inflammatory action.

EPA and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids found mostly in fatty fish.

Many omega-3s are found in plants.

Most omega-6 fats in the diet come from vegetable oils.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fat. The body converts it to small amounts of EPA and DHA.

No RDA is set for EPA and DHA. For ALA, Adequate Intake is 1100 mg/day for women, 1600 mg/day for men.

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