Nutrition is important. In life generally, and particularly when it comes to tackling depression. But what do you eat, how and why?
In a series of articles, I’m going to look at the individual nutritional elements that can help beat depression, and the food sources from which they can be found. This why, you can pick and choose what goes into your breakfast, lunch or dinner and help beat depression. This article will focus on the relationship between serotonin and vitamin B6. In subsequent articles, I will look at other elements that can help beat depression, such as folic acid.
A couple of words of caution: I’m not a dietician or nutritionist. Do consult with your doctor or dietician before making any significant changes to your diet, and any diet must be balanced.
Serotonin and vitamin B6
According to a recently-published study in the February 2013 edition of the Neurochem International Journal, titled ‘Effect of diet on serotonergic neurotransmission in depression’, “The neurotransmitter, serotonin (5-HT), synthesised in the brain, plays an important role in mood alleviation, satiety, and sleep regulation.” The maintenance of serotonin levels is targeted by many modern anti-depressants.
Serotonin is found naturally in many foods, but these external sources of serotonin are blocked by the blood brain barrier from accessing the central nervous system.
However, tryptophan, also naturally found in foods, can pass through the blood brain barrier and convert into serotonin with the aid of vitamin B6.
So one important element of diet to consider is foods rich in tryptophan, taken with some carbohydrates and foods rich in vitamin B6.
The role of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates trigger insulin response, which enhances the availability of tryptophan in the central nervous system and so help release serotonin into your body. Increased serotonin makes us feel good, hence the craving for carbohydrate-rich diets.
However, whilst carbohydrate stimulate a quick release of serotonin, they do not assist the ongoing production of serotonin, so should not be an extensive part of your diet. But taking a small amount of carbohydrates with tryptophan-rich foods can help convert the tryptophan into serotonin. So consider a small helping of brown rice, nuts or legumes with your meal.
Fruits such as kiwi fruit, plantains, bananas, sour cherries, pineapples, tomatoes and plums contain serotonin. Walnuts are reported to contain the highest amount of serotonin.
Tryptophan can be found in proteins, found in foods such as turkey, fish, chicken, cottage cheese, nuts, cheese, eggs, and beans. Flaxseed oil also contains tryptophan, as do sour cherries.
Vitamin B6-rich foods
Grains such as cereals, brown rice and breads are rich in B vitamins, as are chicken, corn, eggs, green leafs, legumes, nuts, peas and sunflower seeds.
Eat right, feel right
Knowing what to eat and why is important, but remember – you can’t ‘eat’ your way out of depression. You must combine your diet into a holistic treatment plan, which must include exercise, utilizing your support network and, where appropriate, medication.