Depression is on the increase. If you live in the industrialised West, there’s a 15% chance you’ll face depression at some time in your life, compared to 11% in poorer nations. But hang on a minute, being rich was supposed to make us happier right? Turns out, as our incomes have risen, the nutritional value of our diets have gotten worse, which scientists believe may be affecting our mental health. They have seen how the symptoms of some mental disorders can be improved by adding Omega 3, certain vitamins and minerals, and even probiotics. But could supplementing our diets with CBD also lead to improved mental well-being?
Current Treatments Fail to Halt Depression
Depression is a notoriously difficult disease to treat, with the onset occurring due to a host of different reasons. Genes can play a part, so can long term stress. Loneliness and trauma are also key factors.
When it comes to treatment, doctors tend to focus on an assumed depletion in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, turning to antidepressant medication as their first port of call. However, antidepressants are not successful in 50% of cases and often come with a bunch of undesirable side effects. What’s more, if not accompanied by some psychological support, antidepressants may only mask the root of the depression.
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Link Between Nutrition and Mental Health
But thanks to a new branch of medicine called nutritional psychiatry, evidence is mounting that deficiencies in our diet may be a contributing factor to the rise in mental disorders. Researchers have noted that leading industrialised nations like the United States are generally lacking in essential vitamins, minerals and Omega 3 fatty acids, with these deficiencies particularly pronounced in subjects with mental disorders.
In the paper ‘Nutritional therapies for mental disorders’, the authors state: “Daily supplements of vital nutrients often effectively reduce patients' symptoms. Supplements that contain amino acids also reduce symptoms, because they are converted to neurotransmitters that alleviate depression and other mental disorders.”
Top of the list of supplements to alleviate depression are Omega 3 fatty acids, found in oily fish and plant sources such as flax and hemp seeds. Not only do countries with a diet high in oily fish have less depression, but studies link a lack of Omega 3 to higher incidences of mental disorders. While evidence is mixed as to whether supplementing Omega 3 makes significant improvements in cases of depression and other mental health problems, the fatty acid’s anti-inflammatory properties and ability to improve neurotransmitter transmission means Omega 3 continues to be researched as nutraceutical for depression.
Another over-the-counter dietary supplement that’s finding favour in the world of nutritional psychiatry are probiotics. These are live bacteria thought to be good for digestive health, particularly if it has been compromised after several courses of antibiotics.
Because of what’s known as the ‘gut-brain’ axis, it is thought that changes in our intestinal bacteria may contribute towards depression and anxiety. Not only does the gut have its own nervous system, but it is thought that there is direct communication between what happens between our ears and what we feel in our bellies.
Research into whether taking probiotics for depression has had mixed results, but some studies have found administering probiotics showed “significant improvements in the moods of individuals with mild to moderate depressive symptoms.”
CBD: A Dietary Supplement for Depression?
CBD, otherwise known as Cannabidiol, is a type of compound known as a cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp. Non-psychoactive in nature, it is anti-inflammatory, a powerful antioxidant, increases serotonin signalling and boosts the body’s endocannabinoid system. This is of particular interest when we consider some of the main biological components of depression, which include chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, depletion in serotonin levels, and a dysregulated endocannabinoid system.
CBD is generally sold as a nutritional supplement and is considered by many to be a kind of nutraceutical - a food-based ingredient with extra health benefits in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foods.
But some people take the argument even further suggesting that over the last 60 years, as hemp has gradually disappeared from our diets, we in the West have become cannabinoid deficient.
A possible result of this is what’s known as Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency, whereby a lack of endocannabinoids causes symptoms such as chronic pain, tiredness and low mood. Endocannabinoids are natural cannabis-like chemicals made by the body that fit into special receptors found in the brain, central nervous system and gut. Together they produce a kind of internal balance, regulating biological activity in order to bring about homeostasis.
Endocannabinoid imbalances have been noted in cases of clinical depression with scientists even believing that endocannabinoid levels could be a potential biomarker for mental disorders.
CBD indirectly stimulates the endocannabinoid system by blocking the enzyme responsible for breaking down a key endocannabinoid called anandamide. Named after the sanskrit word for ‘bliss’, anandamide is a type of neurotransmitter and plays a crucial part both in boosting mood and reducing inflammation.
Not only that, CBD activates the serotonin 5-HT1A receptor which is involved with regulating mood and anxiety levels, as well as encouraging new brain cell growth in the hippocampus region. Its anti-inflammatory nature and role as a powerful antioxidant means CBD has also become a therapeutic target for protecting the brain against strokes and neurodegenerative diseases.
It’s no wonder then that CBD is making its mark as a ‘must have’ nutraceutical ingredient in a whole host of health food products.
When it comes to our emotional health, it seems then we are what we eat. Statistics show that our high fat, processed diets in the West are making us both physically and mentally unwell. So it’s time to get nutraceutical savvy by incorporating enough Omega 3, fresh fruits and vegetables, and of course CBD oil into our healthy eating regimes.
Interested in finding out how CBD can boost your mental well-being? Check out this informative article. And for a look at the link between the endocannabinoid system and depression, we love this in depth post.