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.”