Monday, January 4, 2010

Fighting Depression with Better Nutrition 1

My friend and neighbor who lost her 19-year old son to a fatal accident in early November is having a rough time with depression. For many years she has worked in the drug and alcohol addiction treatment field, and is naturally adamant about not taking drugs for depression.

For the next few days I am going to try and write about some foods that help fight depression and simultaneously increase overall health.

Today it’s essential fatty acids.

The human body can produce all but 2 of the many fatty acids needed for health. These 2 are linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), called essential fatty acids both because we need them, and because we cannot make them. They must be supplied by food, or by supplements.

Essential fatty acids are important in several body systems including the immune system. They are needed to produce the hormones that regulate blood pressure, blood lipid levels (think cholesterol), cell growth, immune response and injury infection response. Essential fatty acids are necessary in brain functions, and changes in the balance of these essential fatty acids in the brain can affect our dispositions, sometimes severely.

Omega-3 and omega-6 are 2 important types of essential fatty acids we need. They are polyunsaturated fatty acids that differ from each other in their chemical structure and function in our bodies. They must be in balance for optimum function. Unfortunately, the typical American diet no longer provides these essential fatty acids in roughly equal amounts.

Omega-6 essential fatty acids are found in plant oils derived from seeds and nuts. Refined oils such as soy oils, are found in most of the snack foods, cookies, crackers, sweets and fast foods in our diet. Soybean oil alone is now thought to account for more than 20% of our daily caloric intake.

The longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA) are found in some fish oils, and walnuts. Cold water fish such as sardines, mackerel, salmon and cod are significant sources of omega-3 (unfortunately also a source of mercury from our toxic oceans).

The imbalance of these essential fatty acids is believed to contribute to the rise of diseases like asthma, coronary artery disease, many forms of cancer and neurodegenerative disease, all believed to stem from inflammation in the body. (Omega-6 increases inflammation.) This imbalance of fatty acids is also thought to contribute to obesity, depression, hyperactivity and even violence.

Joseph Hibbein, MD and psychiatrist at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and perhaps the world's leading authority on the relationship between fat consumption and mental health, recently cited a study showing that prison violence dropped 37% after omega-3’s and vitamins were added to the prisoners’ diets.

Omega-3’s have been have been studied in mental health clinical trials for years, and consistently shown to make significant improvements in many areas. They have proven to fight depression, positively affect even more severe mental illnesses like bi-polar disorder, and improve the behavior of children with ADHD.

“You can cut down on omega-6 levels by reducing consumption of processed and fast foods, and polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, soy, and cottonseed, for example). At home, use extra virgin olive oil for cooking and in salad dressings. Eat more oily fish or take fish oil supplements, walnuts, flax seeds, and omega-3 fortified eggs. Your body and mind will thank you.”
~Dr. Andrew Weil

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