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food for the brain

Championing optimum nutrition for the mind


Action plan for overcoming depression

Up your intake of essential omega 3 fats

This means eating oily fish at least twice a week, seeds on most days and supplementing omega 3 fish oils.

The best fish for EPA, the type of omega 3 fat that’s linked with improving mood, are:

Mackerel (1,400mg per 100g/3oz), Herring/kipper (1,000mg), Sardines (1,000mg),fresh tuna (900mg), Anchovy (900mg), Salmon (800mg),Trout (500mg). Tuna, being high in mercury is best eaten not more than three times a month.

The best seeds are flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. Flax seeds are so small they are best ground and sprinkled on cereal. Alternatively, use flax seed oil, for example in salad dressings. While technically providing omega 3 only about 5% of the type of omega 3 (alpha linolenic acid) in these seeds is converted in your body into EPA. Omega-3 seeds and seed oil should not be cooked.

When supplementing omega 3 fish oils you are aiming for about 1,000mg of EPA a day for a mood boosting effect. That means supplementing a concentrated Omega 3 Fish Oil capsule providing 500mg, once or twice a day and eating a serving of any of the above fish three times a week.

Check your homocysteine level and get enough B vitamins

Your homocysteine level is an indicator of your B vitamin needs. , You can be tested through your GP or using a home test kit. If your level is above 9mmol/l take a combined ‘homocysteine’ supplement of B2, B6, B12, folic acid, zinc, and TMG, providing at least 400mcg of folic acid, 250mcg of B12 and 20mg of B6. If your homocysteine score is above 15mmol/l double this amount. Also eat B vitamin rich whole foods – whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Folic acid is particularly rich in green vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, while B12 is only found in animal foods – meat, fish, eggs and dairy produce. A good starting point is also to supplement a multivitamin providing optimal levels of B vitamins, which means 25mg-50mg of B1, B2, B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine) and at least 100mcg of folic acid and 10mcg of B12 and biotin.

Consider supplementing the amino acid 5-HTP

Most of the effective studies used 300mg of 5-HTP, however we ideally recommend testing if you are low in serotonin with a platelet serotonin test and starting with 100mg, or 50mg twice a day. If 5-HTP is not available, you could supplement the amino acid tryptophan in amounts of 500mg – 2g per day – again, we would suggest starting at the lower end. Tryptophan is best absorbed either on an empty stomach or, ideally, with a carbohydrate snack such as a piece of fruit or an oatcake. 5-HTP is well-absorbed with or without food. Also, make sure you eat enough protein from beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fish, eggs and meat, which are all high in tryptophan. Do not take 5-HTP or tryptophan if you are currently taking an anti-depressant without your doctor’s permission.

Avoid or reduce caffeine, sugar, refined carbohydrates and alcohol

Eat a diet that will stabilise your blood sugar (known as the Low GL diet). The key points are:

Only eat low GL carbohydrates;

Always combine your low GL carbohydrates with protein in a ratio of 1:1;

Eat at regular intervals, including snacks that include low GL carbohydrate and protein such as fresh fruit with a handful of nuts, oatcakes with homous or celery and cottage cheese;

Only eat sweet foods as a very occasional treat and only after a meal or healthy snack.

To really get to grips with this type of eating plan, we highly recommend Patrick Holford’s Low GL Diet book.

Consider supplementing chromium

If you suffer from ‘atypical depression’ (see above) studies show that 600mcg of chromium a day is effective. Supplements generally come in 200mcg pills. Take two with breakfast and one with lunch. If this works, after a month reduce to one with breakfast and one with lunch. If this works, reduce to one with breakfast after a further month. Don’t take chromium in the evening as it can be stimulating.

In addition to supplementing chromium, you should adopt the low GL Diet style of eating as outlined above.

Have a vitamin D test

Ask your GP or nutritional therapist for a vitamin D test. If your level is below 75 nmol/litre, supplement 2,000 iu per day for 12 weeks, and then get a retest.

Get some sensible sun exposure, without sun-block, but don’t risk your skin health by allowing yourself to get sunburned!

Investigate food intolerances

You may suspect some foods which may or may not be one of the usual suspects - are gluten (wheat, rye, barley), wheat, dairy (all types – cow, sheep, goat, milk, cheese, cream etc), soya, yeast and eggs. If this is the case, you could try an exclusion of the food or foods for a brief trial period.

Alternatively, you could undertake an IgG ELISA blood test to determine whether you have raised antibody levels to specific foods in your blood which is a good indication. Either way, don’t make dramatic changes to your diet or cut out whole food groups without professional guidance to ensure your diet remains healthy and balanced – this is especially important for the frail and for children. Finding help

If you would like further help, you can visit our clinic the Brain Bio Centre which specialises in optimum nutrition for mental health recovery. We have helped many people with depression, by working with them to create personalised nutritional programmes based upon their health history, symptoms and test results. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you, please click here.

Alternatively a register of nutritional therapists in your local area can be found by visiting the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

Further reading

OptForTheMind2Optimum Nutrition for the Mind
Patrick Holford, 2010
Optimum Nutrition for the Mind is the classic guide to improving your mood, boosting your memory, sharpening your mind and solving mental health problems through nutrition.

£2 from each book sale is donated to Food for the Brain.

FeelGood2 Feel Good Factor
This book provides practical advice on how to improve your mood without the need for medical drugs. It includes lifestyle and life management techniques, as well as revealing the right foods to eat, and those to avoid. It is supported by substantial research, and backed up by poignant and motivating case histories.

£2 from each book sale is donated to Food for the Brain.

BrainFeeding Minds
Mental Health Foundation, 2006
This report lays out the evidence linking trends in food consumption with mental ill-health, and supports the case for an integrated approach to the treatment of mental health problems, identifying nutrition as a key component.