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How Can Atypical Depression be Treated with Diet?

written by: Diana Cooper • edited by: Jacqueline Chinappi • updated: 9/7/2010

Folic acid, vitamins B6 & B12, and omega-3 are especially important in a diet treatment for atypical depression. Learn why and know what foods are good sources of these nutrients.

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    Atypical Depression

    Depression People with atypical depression, unlike those with major depression, can temporarily feel good when things in their life are better. In addition, people with the atypical type generally have fewer symptoms when depressed. The exact cause of depression is unknown. However, it is believed to be the result of an imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Proper nutrition can play a big role in balancing brain chemicals. Below is a diet treatment for atypical depression that may be helpful.

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    Diet Treatment

    For all people, it is important to eat a well-balanced and healthy diet. For people with depression (including atypical), the following nutrients are especially helpful.

    Folic Acid and Vitamin B12

    Depression is the most common symptom of a deficiency in folic acid (the most common nutrient deficiency in the world). According to studies, 31-35% of people with depression are deficient in folic acid and 35-92.6% of elderly people admitted to a psychiatric ward have a deficiency in folic acid. Vitamin B12 deficiency is not as common as that of folic acid, but it can also cause depression, particularly in the elderly.

    Folic acid, vitamin B12, and S-adenosyl-methionine (SAM - a form of the amino acid methionine) function as "methyl donors". This means they carry and donate methyl molecules to neurotransmitters. Without these molecules, neurotransmitters can not function properly.

    Foods high in folic acid include green leafy vegetables, legumes, soy milk, liver, orange juice, and cantaloupe.

    Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in meats and animal products such as milk, cheese, and eggs. Other sources include fortified soy milk and fermented foods. Vegans may have to take a supplement to ensure they are getting enough of this vitamin.

    Vitamin B6

    Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is another nutrient that is typically low in depressed people, especially in women who take oral contraceptives or other forms of estrogen. This B vitamin has many functions in the brain, including being necessary for the manufacturing of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

    Foods high in vitamin B6 include green leafy vegetables, legumes, meat, fish, poultry, bananas, and avocado.

    Omega-3 Fatty Acids

    An insufficiency of omega-3 in the diet has been linked to depression. Omega-3 is important for the formation of cell membranes. Cell membranes serve as barriers that regulate the passage of molecules into and out of the cell. A deficiency in omega-3 can impair this function. Studies have shown that the physical properties of brain cell membranes directly influence a number of factors which have been implicated in depression, including the synthesis of neurotransmitters.

    Foods high in omega-3 include cold-water fish (such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines), flaxseed, walnuts, and avocado.

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    Final Note

    Sometimes, the above diet treatment for atypical depression may require supplementation to help. For best results and safety concerns, you should speak with your health care provider.

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    References

    University of Maryland Medical Center: Depression - http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/depression-000047.htm

    Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (1998)

    Hamilton, Whitney, and Sizer, Nutrition Concepts and Controversies Third Edition (1985) West Publishing Co.

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    Photo Credit

    Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Depression.jpg