According to Mind, a mental health charity in the UK, depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health concerns, affecting more than 10 percent of the population . While feelings of sadness and anxiety can be triggered by a number of different factors, experts are beginning to question whether diet could be playing a significant role in the development of these disorders, and whether a change in diet, to include ‘happy’ foods, could prove to be a successful management technique.
Scientists believe that fatty foods can physically alter the way the brain works, leading to symptoms of depression and anxiety . This is leading to an increased focus on research that looks for potential links between food intake, the brain, and mood, not only to see if dietary changes could be causing feelings of sadness, but also to if they could potentially be a ‘cure’. Can your diet really make you feel happier?
The Happy Hormone
Serotonin is often called the ‘happy hormone’. It’s not actually a hormone - instead, it’s a chemical that releases hormones - but ultimately, what this chemical does is help to stabilise your mood and ward off symptoms of depression. Some of the most common types of antidepressants prescribed by doctors are called ‘selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors’, or SSRIs, which work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Is it possible for foods to have a similar effect, and stimulate the production of serotonin?
None of the foods we eat contain serotonin, but many do contain tryptophan, which the body uses to make serotonin. Tryptophan tends to be found in foods high in protein, iron, and vitamin B6.
Protein, particularly whey protein, is beneficial for increasing levels of tryptophan in the body , helping to produce serotonin. Whey protein is commonly found in milk and also in soft cheeses like ricotta. It is also available in powder form, and commonly used by athletes and bodybuilders.
Research shows that an iron deficiency can have a much greater effect than simply making you feel a bit lethargic - it can also slow down production of serotonin . Meats and seafoods are great sources of iron, although vegetarians can also boost their intake through food supplements containing iron.
Tryptophan needs vitamin B6 to make serotonin, which has lead many researchers to claim that a low B6 intake could be responsible for making us feel a bit down sometimes . B6 is one of the B complex vitamins and it’s found in fruits, leafy green veg, meats, and seeds, as well as in food supplements.
The Power of the Diet
We often tend to think about our diet as nourishing our body, but it appears that it does much more - it’s responsible for nourishing the brain, too. While symptoms of depression should always be checked out by a doctor, if you’re simply having a bad day, or are feeling a little down in the dumps, never underestimate the power of the diet. By making a few small changes, you may just find that spring in your step once more.