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Dieting Away Your...Depression?

Updated: May 28, 2023

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Depression is debilitating. It is a disorder that invades and oppresses all aspects of your life. Where you once had joy and hope, there is none to be found.

Life not only seems meaningless but it’s painful both mentally and physically. Sometimes it takes everything you’ve got just to get out of bed.

Sometimes you don’t get out of bed.

Living with depression can be extremely challenging especially when anti-depressant medications offer little to no relief.

What should you do if you're suffering from depression and you feel like you haven't received much relief from medication?

One thing that may be beneficial is to examine your diet. The conventional theory is that depression is linked to a brain chemical imbalance, especially the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Serotonin is a feel good molecule that plays a role in everything from your circadian rhythm and bowel movements to your libido and cognition.

When you’re diagnosed with depression, your health care provider will most likely prescribe a medication called an SSRI or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor.

SSRIs are intended to prevent the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain to keep more of this “happy-inducing” neurotransmitter around.

drawing of a half of a brain

While the theory of “depression means serotonin deficiency” is the prevailing one in psychiatry at the moment, it really isn’t backed up by research.

It was based on clever and insidious marketing by the pharmaceutical industry to sell more drugs.

Many doctors are now speaking out against this flawed theory of “low serotonin causes depression” and are admitting that they really don’t know what causes it [2].

Depression is a complex disease with possibly hundreds of different causes involving both psychological and physiological roots.

The “chemical imbalance” theory of depression is incorrect and outdated.

So while research doesn’t support serotonin deficiency as the cause of depression, it also sheds an alarming light on anti-depressant medications.

In the 1980s and 90s, clinical trials showed that antidepressants helped reduce a whopping 70% of symptoms of depression while the remaining 30% was attributed to placebo. Then JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Asociation, stopped taken data analyses completed by pharmaceutical companies [1].

Unsurprisingly, the success rates of antidepressants dropped to 40% with placebo still at 30%.

While antidepressants may not be as efficacious as once believed and can even be detrimental, with antidepressant use linked to development of Type 2 diabetes [3], there is a body of research emerging that shows diet plays a huge role in reducing the symptoms of depression.

grilled salmon with salad

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Since many with depression don't respond well (or at all) to traditional anti-depressants, a new theory suggests that people with depression have a large amount of inflammation in the body. Omega 3 fatty acids can help to reduce inflammation by increasing the amount of molecules called resolvins in the blood which are anti-inflammatory.

Omega 3 fatty acids come in the form of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha linolenic acid (ALA). You can find omega 3 fatty acids in foods like salmon, sardines, mackerel, walnuts, chia and flax seeds, and algae.

If you don't like any of those foods, you can always opt for a supplement like cod liver oil, fish oil, krill oil, or algal oil (if you are vegetarian).

Personally I love the Integrative Therapeutics Pure Omega HP. Although the pills are rather large, it has a pleasant flavor which makes it easy to swallow or even chew if you want. Head over to my online dispensary where you can sign up for an account to buy IT Pure Omega HP and any other supplements that you'd like.

Make sure that you aren't taking more than 3 grams of EPA and DHA per day unless supervised by a naturopathic physician because high doses of fish oil can lead to increased bleeding.

Magnesium, Zinc, and Selenium

a person holding kale

These micronutrients or minerals had been implicated in causing depression for at least 3 decades. Zinc blood levels in patients suffering from depression was shown to be approximately 0.12 micrograms/milliliter lower than people who didn't suffer from depression. The level of zinc deficiency was correlated to severity of depressive symptoms while increased zinc blood levels correlated with an increase in mood [4].

The best sources of dietary zinc come from red meat, crab, and oysters.

Are you getting enough magnesium? Magnesium is an essential mineral that is needed by our bodies in over 300 chemical processes. While most people don't think of a magnesium deficiency as possible, studies suggest that a whopping 68% of Americans don't get even the minimal RDA (recommended daily allowance) of magnesium in their diets [5].

Great sources of magnesium include whole grains, nuts, seeds, and dark leafy greens.

Selenium is a trace mineral that is responsible for brain and central nervous system health as well as optimal thyroid function. The biggest source of selenium is through grains which uptake selenium from the soil. Soil depletion plays a huge role in selenium deficiency.

If you don't have access to high quality whole grains, you can always supplement with selenium under the supervision of your naturopathic physician. High doses of selenium at or above 1600 micrograms a day can induce selenium toxicity which includes nauseas, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, irritability, and breath with a garlic odor [4].

The Mediterranean Diet

chicken skewer and salad with fried plantains

The Mediterranean Diet, one that includes lots of whole grains, legumes, nut, herb spices, and fish, has been shown to prevent the risk of depression and even cure it!

Research done by Professor Felice Jacka at Deakin University in Australia has shown that eating a modified mediterranean diet that lean red met, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, unsalted raw nuts, chicken, fish, eggs, olive oil, and unsweetened dairy can reduce or completely eradicate depression in as little at 12 weeks [6]!

In fact, up to 32% of the participants in the study had a complete remission of all depressive symptoms while only 8% in the unhealthy diet group has a remission of their depressive symptoms.

What's ever better is that the modified Mediterranean Diet was even cheaper than the unhealthy refined carb and sugar laden diet was.

If you're suffering from depression, consider incorporating these foods and nutrients into your diet and contacting your naturopathic physician. You deserve to be healthy and happy. Changing your diet can help get you there.

Have you tried dietary changes to address your depression? What were the results?

Let me know in the comments!

Dr. Candace Mathers, naturopathic doctor in Chicago, naturopathic doctor Chicago suburbs, naturopathic doctor near me, woman in watermelon dress, watermelon
I'm Dr. Candace Mathers, a naturopathic doctor who wants to get you healthy so that you can be your best you! I’m a Christian, mom, and lover of all things family friendly fun!


1. Khan A, Brown WA. Antidepressants versus placebo in major depression: an overview. World Psychiatry. 2015;14(3):294-300.


3. Pan A, Sun Q, Okereke OI, et al. Use of antidepressant medication and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three cohorts of US adults. Diabetologia. 2011;55(1):63-72.

4. LaChance LR, Ramsey D. Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression. World J Psychiatry. 2018;8(3):97-104. Published 2018 Sep 20. doi:10.5498/wjp.v8.i3.97

5. King D.E., Mainous A.G., III, Geesey M.E., Woolson R.F. Dietary magnesium and C-reactive protein levels. J. Am. Coll. Nutr. 2005;24:166–171. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2005.1071946



Woman in watermelon dress holding a piece of watermelon
I'm Dr. Candace Mathers, a naturopathic physician,helping you repair, restore, and renew your health and life to new heights! I'm a Christian, a mother, and lover of the outdoors.

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