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The literal meaning of the word ‘depression’ has its origin in Latin ‘depressio’ meaning ‘press down’ and according to Oxford Dictionary it is ‘Feelings of severe despondency and dejection’ or ‘a mental condition characterised by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep’.
Depression affects 350 million people worldwide, and is the leading cause of disability and the fourth-leading cause of the global disease burden. However, the effectiveness of conventional treatments for depression is questioned: meta-analyses of drug treatments demonstrate minimal difference from placebo, comparisons of real and sham electroconvulsive therapy show little difference after a month, and the evidence for the use of specific cognitive interventions is weak. Therefore, the evidence for other approaches to the management of depression were examined.
Depression is undoubtedly an extremely complex and heterogeneous condition. This is reflected by the non-universal results obtained using cognitive-behavior and antidepressant medications. As research continues to mount, it is becoming clear that neurobiology/physiology, genetics, life stressors, and environmental factors can all contribute to vulnerability to depression. While much attention has been given to genetics and life stressors, only a small group of international researchers have focused on nutritional influences on depressive symptoms. Collectively, the results of this relatively small body of research indicate that nutritional influences on MDD are currently underestimated. Carbohydrates and proteins represent an exciting area of research and emerging as a new potential agent in the treatment of depression.
Carbohydrates are naturally occurring polysaccharides and play an important role in structure and function of an organism. In higher organisms, they have been found to affect mood and behavior. Eating a meal which is rich in carbohydrates triggers the release of insulin in the body. Insulin helps let blood sugar into cells where it can be used for energy and simultaneously it triggers the entry of tryptophan to brain. Tryptophan in the brain affects the neurotransmitters levels. Consumption of diets low in carbohydrate tends to precipitate depression, since the production of brain chemicals serotonin and tryptophan that promote the feeling of well-being, is triggered by carbohydrate rich foods. It is suggested that low glycemic index (GI) foods such as some fruits and vegetables, whole grains, pasta, etc. are more likely to provide a moderate but lasting effect on brain chemistry, mood, and energy level than the high GI foods – primarily sweets – that tend to provide immediate but temporary relief. On the other hand, a diet that is high in refined carbohydrates and sugars is a common factor in depressive illness.
Proteins are made up of amino acids and are important building blocks of life. As many as 12 amino acids are manufactured in the body itself and remaining 8 (essential amino acids) have to be supplied through diet. A high-quality protein diet contains all essential amino acids. Foods rich in high quality protein include meats, milk and other dairy products, and eggs. Plant proteins such as beans, peas, and grains may be low in one or two essential amino acids. Protein intake and in turn the individual amino acids can affect the brain functioning and mental health. As reported in several studies, the amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine are often helpful in treating many mood disorders, including depression.
Many of the neurotransmitters in the brain are made from amino acids. The neurotransmitter dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine and the neurotransmitter serotonin is made from the tryptophan. If there is a lack of any of these two amino acids, there will not be enough synthesis of the respective neurotransmitters, which is associated with low mood and aggression in the patients. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and is usually converted to serotonin when taken alone on an empty stomach. Therefore, tryptophan can induce sleep and tranquility and in cases of serotonin deficiencies, restore serotonin levels leading to diminished depression.
The excessive buildup of amino acids may also lead to brain damage and mental retardation. For example, excessive buildup of phenylalanine in the individuals with disease called phenylketonuria can cause brain damage and mental retardation. In addition, the amino acid tyrosine and sometimes its precursor phenylalanine are converted into dopamine and norepinephrine. Dietary supplements that contain tyrosine and/or phenylalanine lead to alertness and arousal. Methionine combines with ATP to produce S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), which facilitates the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Currently, more studies involving these neurochemicals are needed which exhibit the daily supplemental doses that should be consumed in order to achieve antidepressant effects.
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