Diet and Depression / Bipolar
I’ve written about this before, but due to the amount of misinformation on the internet on this topic, I feel compelled to write about it again.
- Omega-3 and Depression
- Folic Acid and Depression
- Low-Carb Diets and Mood
Now, first off, I do not believe you can cure depression or bipolar using diet. Let me be clear, people who tell you this are mostly flakes. There are ways though that you can possibly improve your treatment plan using dietary components.
Omega-3 and Depression
Omega-3: This is the most well-known and probably well-studied supplement, and it shows a lot of promise. Omega-3 also has been studied for other reasons too and it appears to be good for your heart also, so there are actually a few good reasons to take it.
Omega-3 is, of course a long chain monounsaturated fat found in a number of foods including fatty fish like salmon. However, understand that you cannot eat enough fish to actually get into a clinical range to help depression. Feel free to eat salmon all you like, but don’t expect it to make you better. Again, people suggesting that you “eat more fatty fish” just really don’t know the research.
Omega-3 Over-the-Counter Supplement
Omega-3 supplements over-the-counter are a little different. They can bump up your omega-3 intake by quite a bit. But don’t by fooled. The big number on the front of the bottle is NOT the amount of omega-3’s you actually get in each capsule. Turn the bottle around to see the ingredients and you’ll see that the amount you get in each capsule might be only a third or less than the number reported on the front. So you might be thinking you’re doing something good for yourself, but just not getting the benefit from it.
So what’s going on here? It’s simple really, supplements are not regulated by anyone and so you never really know what you’re getting. If you’re trying to treat a life-threatening illness, I don’t think this is OK.
Luckily, there is an easy way to solve this problem. There is a pharmaceutical grade omega-3 supplement available for purchase. You just need to go to your doctor or psychiatrist and ask for it. Keep in mind, you should be asked for at least 2 GRAMS of omega-3 because that’s what the studies used. 3 grams would be OK too (and is what I take). Bring in the study abstract for your doctor for review if you don’t think he would be up on it, but it’s pretty widely known. And make sure he knows about about the possible side-effects from taking large amounts of omega-3s. Thinning of the blood is one that I know of and so omega-3s should always be stopped several days before surgery. Definitely make sure that your doctor discusses with you anything anything that may effect your personal medical issues.
Assuming you don’t have any specific risks, I have seen no side effects. Yay!
Folic Acid and Depression
Folate / Folic Acid: to be clear, folate is the substance in the body, and folic acid is the supplement you find on the shelf (pregnent woman are generally advised to take it). Folate definitiancies have been studied in depressives along with several other nutrients like B12. However, it appears that folate itself is not the part that’s definitiancy, it’s actually l-methylfolate, which is a compound that is created from folate. And the key here, is that one study has found that no matter how much folic acid you consume, your body may not be able to create enough l-methylfolate to actually fix your deficiency. So by telling you to take folic acid you may be doing absolutely nothing.
Again, luckily there is an easy fix. Your doctor can prescribe you a cheap pharmaceutical grade l-methylfolate supplement. Keep in mind, the number of people who respond to this supplement is very low, but as there don’t seem to be any side-effects (talk to your doctor) there’s no real downside to trying it.
Both of these supplements can/should be taken in addition to your conventional treatment.
Low-Carb Diets and Mood
And one final note. There is some thought that a low carbohydrate diet (like Atkins or South Beach) may adversely effect the serotonin in your brain which may effect mood and cognition. However, there is also evidence suggesting that this is not that case. Personally, I think long term extreme low-carb diets may be a concern, but over the short term, no difference will probably be noticeable. However, if you have a serious mood disorder, like me, that might effect your choice of diet even if the evidence isn’t clear.