Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Brain Diet?

Immediately after I typed the title for this blog I realized that those who know me, and my twisted sense of humor, would assume that I was making a zombie joke.  While I do entertain a fondness for The Walking Dead (both the graphic novels and the TV show) I actually happen to be referring to an article that was linked from a blog post giving otherwise good advice on helping your loved ones who have depression; the related tip involved making healthy food for people whose desire to get out of bed, let alone go to a grocery store and cook, is little to none.  While the tips were actually very good (speaking from my experience), this article linked to this post which had me asking why I click on links in the first place.  Is there any evidence to any of advice she is giving?

This article does not start off well, as she starts off talking about our depression caused by "toxins."  As I have said before, "Toxin" is usually just a modern day word for "miasma," "imbalanced humors," or even "evil spirits."  So it is a) unlikely that you can be cleansed from something that doesn't exist, and b) if you really were poisoned, it is highly unlikely that eating cilantro, eating certain herbs, eating diatomaceous earth, or juicing your vegetables will remove the poison (or clear up your depression for that matter).  Remember to, there really isn't any good evidence that organic food is always safer or healthier for you.  Now to qualify that last statement, I'm not talking about taste, environmental issues, or supporting your local farmers, or saving money by growing your own food here--that's another blog post.  the point is that this paragraph on toxins is about fear and selling a book on a pointless "cleansing" procedure.

The section foods to include for a healthy brain is another interesting mixture or information that might have some truth to it mixed in with unfounded assertions.  The assertions about obtaining adequate protein, adequate fat, adequate B vitamins, and antioxidants is good information for anybody, and basically part of a general healthy diet for anyone.  And as I've said before, this really is an "anti-depression" diet, it's a "be healthy so you don't aggravate or develop underlying health conditions that might contribute to depression" diet.  Now, the point about getting adequate fat is intriguing to me, as there have been some studies (1, 2) that indicate that a very low fat diet can also increase a risk for depression, but, as the Psychology Today article pointed out, finding the causes is complicated.  It is possible that those who ate too low in fat didn't get enough essential fats (like the omega-3s), or that they weren't getting enough fat to keep them satiated at meals and the subsequent hunger influenced depression, or that they replaced the fat with refined carbohydrates which led to blood glucose regulation issues which influenced depression, or maybe some combination thereof.  I also find the link between gut bacteria and depression to be intriguing, but there isn't really a clear link there either (Link).

When it comes to testing urine for neurotransmitters, I recommend reading this excellent post from Bogus Diagnostic Tests.  Neurotransmitters are found in other tissues in the body (peripheral), and so any neurotransmitters that appear in the urine do not reflect the levels in the brain.   As far as the supplements are concerned, remember that you don't need to supplement unless you are deficient, and that "natural" does not mean better or free of side effects.  Notice that one of the supplements recommended, 5-HTP, has been associated with dizziness, nausea, and diarrhea (Link).

Several of the lifestyle changes like getting adequate sleep, meditation, limiting alcohol, and exercise have evidence to back them up, the others, not so much.  Also remember too that when I talk about eating in such a way as to not aggravate other health conditions, I am not talking about dubious diagnoses like "Dubious Yeast Allergies."

Take home message--Eating a healthy diet, particularly with the help of loved ones when you don't feel like cooking, can help alleviate symptoms of depression.  Unfortunately there are no certain "magic" foods or supplements that will relieve it.


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