Depression is surprisingly common and is currently affecting over 120 million people worldwide. Its a complex multifactorial disease which can surface at any time, the average age being 32yo. Both genders can be affected although women are twice as likely than men to experience it. It tends to run in families with those having a family history being three times more likely to develop it. Further 1 in 8 teenagers are clinically depressed and less than 30% of us seek or receive treatment. 

It’s a pretty grim picture out there however there is much that can be done through nutrition therapy.



What are some of the causes?


Depression is rarely due to a single cause but its more likely the result of a combination of biochemical, physical, genetic and psychosocial factors. Some of the causes are: 

  • Biochemical- brain scans shows that the brain functions differently in the areas regulating mood, behaviour, appetite, sleep and thinking for those with depression. Neurotransmitter imbalances between serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline are linked to this. E.g. serotonin is linked to sleep problems, binge eating, irritability; adrenaline is linked to low mood and fatigue

  • An overactive immune system- proinflammatory cytokines can contribute to depression by causing changes in neurotransmitters

  • Hormones- e.g. low testosterone and thyroid hormones are linked with depression

  • Physical- chronic medical conditions like cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s, drug and alcohol abuse, heart attack survivor etc 

  • Stress, sleep deprivation, lack of social support, genetics etc


While the treatment research in this space in ongoing nutritional psychology is now able to offer long overdue solutions to help improve mood, cognition, memory and sleep. Below i will list just some of the nutrients that have  solid evidence and efficacy in treating depression. 


Some key nutrients


Omega 3 Fats

Studies show that omega 3 fatty acids can help to decrease symptoms of depression.  Particularly eicosapentantoinic acid omega 3 fats (EPA) have a greater benefit on depression than docosahexanoic acid (DHA), although the doses needed and the duration of treatment is still under debate. Most studies use a minimum of 2g combined DHA and EPA fats.  

Fish is the best source of omega 3, but red meat and eggs can



contain omega 3 fats as well.  Some foods are now also fortified with omega 3 so check your labels.  Be mindful that these foods often don’t provide anywhere near 2g of DHA and EPA per serve, so it is recommended that most people with depression take a fish oil supplement. Talk to your dietitian about which fish oil supplement you should take as many products lack in quality and can become rancid.




Folate is a vitamin which is used by the body for the formation of serotonin. People who are depressed often have low folate, and consequently low serotonin levels in their blood stream.  It is recommended that adults consume 400 mcg of folate each day but unfortunately most australians consistently fail to meet this requirement.  Green leafy vegetables are one of the best sources of folate as well as legumes, and folate is now regularly being added to products such as breads and cereals.


It has been suggested that additional folate supplements may be beneficial for people with depression (either with or without anti-depressant medication),  particularly for those that carry a homozygote SNP of the MTHFR gene (which can increase your folate requirements). The current recommendations are 0.8 – 2mg of folate per day.  If you have depression, it is a good idea to get your folate levels checked via a blood test, and discuss your folate intake, and your need for folate supplements with your dietitian.  Please note that note that too much folate may mask deficiencies of other nutrients such as vitamin B12 which is also important for mental health.



Vitamin D


It has been found that people with low vitamin D levels are more likely to have depression.  It is thought that this is because vitamin D helps to decrease the production of cytokines.  Cytokines are a protein which cause inflammation, and it is thought that this may have an impact on depression. New research suggests that a poor immune system, and inflammation may actually play a role in the cause of depression. 


Whatever the mechanism, we know that vitamin D deficiency is very common in Australia despite good sun exposure as some people don’t synthesise enough vitamin D in the skin due to a gene variant that decreases this conversion. These individuals often need to make more of an effort to optimise their levels and are more likely to require supplementation.

If you have depression, it is recommended that you get your vitamin D levels checked.  Your dietitian will then advise you on a course of supplements if needed.



A healthy diet


While nutrients are important, an overall healthy diet is key to sustainable health outcomes and mood management. A recent study decided to look at the overall diet and found that people who ate a diet high in processed foods were much more likely to develop depression than people who ate a diet rich in whole foods such as wholegrain cereals, lean meat and meat alternatives, low fat dairy, fruit and vegetables. No surprises here! Wholefoods, besides delivering nutrients they also provide fibre which feeds those gut bugs that can further regulate things like tryptophan and serotonin metabolism and impact your mood and motivation. More on microbiome and mental health to come later so make sure you keep an eye on my posts!.


To start your journey and to assist with the treatment of depression, i recommended that you see a dietitian who specialises in nutritional psychology who can help you design a specific diet focused on correcting your unique nutrient imbalances. There are many more nutrients essential for brain health and these should be investigated in the context of your health. 

To book an appointment please call 0423 954 729 or visit





Leave a Reply