How Food is Causing Depression

The suicide rate in the U.S. is climbing. In 2016, the rates had increased by 30%; that’s 45,000 people over the age of 10. Collectively, the nation is saddened when a celebrity does this seemingly unfathomable act. We all have either been touched by this devastation personally or know someone who has. We post on social media our heartbreak along with our condolences. We offer a listening ear and plead for those inflicted with suicidal thoughts to reach out. We offer the suicide hotline phone number and hope someone will be influenced to seek help. We research signs of depression, what to look for, and how to offer help. We’ve done our part, right? Maybe.

All of the help we offer is awesome but, when you’re in it (depression), you’re really in it. Some are masters at keeping it to themselves.

Depression is a dirty, mean, fuck of a liar. It tricks you into thinking you’re unworthy, that those around you would be better off without you, and that the world would be better without you in it. Depression is hard to see in some. It can hide behind smiles and gestures. It can survive in the apparently strongest of people. It can be situational or long term. It can lead to poor decisions and isolation. It can make us feel like the only way out is to end it all.

Our health care is one of the worst in developed nations as our mental health services are the first to be slashed with each new budget. With all of this said, you’d think we’d be more apt to do something more about it.

So, what is that something? Maybe we should stop being assholes to each other. Maybe we should teach our children empathy, love, and worthiness. We need to stop being racists, misogynists, xenophobic, homophobic, and overall bigots. You are not better than me and I am not better than you. Everybody has a story, we all have struggles, and we all have circumstances we shouldn’t have to deal with.

Each of us has live through some devastation, some loneliness, some weather super storm or spiritual super-storm. When we look at each other we must say, I understand. I understand how you feel because I have been there myself. We must support each other because each of us is more alike than we are unalike.

-Maya Angelou

What role does society further play in our nation’s depression? I could list several factors but, I want to talk about our food supply for the moment. The food industry is killing us, literally. Between the Department of Agriculture, the Dairy Council, the EPA, the food lobbyist, the FDA, and the government in general; Americans are the sickest nation of all. They allow carcinogens, toxins, and endocrine disruptors in our water, food, and various products. We have more allergies than any other nation and those that move to the U.S. from outside develop allergies after living here. Why do they allow this? Follow the money!! We have the highest rates of all disease…ALL DISEASE, and we are one of the most depressed nations. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Check here, here, and here for more info about this controversial topic.

Our food, make-up, hygiene products, cleaning supplies, water supply, plastics, and overall environment is riddled with toxins. These toxins cause a slew of disease and health issues. Anywhere from heart disease, to autoimmune disease, to asthma, to allergies, to IBS, to cancer, to fertility problems, to diabetes, to obesity, to neurological disorders, and to mental health issues. Just to name a few. I could go on for days about this, so to narrow it down, let’s talk about how food makes us mentally sick.

Consuming fast food, soda, and sugar is associated with a higher prevalence of ADD/ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and depression. Those eating fewer fruit, vegetables, and fatty fish have also seen higher incidence of ADD/ADHD and depression. There is growing evidence within nutritional psychology, the study of the role that nutrition (whether dietary patterns, broad-based multi-nutrient supplements or specific vitamins, minerals or other nutrients) plays in the etiology of mental health problems as well as their treatment.

So what is in our food that causes mental health issues? As reported in “7 Foods That May Contribute to Your Depression” by Therese J. Borchard …

  • Processed foods: eating refined or processed carbohydrates (think cereal, white bread, pasta, or snack foods) is going to have the same impact on your blood sugar levels as eating a bag of candy. Bagels are processed the same way donuts are. After the initial insulin boost, you will end up fatigued, irritated, and blue.

  • Hydrogenated oils: Stay away from the fish n’ chips, fried chicken, the fried cheese sticks, and, yep, French fries. Anything that is cooked with hydrogenated oils and contains trans fats could potentially contribute to depression.

  • Artificial Sweeteners: they block the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin and causes mood dips, headaches, and insomnia. I mean, you have heard that diet sodas are more harmful than regular soda, right? Stay away from ‘sugar free’ foods, these usually contain artificial sweeteners.

  • Refined Sugar: refined sugars can cause our blood glucose levels to plunge, resulting in a sugar hangover which disrupts our mood, depletes our energy, and is linked to sleep disorders. Stick with coconut sugar, honey, and maple syrup in small amounts.

  • Foods high in sodium: Fat-free foods are not good for your waistline but not all that great for your emotions. The excess sodium in these products can disrupt your neurological system, contributing to depression, and can muck up your immune system response, causing fatigue. Too much salt also leads to fluid retention and bloating, and I don’t have to tell you how depressing that is.

  • Alcohol: Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. If you have a history of a mood disorder, proceed with extreme caution. Your central nervous system is responsible for taking in information through the senses, controlling motor function, as well as thinking, understanding, and reasoning. It also controls emotion. Alcohol slows all this down, exacerbating symptoms associated with depression.

  • Caffeine: According to some experts, even a modest amount of caffeine can contribute to depression and anxiety. Caffeine disrupts sleep, making it more difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep; those disturbances affect mood. It can cause agitation, tremors, and nervousness. Energy drinks, particularly, are bad news as some of them contain the caffeine equivalent of 14 cans of soda.

How does our gut relate to depression? What about our second brain? Our guts can influence our brain while having a major impact on our health. Because the gut is equipped with its own reflexes and senses, the second brain can control gut behavior independently of the brain. A big part of our emotions can be influenced by the nerves in our gut. When we feel butterflies in our stomach, our gut is signaling a physiological stress response.

Did ya’ll know that Irritable bowel syndrome (which afflicts more than two million Americans) also arises in part from too much serotonin in our entails, and could perhaps be regarded as a "mental illness" of the second brain? We produce serotonin in our digestive tract, roughly 90% of our serotonin is produced here. Read this for more info. Our gut is home to many creatures and hormones.

We have microbes (or bacteria) in our digestive tract as well. Since our gut and brain are crucially linked, diet and behavior can influence our thoughts, mood, and behavior. There is mounting evidence of intestinal permeability (or leaky gut) being present in those with depression. When we have intestinal permeability, certain lifestyle factors and medical conditions can compromise our gut walls (which are made up of impermeable cells), thus, allowing toxic substances and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. These toxins can influence our hormones, including those in our brain.

These toxins can enter through various food sources. Lectins are one of them. Lectins are a kind of protein that binds to sugar. They are referred to as anti-nutrients, since they can reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. They are thought to have evolved as a natural defense in plants, basically as a toxin that deters animals from eating the plants. Lectins are found in many different plant and animal-based foods. Humans are unable to digest lectins, so they travel through your gut unchanged. Large amounts will cause damage to the cell walls, thus making them impermeable.

Lectins are found in many foods, not just grains. If consumed in smaller amounts, your body will do just fine with them. Some of the lectins and foods that cause leaky gut include legumes, nightshade vegetables, wheat, gluten, rice, spelt and soy. It is important and necessary to complete an elimination phase diet to help your body figure out what is causing the leaky gut.

GMO and hybridized foods tend to be the highest in lectins since they have been modified to fight off bugs. Also, gluten-containing grains may damage your intestinal lining and potentially cause leaky gut syndrome. Once your gut is healthy, you can add back in grains that have been fermented and sprouted to eat only occasionally. Some people, especially those with autoimmune disease, may never be able to reintroduce grains. Bottom line, if you get back on grains and have symptoms (Bloating, food sensitivities, thyroid conditions, fatigue, joint pain, headaches, skin issues like rosacea and acne, digestive problems, and weight gain). If left un-repaired, leaky gut can lead to more severe health issues like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, IBS, psoriasis, eczema, anxiety, depression, migraine headaches, muscle pain and chronic fatigue.

Leaky gut can cause malabsorption of vital minerals and nutrients, including iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. Another food that can cause leaky gut is conventional dairy. A1 casein, a component of dairy can harm your gut. The pasteurization process destroys vital enzymes, thus making lactose difficult to digest. Sugar will wreak havoc on your digestive system as well. Sugar feeds yeast, candida, and bad bacteria; causing them to grow. Bad bacteria creates toxins (or endotoxins) that damage cells and eats a hole in the intestinal walls (leaky gut).

Foods that Cause Leaky Gut

  • Legumes

  • Nightshade

  • Vegetables

  • Wheat/gluten/some grains

  • Rice

  • Spelt

  • Soy

  • Conventional foods containing GMOS’ and pesticides

Symptoms of Leaky Gut

  • Nutritional deficiencies

  • Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating

  • Depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD

  • Poor immune system

  • Headaches, brain fog, memory loss

  • Excessive fatigue

  • Skin rashes and problems such as acne, eczema or rosacea

  • Arthritis or joint pain

  • Cravings for sugar or carbs

  • Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease or Crohn's

These foods lead to inflammation. Chronic Inflammation is the start of all disease, even depression. We are exposed to thousands of modern chemicals each day. From eating foods that are processed beyond recognition, to sitting in offices most of the day; inflammation is the result of this lifestyle.

Our brains do not have pain receptors, we don’t know when our brains are inflamed. Brain inflammation can be identified by quantifying levels of inflammatory proteins (or C-reactive proteins). This is elevated in people with depression. When inflammation is created in healthy people, they develop depression. Treatments to lower inflammation are the real “antidepressants”, not serotonin treatments.

Processed foods are foreign to our bodies, when we eat them, we become inflamed. Consuming processed, nutrient-poor foods and pharmaceuticals can radically change the gut microbiome. Changes in the microbiome, or dysbiosis, can lead to intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. Leaky gut encourages inflammation and depression.

There are 4 R’s to healing leaky gut:

1. REMOVE foods and factors that damage the gut (see above also).

  • Grains, processed foods, hydrogenated oils, added sugar, GMOs, refined oils, synthetic food additives, conventional dairy products, and the top toxic exposures are tap water, pesticides, NSAIDS and antibiotics. Just consult with your physician (preferably a Functional MD) prior to altering prescriptions

2. REPLACE with healing foods

  • Vegetables, bone broth, coconut, fermented vegetables, omega-3 fats, fruit, healthy fats (avocado, egg yolks, ghee)

3. REPAIR with specific supplements

  • Digestive enzymes, l-glutamine, probiotics)

4. REBALANCE with probiotics

Food isn’t the only leading factor in depression, of course. It may be easier to combat depression when you are eating and living optimally. Self-care is of the utmost importance to a healthy body and mind. Physical activity, just walking, can reduce the symptoms of stress, depression, and insomnia when coupled with a healthful diet. Mediate, call your mom, call a friend, plan a trip, take a bath, or love a pet.

We need to accept our differences, could you imagine if we were all same? How boring. We each have something to offer this world. Let others shine and hold them up; we will all learn from each other and be better people for it.

The research surmounting mental health and physiological health through food is growing each day. It is important to vote with your dollars. Visit your farmers market, buy organic, shop local health food stores. Let them know you want healthy food! More importantly, again, don’t be an asshole to each other. Love each other!

Visit for more information.

Misty Maklad is a Certified Autoimmune Paleo Health and Wellness Coach and a Certified Integrative Nutrition Coach. She has a background in psychology and social services. Visit her website for more info on how to contact her for a free health consultation.


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