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How nutrition can help manage inflammation and depression

How does inflammation affect your overall health?

Inflammation gets a bad rap; but for very good reason. Inflammation has a significant effect on every system in your body and it’s said to be the root cause of a variety of chronic illnesses from diabetes to cancer and everything in between.

What about chronic conditions, including persistent mental health conditions? Inflammation has a role in these, too.

Inflammation and depression: the link

Inflammation is part of the immune system and is one of the body’s primary defence processes (1). It’s a response to any foreign invader in the body, which allows the body to defend against attack.

Inflammation is critical to our survival. Without it, we would be overrun by viruses and bacteria and other invaders. The thing about inflammation, however, is that it is highly effective when triggered in a short, intense response. When inflammation persists over  time, it begins to negatively impact health.

There are many factors that trigger inflammation and keep it in a persistently active state. Toxins, stress and trauma, which are common in our everyday society, are all highly associated with heightened inflammatory responses. If you think about the common chronic health issues such as diabetes or poor cardiovascular health, and how these affect how a person feels, you may start to quickly realise why there’s such a significant link between inflammation and depression, and why it plagues so many people.

One of the best ways to manage inflammation is through diet (2).

An anti-inflammatory diet can help to support your mental health

Whether you’re currently trying to manage inflammation and depression, or you simply want to protect your mental health through your nutrition, an anti-inflammatory diet can benefit everyone.

Nutrition for inflammation: where to begin

While overhauling your entire meal plan to follow a strict diet may be unachievable (and isn’t recommended), there are some simple principles that you can begin to apply to improve your nutrition.

A quick guide to eating for mental health:

DO

  • Eat good quality foods
  • Balance your meals with a portion of protein, fats and small amount of carbohydrates
  • Always fill half of your plate with brightly coloured vegetables or salad
  • Make sure you’re eating healthy fats and foods containing anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids such as those contained in fatty fish, avocados, nuts and seeds as well as their oils
  • Drink green tea and other herbal teas

DON’T

  • Eat high sugar foods
  • Rely on processed and packaged foods to provide your nutrition
  • Fill your plate with refined or white carbohydrates
  • Consume foods with highly processed oils or trans fats such as deep fried foods
  • Drink sugary caffeinated beverages and limit your coffee intake

When you start eating more of the foods on the “do” list, take note of how you feel both at the time and in the days that follow. You may be surprised at how much better you really do feel.

Learn more about inflammation

Inflammation and depression are, however, not something you have to live with for the rest of your life. Once you have control of your inflammation, it’s highly likely that you’ll have better control over your depression and all of the symptoms it causes.

If you're wanting to understand more about inflammation, why not take our Inflammation 101 course, designed to arm you with the knowledge and tools to manage inflammation!

If you or someone you know requires support, the following mental health services can be reached 24 hours a day: Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636

To access more health-driven insights, join our online community The Drop In today.

References:

  1. Pérez-Cano, F., & Castell, M. Flavonoids, Inflammation and Immune System. Nutrients 2016, 8(10), 659.
  2. Selhub, E. Harvard Health Blog. Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. 2015.

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