Women’s unique hormonal and biological needs can spiral into depression when nutritionally depleted.
Although you cannot consider depression as a normal state for anyone, at some point everyone deals with a bout of depression. Women, in particular, see an increased risk of that occasional funk developing into major clinical depression—at about twice the rate of men.
It appears that biological or hormonal makeup may be partly to blame. As a woman, certain periods of your life leave you more susceptible to depression, like before your period or after pregnancy.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
Premenstral dysphoric disorder (PMDD) can occur a week or two before a woman’s period starts.
“PMDD is a serious condition with disabling symptoms such as irritability, anger, depressed mood, sadness, suicidal thoughts, appetite changes, bloating, breast tenderness, and joint or muscle pain,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
“Perinatal depression [ocurrs] during or after (postpartum) pregnancy. It is much more serious than the baby blues. The feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that accompany perinatal depression may make it difficult to complete daily care activities for a new mom and/or her baby,” the NIMH reports.
It is one of the most common medical complications during pregnancy and the postpartum period, affecting one in seven women, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“Perimenopause, the transition into menopause, is a normal phase in a woman’s life that can sometimes be challenging. If you are going through perimenopause, you might experience abnormal periods, problems sleeping, mood swings, and hot flashes,” according to the NIMH.
Perimenopausal depression may be caused by changes in hormone (like estrogen) levels. Oprah, the woman who does it all, openly discussed menopause and her experience with a hormone specialist.
Despite the likelihood of depression, the myth persists that feeling depressed is normal. There’s nothing normal about depression. If you have symptoms of depression, you need to take them seriously and get help. Better, you should take proactive steps to reduce the likelihood of slipping into depression. And one way to reduce the likelihood of depression is nutrition.
Credible research shows that nutrition can play a key role in preventing and managing depression. As a women you must diligently take in and absorb adequate amounts of the right nutrients to increase your chances of avoiding depression. My list of nutrients you need to be mindful of includes the following. Many of these nutrients can be obtained through proper diet and/or supplementation (with medical supervision).
Magnesium. Several studies have shown improvement in the severity of depressive symptoms when study participants were given 125 to 300 mg of magnesium with each meal and at bedtime. Foods containing magnesium include spinach, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, kefir, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, dark chocolate, and bananas.
Chromium. Many studies have assessed the benefit of chromium picolinate in depression. One study showed that 70 percent of those who took 600 mcg of chromium picolinate reported improvement in their depressive symptoms, including emotional stability. Foods high in chromium include broccoli, free-range eggs, sweet potatoes, corn, oats, and grass-fed beef.
Iron. Decreased levels of iron can result in apathy, depression, and fatigue. Iron also supports oxygenation of the brain and plays a necessary role in all its functions. Studies need to be done to find out how common patients with depression suffer from iron-deficiency anemia, and once corrected, to determine which symptoms would be improved. In the meantime, if you feel chronically depressed you should check your iron levels. Keep in mind, many women tend toward iron deficiency because of menstrual-cycle blood loss. Iron-rich foods include red meat, pork, poultry, seafoods, beans, spinach (and other leafy greens), peas, cherimoyas, and iron-fortified cereals.
Selenium. At least five different studies identified depression due to selenium deficiency. Some depression may result from oxidative stress, a situation where selenium, a powerful antioxidant, may be helpful. Numerous studies examining a variety of populations and age groups suffering from depression showed improvement in mood and anxiety when given selenium. Specifically, those with recorded selenium depletion showed improved mood with selenium supplementation. Foods high in selenium include Brazil nuts, yellowfin tuna, halibut, sardines, and chicken.
Zinc. More than 300 chemical reactions in the human body involve this essential trace element, particularly in the brain. Many clinical studies have verified the relationship between zinc and depression. Testing generally reveals low zinc levels in those with major depression. Zinc supplementation along with antidepressant therapy has shown benefits in trials. You can eat lamb, pumpkin seeds, grass-fed beef, mushrooms, chickpeas, spinach, and chicken to get more zinc into your daily diet.
Copper. The enzymes tasked with metabolizing the brain chemicals that help you respond to stress, feel happy, and be alert need copper. Several studies have examined copper levels and depression and revealed an association between sufficient levels of copper and lower rates of depression. Like iron, too much copper can cause other health issues, but too little also throws you out of whack. Copper-rich foods include sunflower seeds, lentils, almonds, dark chocolate, beef liver, and asparagus.
B Vitamins. Deficiencies in various vitamins, including B-complex vitamins have a negative effect on the brain. Your diet should supply adequate quantities of the eight B vitamins. A wide range of foods contain B vitamins. Practitioners of Vegan or vegetarian diets should pay particular attention to getting enough B12, primarily found in animal foods.
Vitamin C. Various studies have suggested that depression may result from inadequate vitamin-C levels. A variety of fruits and vegetables such as oranges, watermelon, green and red peppers, grapefruit, tomatoes, spinach, papaya, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage serve as good sources.
Strike a balance
Nutritional balance puts your body in the best position to manage or beat depression. And when you consider that physical activity represents another way to combat depression, a nutritionally sound diet enhances your ability to maintain a physically active lifestyle.
Finally, it also important that you objectively assess your nutritional status on a regular basis throughout your life. Taking a comprehensive nutritional test offers a great first step and gives you feedback you can discuss with your healthcare provider. A qualified nutritionist can point you toward specific foods and quality supplements that can support your specific needs.