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How to Fight Depression and Anxiety with Nutrition

by Dr. Josh Axe

treat depression and anxiety with nutrition

If you want to improve your mood, lower feelings of stress and reduce cravings and addictions then one of the best ways to see these benefits is to improve your diet.

Food cravings are common and I’ve written before about how food choices can have a significant impact on your mood. It’s estimated that 97% of women and 68% of men battle with food cravings, especially for foods high in sugar, fat, or carbohydrates.1 These cravings are usually a reaction to stress, anxiety, or depression and generally have little to do with actual hunger. The good news is that you can actually better control your moods, cravings, and be happier by eating certain foods.

Neurotransmitters Influenced by Foods

One of the key factors when it comes to boosting your mood with food is consuming foods that support Neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are your brains “messengers” and control mood, energy levels, appetite, and several other functions in the body. AND they’re significantly influenced by what we eat or don’t eat. For example, the amino acid histidine is the building block for the neurotransmitter histamine which controls appetite and how your body burns calories. Inadequate amounts of histidine can lead to your body not knowing when it is full and when to stop eating.  Foods that can naturally boost histidine levels are kale, collard greens, spinach, bananas, and wild caught fish and organic meat.

Carbs, Fat, and Serotonin

Do you tend to reach for a cookie or cake when feeling sad and never a lean chicken breast or celery? Why is it that the combination of fat and sugar seem to provide relief from negative emotions? It has been scientifically proven that high carbohydrate foods trigger a release of serotonin, a natural opioid, which acts in the brain similarly to the drug opium. Therefore, consuming a high carbohydrate food actually does release a chemical that improves mood. People that are unable to control their carbohydrate cravings have actually been shown to have lower serotonin levels.  The problem is, long term consumption of foods high in sugar lead to weight gain, candida, and low energy, all of which can lead to symptoms of depression.

So how can you improve your serotonin without sugar and unhealthy fat?  There are two keys to improving mood and beating food cravings with nutrition and they are consuming: Vitamin B12 and EPA Fats.

Vitamin B12 and B-Complex

Vitamin B12 is vitally important to support your neurological system, for energy, and “good mood” hormones.  If you want to get more Vitamin B12 consume RAW Dairy products like raw cheese, amasai, goat’s milk kefir and you can get B12 from wild caught salmon, eggs, grass-fed beef, organic poultry, or if you are a vegan make sure to supplement with RAW-B12.

To increase your intake of other B-vitamins such as folate, consume spinach, sunflower seeds, and dried herbs.  B-vitamins also help produce serotonin without the sugar toxicityand excess calories. Turkey, which is high in tryptophan, can also be used to produce serotonin. Other foods high in tryptophan include pineapple and eggs.

Omega-3 Fats

systematic review published in 2004 of all the research conducted on omega-3s and depression showed that low intake of omega-3 fats is associated with greater rates of depressed mood. A study in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed that supplementation with EPA, an omega-3 fat, helped reduce symptoms of depression by 50%. This isn’t surprising since our brains and nervous systems are mostly made up of fat,20% of which are omega-3s. Omega-3s work to reduce overall inflammation, which may help improve brain function overall.  Aim for at least 2 servings of wild-caught fish per week and take a daily omega-3 supplement to get the most mood boosting benefit.

Key Points:

  • Food can significantly affect our mood via the action of neurotransmitters in our brain.
  • Although sugar and fat in combination can increase serotonin levels, a mood boosting neurotransmitter, other healthy foods like spinach, salmon and turkey can have the same effect.
  • Sufficient intake of omega-3 fats is essential for improving mood and relieving symptoms of depression.

References – Somer, E. (1999). Food and Mood. New York, NY: Holt Paperbacks.

About the author...

 has helped thousands of people transform their health and life through his strategies in advanced nutrition, burst training, weight loss, superfoods, healthy recipes and anti-aging. Dr. Josh is a go-to physician for professional and Olympic athletes. He traveled to London as a member of the Wellness Advisory Council for USA Wrestling and Weight Lifting team. For a high intensity workout you can do in 20 minutes a day, check out his burstFIT DVD program .