Can You Treat Mood With Food?

Cassie Vanderwall, dietitian with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IllinoisBy Cassie Vanderwall

The other day, I came across an interesting article in the Huffington Post. This article, written by Christiane Northrup, MD, talks about how 5-hydroxy tryptophan (5-HTP) and omega-3 fatty acids are viable treatment options for people with depression. She commented on how certain nutrients may have the ability to treat individuals’ mental disease, specifically in relation to depression and anxiety.

As a registered dietitian here at Rush University Medical Center, I provide medical nutrition therapy to patients with various chronic diseases, and I found this information interesting because it seems that now we may be able to address mood with food!

Of the treatment options discussed by Dr. Northrup, omega-3 fatty acids have received the most attention. EPA, omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), is showing promise as an anti-depressant. EPA exists naturally in cell walls found in the brain, and plays an important role in the function of “happy hormones,” like serotonin.

How omega 3s affect depression is still unknown, but one of the hypotheses is that people may have an omega-3 deficiency. So there is some thought in the medical community that by treating this deficiency with 1 gram of EPA fish oil two times per day a person may be able to normalize and improve how this neurotransmitter or “happy hormone” works. But the jury is still out.

Current pharmaceutical treatments of mental disorders can be effective, but many can also have severe side effects that may lead to noncompliance. In the 1970s, nutrition therapy was commonly used to treat mental disorders, but over time it received less and less focus.  In recent years, there has been renewed interest in the role nutrition plays in mental and physical health.

As always, prior to changing your medication or supplement regimen it is highly recommended to have a conversation with your doctor or health care provider.

If you have questions regarding food and mood, or are seeking nutritional counseling, please call (312) 942-5926 to make an appointment.

Cassie Vanderwall, MS RD LDN CPT, is a consultant dietitian at Rush University Medical Center with the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program and Nutrition and Wellness Center. She also is a certified personal trainer.

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