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The Impact of Food on Depression

Can food relieve people suffering from depression?

All of us know that food can have a large impact on our mood. Most of us are in a bad temper when we are hungry. On the other hand, eating a lot of carbs such as sugar, pasta, bread, and many refined foods can make us feel better. I already wrote a blog post about the effects of sports and sugar on depression. But can food really take effect on such a serious thing as depression, too?

How does it come to depression?

Depression may arise for several reasons. Amongst other things, this can be a vitamin B12 or vitamin D deficiency. Drivers seem to be a combination of biological, genetic, and psychosocial parameters.

Mainly, depression arises out of a chemical imbalance in our brain. This leads to the fact that neurotransmission does not work as it should. Neurotransmitters can be seen as chemical messengers who transmit signals such as feelings. Neurotransmitters just work when there is a chemical balance to send chemical signals from one nerve to another. There is a physical gap between these nerves. To be able to send signals one nerve releases chemical signals which are supposed to arrive at the other nerve.

These chemicals also called „neurotransmitters“ include monoamines such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. After the transmission is done, the first nerve sucks the neurotransmitters up to reuse them. The nerve is also able to build neurotransmitters and it is the shelter of the enzyme monoamine oxidase. Monoamine oxidase ensures that only the good working neurotransmitters remain.

Depressions and migraine can depend on each other
Depressions and migraine can depend on each other

How do drugs work?

Cocaine, for example, acts like a monoamine reuptake inhibitor: It blocks the first nerve to get its neurotransmitters back, so there is constant signaling between the nerves. Amphetamines work quite in the same way. Plus, they also stimulate the release of neurotransmitters by the first nerve and cause an over-stimulation. Ecstasy and speed cause and increase monoamines as well but especially the increase of serotonin.

Sugar has the same impact on our dopamine levels as I’ve already shown you in my blog post about the addictive effect of eating white sugar.
After a while, the second nerve adapts to this amount of signals and down-regulates its receptors. So, you need more and more of the same drug to get the same effect. When you’re not on the drug, your normal neurotransmission doesn’t get through as much as it should be and has to re-regulate itself again. A typical withdrawal symptom is feeling worse than before taking drugs.

How to antidepressant drugs work?

Many people being depressed may have an elevated level of monoamine oxidase which is the enzyme that „eats“ monoamines/neurotransmitters. So, the level of neurotransmitters drops and your nerves are not able to send as many signals as they should do. And you get depressed.

Some antidepressant drugs block the reuptake of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine by the first nerve. So, monoamines being released by the first nerve cannot be eaten by the monoamine oxidase enzyme.

Other antidepressants just block the reuptake of serotonin or norepinephrine or dopamine. But wouldn’t it be better to block the cause of this problem called monoamine oxidase enzyme? There are some drugs doing this but there are several side-effects such as the Cheese Effect. Here, eating certain cheeses during the therapy with these drugs can have fatal consequences such as dangerous hypertension. Monoamine oxidase is very important in some metabolic cycles. If they are lacking there, this can cause serious problems such as migraines, food allergies and fatal hypertension (also called “cheese effect”).

Above all, fruits and vegetables protect us from depression
Above all, fruits and vegetables protect us from depression
How can fruits and vegetables improve our mood?

There are many inhibitors of the enzyme monoamine oxidase in fruits and vegetables. One of these inhibitors is the phytochemical eugenol which is present in clove, oregano, cinnamon and nutmeg. The problem is that we don’t eat enough of it to profit from its effect. Another inhibitor is called flavonoid which can be found in apples, berries, grapes, kale, onions, green tea. Here, food may provide sufficient active compounds to decrease the activity of monoamine oxidases.
Also tobacco has significant amounts of monoamine oxidase inhibitors which may be the reason why people feel so good after smoking.

Studies show: Vegetarians reported significantly less negative emotion than omnivores. One of the reasons is arachidonic acid which produces inflammatory mediators. Amongst the top ten foods with arachidonic acids are due to the National Cancer Institue: chicken, eggs, beef, sausage, franks, bacon, ribs, fish, burgers, pork, etc. People having a vegetarian or even a vegan diet do not eat all these arachidonic acid providing food causing inflammation.

There are so many benefits

Plus, eating many antioxidants such as polyphenols can have anti-inflammatory and cancer-preventive effects. Several studies have shown that polyphenols such as in pomegranates restrain the growth of mammary gland, lung, skin, intestine, and prostate cancer. Antioxidants such as flavonoids and anthocyanins tend to protect our body from free radicals and decelerate the impact of oxidative stress. Plus, they lower the deposition of fat in arteries and prevent arteriosclerosis.

Results suggest that what we eat can influence our psychological health. More frequent consumption of vegetables appears protective against depressive symptoms over time in older persons. Even when eating more vegetables three times a week! Frequent consumption of vegetables was significantly associated with reduced risk of depression. Eat more veggies and fruits – that’s the motto 😉

I can speak from my personal experience as eating exclusively plant-based that I really cannot remember suffering from inflammation or being ill. What about you? Are you a completely different person when you’re hungry? 😉

See the science-based evidence and sources for this blog post

Weblink: Table of food sources of arachidonic acid – National Cancer Institute:

van Amsterdam, J./Talhout, R./Vleeming, W./Opperhuizen, A. 2006: Contribution of monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibition to tobacco and alcohol addiction, in: Life Sciences, Vol. 79, 2006, pp. 1969-1973.

Anderson, M. C./Hasan, F./McCrodden, J. M./Tipton, K. F. 1993: Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors and the Cheese Effect, in: Neurochemical Research, Vol. 18, 1993, No. 11, pp. 1145-1149.

Beezhold, B. L./Johnston, C. S. 2012: Restriction of meat, fish, and poultry in omnivores improves mood: A pilot randomized controlled trial, in: Nutrition Journal, Vol. 11, 2012, No. 9, pp.

Beezhold, B. L./Johnston, C. S./Daigle, D. R. 2010: Vegetarian diets are associated with healthy mood states: a cross-sectional study in Seventh Day Adventist adults, in: Nutrition Journal, Vol. 9, 2010, No. 26.

Clarke, S. E. D./Ramsay, R. R. 2011: Dietary inhibitors of monoamine oxidase A, in: Journal of Neural Transmission, Vol. 118, 2011, pp. 1031-1041.

Gomez-Pinilla, F./Nguyen, T. T. 2012: Natural mood foods: The actions of polyphenols against psychiatric and cognitive disorders, in: Nutritional Neuroscience, Vol. 15, 2012, No. 3, pp. 127-133.

Lanksy, E. P./Newman, R. A. 2007: Punica granatum (pomegranate) and its potential for prevention and treatment of inflammation and cancer, in: Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Vol. 109, 2007, No. 2, pp. 177-206.

Meyer, J. H./Ginovart, N./Boovariwala, A./Sagrati, S./Hussey, D./Garcia, A./Young, T./Praschak-Rieder, N./Wilson, A. A./Houle, S. 2006: Elevated Monoamine Oxidase A Levels in the Brain – An Explanation for the Monoamine Imbulance of Major Depression, in: Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 63, 2006, No. 11, pp. 1209-1216.

Mulinari, S. 2012: Monoamine Theories of Depression: Historical Impact on Biomedical Research, in: Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, Vol. 21, 2012, pp. 366-392.

Tsai, A. C./Chang, T.-L./Chi, S.-H. 2012: Frequent consumption of vegetables predicts lower risk of depression in older Taiwanese – results of a prospective population-based study, in: Public Health Nutrition, Vol. 15, 2012, No. 6, pp. 1087-1092.

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