Nutrition and Mood Disorders

By Joel Fuhrman,

Why Nutritional Excellence Is So Important For Brain Function

Adequate nutrition is needed for countless aspects of brain functioning. Poor diet quality, ubiquitous in the United States, may be a modifiable risk factor for depression. The ability of the brain to adapt and respond to stress is correlated with nutritional status. High antioxidant intake prevents oxidation tissue stress in the brain. Scientific studies have documented that when lipid peroxidation in a person is high, depression is much more likely.1

Lipid peroxidation is a chemical reaction that occurs as fats become rancid. As free radicals build up in the lipid cell membranes, the local environment becomes disease prone. Byproducts of peroxidation build up in our tissues, and researchers can measure these in our blood or urine. Lipoperoxidation byproducts such as malondialdehyde, 4-hydroxynonenal and F2-isoprostane are typical examples. Without adequate micronutrient intake in our diet, our internal environment becomes “toxic or rancid,” and this is measurable as a marker of malnutrition and ill health. Studies have linked these by-products to depression, heart disease, asthma, Alzheimer’s, and more.

It is clear that people are more prone to depression and other diseases when their intake of high nutrient- containing plant food is low. It also has been shown that the response to medication and other therapeutic intervention can be suboptimal when antioxidant nutritional status is inadequate.2 Whenever we measure low levels of vegetable-derived nutrients, we find depression more prevalent. For example, low folate intake and low folate blood levels have been shown to correlate with depression. 3 Low folate in the bloodstream is a marker for low fruit and vegetable intake. Deficiencies of folate, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and selenium tend to be more common among depressed than non-depressed persons. 4

Childbearing-aged women are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of poor nutrition on mood because pregnancy and lactation are major nutritional stressors to the body. The depletion of nutrient reserves throughout pregnancy and postpartum may increase a woman’s risk of depression soon after childbirth.


1. Tsuboi H, Shimoi K, Kinae N, Oguni I, Hori R, Kobayashi F. Depressive symptoms are independently correlated with lipid peroxidation in a female population: comparison with vitamins and carotenoids. J Psychosom Res. 2004; 56(1): 53-8

2. Khanzode SD, Dakhale GN, Khanzode SS, et al. Oxidative damage and major depression: the potential antioxidant action of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. Redox Rep. 2003; 8(6): 365-70.

3. Sachdev PS, Parslow RA, Lux O, et al. Relationship of homocysteine, folic acid and vitamin B12 with depression in a middle-aged community sample. Psychol Med. 2005; 35(4):529- 38

4. Bodnar LM, Wisner KL. Nutrition and depression: implications for improving mental health among childbearing-aged women. Biol Psychiatry. 2005; 58(9):679-85.

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