People who tend to have inflammation elsewhere in their body are also much more likely to have depression. It has become clear that any overactive immune inflammatory response, like that in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis or in infections like sepsis, put you at greater risk for having depression. The medical understanding of depression used to be simply that there was a “neurotransmitter imbalance” in the brain, (a shortage of happiness hormones if you will). But as it turns out, this is only a small part of the story. The brain and blood of depressed patients show markedly elevated levels of inflammation, and strategies targeting inflammation appear to be more helpful than traditional antidepressant drugs. Furthermore, the antidepressant drugs that do work have an anti-inflammatory effect and new drugs targeting the overactive immune response that creates the inflammation appear to be a promising treatment for depression.
Chronic stress, sleep deprivation, and an inflammatory diet are likely the most common causes of chronic inflammation in the brain and depression in the general population. It’s clear that intake of inflammatory foods, such as those containing arachidonic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) are associated with higher risk of suicide and depressive episodes, whereas people who eat diets lowest in arachidonic acid have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Foods containing arachidonic acid include meat, dairy, fish, and eggs. The most common source is chicken and eggs. Even just 1 egg elevates arachidonic acid levels in the blood. Multiple studies have found that a whole food plant-based diet (low in arachidonic acid and highly anti-inflammatory) improved mental health, sleep, and energy within 2 weeks.
Foods that lower inflammation and decrease depression are those high in flavonoids - fruits, vegetables, and certain superfoods such as turmeric, beets, cacao, tea (especially green or matcha). Sound familiar? High flavonoid fruits and vegetables include apples, oranges, kale, onions, tomatoes, berries, while low flavonoid fruits and veggies include cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, pears. At Elixir Shots, we choose ingredients highest in flavonoid content, like our Immunity and Vitality shots. Turmeric has the extra bonus of increasing BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) - a hormone that literally activates growth of new nerve cells. Low levels of BDNF are also thought to play a role in depression which can cause shrinkage of the brain in certain areas. Increasing BDNF levels helps to increase those atrophied parts of the brain.
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