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Dieting and Depression

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Have you ever felt a little "depressed" when you are dieting?

You are not alone. Several studies have suggested that restrictive diets and some medications for lowering cholesterol may contribute to depression. New research on the important roles of essential fatty acids may explain this association
The essential fatty acids (EFAs) are fats that cannot be made by the body, but are required for health, so they must be obtained from food or supplements. When these fatty acids are missing from the diet, symptoms include dry scaly skin, poor wound healing, impaired vision and hearing, fatigue, or liver abnormalities.

There are three essential fatty acids arachidonic acid (AA), linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (LNA). Arachidonic acid is found primarily in meat and animal products and most people get adequate amounts of this fatty acid. Linoleic acid is found in pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds; walnuts; wheat germ; almonds; pecans and avocados. Alpha-linolenic acid is found in flax seeds, walnuts and wheat germ. These fatty acids and the ratio of these fatty acids in the body play key roles in the proper functioning of cell membranes, hormones, and the immune system. They are especially important for healthy brain and nerve cells. In fact, essential fatty acids make up 45% of the fatty acids in the cell membranes of nerve cells. A diet low in these important nutrients could disrupt the cell membrane structure and can alter the production of important neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. When these neurotransmitters are not balanced at optimal levels, it can adversely affect behavior and mood.
Most diets carelessly restrict fats without regard to the level essential fatty acids. As a result, many people are not obtaining adequate amounts of essential fatty acids. To make the problem worse, essential fatty acids are burned at a higher rate when following a calorie-restricted diet. The combination of increased use and a low intake can create a fatty acid deficiency. A fatty acid deficiency can cause fatigue and alter mood, as well as affect the body's ability to build lean muscle, repair tissues, and fight off infection. Understanding the important role of essential fatty acids in the diet NWC Naturals® has included both linoleic and linolenic acids in the Total-Nutrition Program®. The Total-Nutrition Program® from NWC Naturals® supplies you with beneficial fatty acids in each serving from whole food sources like flax seeds and wheat germ! Regardless of the type of diet program you are following, be sure that your diet includes adequate amounts of these important fatty acids.

The following is quoted from the article
"Dieting, essential fatty acid intake, and depression."
Nutrition Reviews, Vol. 58, April 2000, pp. 98-108

TUCSON, ARIZONA. Low-fat diets have been widely promoted for lowering cholesterol levels, for reducing body weight, and for preventing certain types of cancer. At least one study, however, has found that although a reduction in cholesterol may reduce mortality from heart disease it may increase the incidence of fatal accidents, violent deaths, suicides, and depression. Researchers at the University of Arizona now believe that they may have found an explanation for this phenomenon. They point out that fat restriction and cholesterol-lowering drugs may change the concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the tissues including nerve tissue (neurons). Fat-restricting diets usually lead to a relative increase in the intake of omega-6 PUFAs and a relative decrease in the intake of omega-3 fatty acids. This can have serious consequences inasmuch as the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish oils, are crucial for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Several large-scale studies have found a clear association between low blood levels of EPA and DHA and an increased risk of depression, violence and suicide; a recent study in Japan found that DHA supplementation reduced aggression among healthy Japanese students.

Epidemiologic studies have found a clear correlation between a low intake of EPA and DHA and the prevalence of depression. In two studies of population groups in the USA the incidence of depression was found to be 3.7% and 2.9%. Average intake of EPA and DHA in the USA is estimated to be about 0.1 gram per day. In two Japanese studies, on the other hand, the incidence of depression was only 0.9% and 0% and the intake of EPA plus DHA was 1.5 grams per day and 4.2 grams/day respectively. Other studies have shown that on-off dieting can produce a serious imbalance in the ratio of fatty acids and may lead to depression.

The researchers conclude that an extremely low-fat diet may be counter-productive and have deleterious psychological ramifications. They stress that dietary advice regarding cholesterol reduction, weight loss, and cancer prevention should emphasize the importance of an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids.

Bruinsma, Kristen A. and Taren, Douglas L. Dieting, essential fatty acid intake, and depression. Nutrition Reviews, Vol. 58, April 2000, pp. 98-108 [116 references]