The relationship between diet, inflammation and depression

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A new study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that the measure of brain inflammation in people who were experiencing clinical depression was increased by 30 per cent. The findings, published in JAMA Psychiatry, have important implications for developing new treatments for depression.

A growing body of evidence suggests the role of inflammation in generating the symptoms of a major depressive episode such as low mood, loss of appetite, and inability to sleep. But what was previously unclear was whether inflammation played a role in clinical depression independent of any other physical illness.

More research has come out which supports the link between inflammation and depression. While this link hasn’t been confirmed my experience has piqued my interest in the topic. For about fifteen years I have been experimenting with Ayurveda which is a form of medicine which originated in India a thousand years ago. In Ayurveda the world is divided up into three different categories(doshas in human body), Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata is associated with air, Pitta with fire/water and Kapha with water/earth. In the human body the various categories govern certain functions and areas. Pitta governs metabolism, heat regulation and the immune system. It is located in the eyes and small intestine. Various tastes/qualities are said to balance the doshas. Pitta is said to be balanced by sweet, bitter, astringent and coolness.

For many years I have experimented with Ayurveda and discovered that balancing Pitta was very helpful, even more than balancing Vata which is associated in Ayurveda with the nervous system. Balancing Pitta is helpful especially in regards to anxiety, irritability and depression. Perhaps Pitta’s association with inflammation in Ayurveda might explain this. In addition, Ayurveda recommends a vegetarian diet for a Pitta type of imbalance, a vegetarian diet has been shown in western medicine to help with inflammation.

Balancing Kapha, which is said to be localized in the stomach, has been helpful in regard to lack of motivation and energy. Balancing a dosha can aggravate another. Whenever I balance Kapha I notice Pitta becoming imbalanced. Balancing or pacifying Kapha can increase irritability which is a Pitta imbalance. In Ayurveda there are different methods of balancing more than on dosha. One way is to balance Vata which is believed to govern the other doshas. The second method is to balance the two using the qualities that balance the two doshas. In the case of Pitta and Kapha they are both balanced by bitter and astringent tastes. While this balancing act can be consciously performed I think it is also subconsciously performed when we have desert after a meal that has had too much salty and sour taste to it.

Somewhat interestingly healthy food tends to be higher in bitter and astringent qualities while junk food is higher in salty, sour and sweet tastes. According to Ayurveda salty, sour and sweet all balance Vata which is associated with the nervous system and stress. Perhaps this preference is one reason why western cultures seem to have more problems with inflammation and depression.

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