Amino acid arginine found to be crucial to mental health; low levels contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a serious medical condition that currently affects 350 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That is roughly five percent of the world’s entire population. Mental health professionals have previously believed that the disorder was hereditary and a result of neural damages or abnormalities in the brain. This made it easier for them to prescribe pharmaceutical drugs that were meant to alter neural connections to “fix” a problem that people had no control of.

However, recent evidence points to nutrition and amino acid levels as key contributors to the onset and severity of the disease. A new report has just concluded that patients suffering from severe depression have lower levels of arginine bioavailability.

Arginine is a semi-essential amino acid involved in many metabolic processes. It functions as a management protein in the regulation of blood and heart pressure. It also serves to reduce the effects of oxidative stress which could damage the immune system. This last function is thought to be heavily related to MDD, with scientists believing that an inflamed immune system could dramatically increase the risk of developing medical depression.

It must be emphasized that arginine played a negligible role in depression recovery though. Participants of the new study who had recovered from depression only displayed a minimal increase in arginine bioavailability compared to those who were still depressed.

Still, the authors argue that more research should be conducted to truly determine the role of amino acids (particularly those that reduce inflammation) in mental health.

Using the nutritional approach to battle depression

The science behind pharmaceutical mood stabilizers is based on food. Most depressed people are given selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. It is believed that depressed people lack this neurotransmitter (thus making their brain “depressed”), so having more of it flooding the system should “cure” patients. Nevertheless, evidence on the effects of SSRIs are conflicting. While some people claim that the drugs have helped them be more responsive to external stimuli, more patients say the drugs cause mental fogginess and increase their thoughts of suicide.

But if you take a look at the underlying reasoning behind SSRIs, it is based on the concept of nutrition. We become depressed when we lack certain nutrients, so it makes sense to boost those levels through whatever means. Big Pharma would say, drugs, but we believe that you can achieve the same — if not, better — results through proper nutrition.

Countless studies talk about diet and nutrition in the prevention and treatment of depression. Even those who were considered “hopeless” cases have found relief by changing the food they eat. Biochemical issues that predispose an individual to the mental disorder can be readily addressed through:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids — These essential fats have been observed to lower the incidence of depression, regardless of other confounding factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption. (Related: Four Brain Foods to Help Depression.)
  • B vitamins — The vitamin helps nourish the brain and improves cognitive performance.
  • Balancing blood sugar — Sugar, while sweet to the taste, is utterly bitter to the body. The exact relationship between excessive sugar consumption and mental health is still not fully understood, but scientists have observed a direct correlation between the two. Uneven blood sugar levels is associated with uneven moods.
  • Vitamin D — Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D can improve mood.

Depression should be looked at as a whole-body disease. While nutrition plays a big role in improving your mental health, it is also important to build stronger resilience through physical exercise and practicing mind-body strategies like yoga.

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