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HomepageInformation CentreMental Health Issues in Children › Dealing with Depression in Children - Nourish those Neurons

Dealing with Depression in Children - Nourish those Neurons

                                depression in children, anxiety in children

Depression is a disease that is becoming more and more common among us today.  It can lurk unnoticed for quite a while before it’s symptoms becomes obvious.  Formerly, more of an adult illness, studies from the UK show that 1 in 10 five – sixteen year olds have clinically diagnosable  mental health issues including anxiety and depression and psychosis.  Currently, 80,000 kids and young people suffer from severe depression.  This is a frightening statistic and while medication may be necessary in some cases, there is a huge amount of research that shows how diet can have a major impact on preventing and improving this condition.

It’s a well-known fact that adult and adolescent depression begin in childhood.  In addition, evidence shows that early mental health problems can impact on life chances.  Positive mental health is linked to good educational outcomes, productivity and strong relationships.

It’s not a coincidence that the rise in mental issues, including depression has increased significantly over the last ten years.  We know that the increase in childhood diabetes, obesity and adult heart health is directly linked to diet and lifestyles changes that are associated with modern living.  It then stands to reason that this same lifestyle must also be affecting our childrens' mental health.   When you look at the foods and nutrients that are vital for allowing our brains and nervous systems to work well, you can see that these are often the very things that are missing in our modern diet.  Despite the fact that our calorie intake is going up, the amount of processed food that we eats means that our nutrient intake is decreasing.  Deficiency of any nutrients can lead to depression but there are a few that are key.

Causes and Treatment of Depression in Children

1. Imbalanced Blood Sugar.  Our brain is a very active organ and its primary source of fuel is glucose.  Glucose is delivered to the brain via the blood stream and it’s really important that the brain is receiving a steady supply of this fuel.  To achieve this, we need to make sure that the level of glucose in our blood stream is balanced.  We have already covered this in another article but it is so important for kids in terms of depression but also for energy levels, concentration in school and mood balancing.  See the blood sugar balancing article for more information on this.

2. Lack of essential fats especially omega 3.  Sixty percent of the dry matter in the human brain is made up of fats.  Essential fats like omega 3 allow the membranes of the brain cells to remain flexible, allowing nutrients and chemical messages into the cell and toxins to exit.  Omega 3 is one of the most important nutrients to help with depression.  Symptoms of omega 3 deficiency are dry skin, thirst, asthma and eczema.  Foods that are rich in omega 3 are oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and fresh tuna.  Plant foods like walnuts, pumpkin seeds and flaxseed are also high in omega 3, although this form of omega 3 is not absorbed as well as the fish form of omega 3.

3. Low levels of serotonin.    The most common biochemical cause of depression is a lowered level of serotonin in the body.  Serotonin is the ‘happy hormone’ that helps to elevate mood and keep us relaxed.  One of the key building blocks for serotonin synthesis is tryptophan, an amino acid that is found in cottage cheese, yoghurt, bananas, almonds.  Studies have shown that increasing levels of tryptophan in the diet positively influences the levels of serotonin in the brain.  Alongside this, we need B vitamins especially folic acid and B6 as well as omega 3 oils to manufacture serotonin from tryptophan.  Utilisation of tryptophan is increased when you combine it with some complex carbohydrate for example, cottage cheese or banana on oatcakes, or a handful of chopped almonds over a fruit salad.

4. Lack of B vitamins.  The family of B vitamins are vital for production of brain chemicals and for support of the nervous when under stress.  Foods that are high in B vitamins are wholegrains like brown rice, oats, wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta,eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds.  Change from ‘white’ to ‘brown’ carbohydrates, start blending chickpeas/lentils/kidney beans into soups or add them to ground beef dishes, increase egg intake through pancakes or omelettes.  The green leafy vegetables like broccoli are very high in folic acid, low levels of which are linked to depression and poor concentration.

5. Low levels of zinc.  Zinc is one of the most important nutrients for to assist enzyme action in the body and for the utilistation of omega 3.  Good sources of zince are pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, oats, peas, red meat and all seeds, nuts, legumes and wholegrains.

6. Allergies.  Food intolerances, particularly gluten, have been linked to depression.  It’s advisable to get a food intolerance test done before removing whole groups of food from your child’s diet.

7. Gut health.  This is a lot of research ongoing at the moment linking the health of the gut to mental health.  Symptoms to look out for are bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, gas and tummy aches.  Food intolerances, lack of fibre, low water intake and low levels of healthy gut bacteria can all contribute to this.


Must Do’s for Children with Depression

1) Follow the blood sugar balancing diet as outlined in separate article.
2) Include 2 of the tryptophan rich food daily – cottage cheese, bananas, yoghurt, almonds.
3) Identify any food allergies either by testing or using the elimination diet
4) Include omega 3 rich foods daily or an omega 3 supplement
5) Have two of the B vitamin foods daily – wholegrains, eggs, pulses, nuts, seeds.
6) Add zinc rich foods daily.  Pumpkin seeds with dried fruit or chopped brazil nuts in oatmeal are good ways to ensure this.
7) Make sure that they are drinking plenty of water or juice that is well diluted with water.

Recipes for Children with Depression

1.  Summer Berry Smoothie

2.  Spicy Fish Balls

3.  Salmon and Mango Salsa

4.  Broccoli Soup

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