Recently, an interesting meme popped up in my Facebook newsfeed. You know, the type that makes an incredible health claim, with no facts to back it up? Yeah, one of those. This one related to a topic that not only has more than its fair share of stigma associated with it already, but also is a DANGEROUS illness when left untreated. In many instances, this illness is not only dangerous to those suffering it, but also to individuals around them or in their care, depending on the severity. This illness affects every aspect of a person’s life: how they think, how they feel, their behaviors, their emotional state. It can affect even normal, everyday activities that other people take completely for granted. That’s right, I’m talking about depression.
So let’s take a look at depression first.
What is depression? According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. They state that depression is “more than just a bout of the blues, depression isn’t a weakness, nor is it something that you can simply ‘snap out’ of. Depression may require long-term treatment.” Symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, emptiness or unhappiness, angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, loss of interest in normal activities, sleep disturbances, lack of energy, changes in appetite, anxiety, and troubled thinking. These symptoms can range from minor to severe. And when they become severe, they can also be accompanied by frequent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and even successful suicide when the person receives either no treatment or inadequate treatment.
So obviously, at this point, we’re well aware that depression is a SERIOUS issue, with major risks to the person suffering. But what are the options when it comes to treating depression? Amazingly enough, there are many types of treatment available for people suffering depression. The National Alliance of Mental Illness lists treatments including medications (SSRIs and SNRIs), psychotherapy (Cognitive Behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, psychodynamic therapy, psychoeducation, family psychoeduation and self-help/support groups), complementary medicine (although no CAM strategy currently has FDA approval) and aerobic activity. How effective the treatment is depends on the type of depression, how severe the depression is, and how long the person has been suffering from depression. So we can see that people are not limited to only a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, treatment is something that the affected person and their medical caregiver should discuss together, and decide on a course of action for treatment.
Having discussed the wide array of treatment available to individuals suffering from depression, it would appear, without doubt, that a person can find a treatment plan that they are comfortable with and that WORKS for them. So why do we still see so many false statements about depression, particularly the idea that anti-depressants are bad and diet can solve all your depression issues? It would appear that one possibility is the common side effects of anti-depressants (such as nausea, increased appetite/weight gain, loss of sexual desire, fatigue, insomnia, dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, to name a few). Another possibility presents when one understands that depression sufferers are often deficient in vitamins. According to NAMI:
People with mental illness are at greater risk of vitamin deficiencies due to a number of issues. Specifically, scientific studies have shown that people with depression and other mental illnesses may be more likely to have folate deficiency than others.
There is also evidence that Omega-3 fatty acids can have a beneficial impact on people suffering from depression. Take all that information with a general trend in some circles to seek all-natural, GMO-free, non-pharmaceutical treatments, and you end up with an anti-medicine, food-can-cure-all-ailments attitude, similar to this meme below.
Is there any truth to this meme? Any at all? Well, to determine that, let’s look at the nutrition facts of cashews. According to Nutrition and You, cashews are rich in heart-healthy essential fatty acids, which can help lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. Cashews are packed full of essential minerals, such as selenium, copper, magnesium and zinc. They are a good source of many vitamins, such as folate, pantothenic acid, thiamin and Vitamin E. Something it does not have in any valuable quantity, unlike some of its counterparts like walnuts and butternuts, is Omega-3 fatty acids, something that I’ve already previously shown to have a favorable impact on people suffering from depression. So, are cashews healthy for you? Absolutely. Could cashews be part of a balanced diet that is included in one’s treatment for depression? Absolutely. Can cashews treat depression like Prozac can? Nope, not at all.
But this doesn’t immediately mean that all persons suffering from depression need to use Prozac, either. For starters, there are many types of anti-depressants, including, but not limited to, Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, Pristiq and Cymbalta. Because each one is slightly different from the other, a patient may find that one works more effectively than another — which is why, again, it is a decision to be made with the guidance of their primary care physician or medical caregiver. Some people with less severe depression find that running or biking greatly affects their mood, enough so that no medication is needed. Still others prefer their treatment to involve seeking therapy combined with a vitamin regimen (under the guidance of a nutritionist or medical caregiver). It stands to reason, then, that the BEST treatment for depression is the treatment that WORKS for that person, and helps them to live a life devoid of the crushing symptoms of clinical depression. Telling people to eat a handful of cashews to cure their depression is not only oversimplifying the problem, but is dangerous as well.