Can Antioxidants Help Treat Depression and Anxiety? .pdf
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Can Antioxidants Help Treat Depression and
Antioxidants Depression and Anxiety
When it comes to stress-induced psychiatric disorders, anxiety and
depression are the most common. I see this often in my practice. We
know that stressful life events can produce a state of vulnerability to
depression and anxiety in some people. The mechanisms that contribute
to vulnerability of mental illness is an
area which needs further study. Although
promising research has been done in the
past few years that indicates that there
are biochemical changes that occur in the
body as a result of stress that can be
addressed. For patients suffering from
stress-induced psychiatric disorders, it is
essential to understand the role of
antioxidants on stress-induced psychiatric disorders so a plan can be
created and implemented to help cope with the effects of stress.
Stress and Nutrition
Research has shown that stress places a demand on the body in terms of
nutrition. During a period of stress, it has been discovered that there is
an increase in adrenal production and mobilization. There is also an
increase in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, vitamin E,
magnesium, potassium, and micronutrients, This further accelerates the
metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates which produces quick
energy that is needed to overcome the stress response.
Antioxidants and Stress
To combat the biochemical changes which occur as a result of stress,
there is something researchers call “antioxidant defence” in the
biological system. The research on this states that “primary defence is by
enzymatic antioxidants such as superoxide dimutase, glutathione
peroxidase, catalase, nicotanamide adenine diphosphate, glutathione
transferase and glutathione reductase, while secondary defence is by the
non-enzymatic antioxidants such as vitamin E (alphatocopherol),
vitamin C (ascorbic acid), β-carotene, minerals, and trace elements like
zinc.” This indicates that stress and vitamins are related and we need to
replace any vitamins that are depleted in order to maintain healthy
What Are Antioxidants?
The term “antioxidant” was originally used to refer to a chemical which
prevented the consumption of oxygen. We now use the term
“antioxidant” to describe small molecules that interact with free radicals
and neutralize them ensuring proper function of all physiological
functions of the body. Free radicals and oxidants can play a dual role as
both beneficial as well as toxic compounds. As such, they can either have
a helpful or harmful effect on the body. Free radicals are continuously
generated by our bodies through internal processes, exposure to
different external pathogens or stress. The best sources of antioxidants
come from richly colored fruits and vegetables. Different colors
characterize different types of antioxidants.
Brightly colored green vegetables such as kale, broccoli, peas, zucchini
celery, collard greens, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, and spinach are rich
in lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidant nutrients deposited in the retinas
of your eyes. It is believed that eating an adequate amount of these green
vegetables can help prevent the vision loss caused by macular
Yellow and Orange Vegetables and Fruits
Carotenoids are yellow and orange vegetables and fruit, such as
butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin, yellow and orange bell peppers, and
sweet potatoes. The body converts carotenoids to the nutrient vitamin A
which benefits your skin, bones,
immune system, vision, bones, and
antioxidants and may help your
memory, boost immunity, protect urinary tract and reduce your risk of
disease. These include vegetables such as radishes, beets, red onions,
and tomatoes. Many foods with natural red pigments also contain
lycopene, which is an antioxidant phytonutrient which may help protect
against cancer of the prostate.
Purple and Blue Vegetables
Purple and blue vegetables such as purple cabbage, purple onions,
eggplant, purple peppers, and purple potatoes contain phenolic
flavanoids and ellagic acid which are anti-inflammatory compounds.
Eating these color vegetables may improve cognitive function, prevent
some types of cancer, and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Oxidative Stress, Free Radicals and Illness
Researchers believe that a balance must be maintained between free
radicals and antioxidants within the body for healthy functioning. If this
balance is not maintained, the free radicals may exceed the body’s ability
to neutralize them, which can change different proteins, molecules,
DNA, lipids, and carbohydrates, resulting in illness. Antioxidants must
be present in the body in order to stabilize the reaction by-products (free
radicals), otherwise, it is believed that they damage the cellular tissue.
We get these needed antioxidants from our food. We know that if we eat
a diet which is lacking proper nutrients our mitochondria cannot
properly process glucose. This results in free radical by-products which
can cause ongoing damage to cells and proteins. This, in turn, may
accelerate the aging process, increase the risk of auto-immune diseases,
degenerative diseases, cancer, and other illnesses.
The term of oxidative stress refers to this imbalance between the free
radicals that become excessive to the antioxidants defenses, resulting in
molecular changes and eventually illness.
Oxidative Stress and Mental Health
Oxidative stress has been shown to be an important contributor to
inflammatory conditions, and in recent years has been implicated in the
underlying mechanisms that result in depression and anxiety. One of
the proposed pathway in developing depression has been the increased
oxidative stress which pairs up with inflammatory mechanism leading to
cellular aging, and possibly depression and anxiety. Studies that look at
the common factors that underlie depression, cellular aging, cancer and
dementing illnesses seem to find the oxidative stress a common
Alternative Treatment and Depression
There is an ongoing research in finding “out of the box” modalities to
help in the treatment of depression, and most of the alternatives to the
traditional pharmacological treatment try to address the inflammation
through moderate exercise and a noninflammatory diet. A diet that has
anti-inflammatory properties is rich in flavonoids or ‘nutraceuticals. ’
These seem to have good antioxidative properties, and are primarily
found in brightly-colored fruits and vegetables. Others kinds are also
found in food, the vitamins such as vitamin C (ascorbic acid), Vitamin E
(tocopherols), or B carotenes.
Research On Antioxidants, Anxiety and Depression
In a study exploring the role of antioxidants in generalized anxiety
disorder (GAD) and depression, it was observed that patients with GAD
and depression had significantly lower levels of vitamins A, C, and E in
comparison to healthy controls. The study results reported that after
dietary supplementation of these vitamins for a period of 6 weeks, a
significant reduction in anxiety and depression scores of patients was
observed (P<0.001). A significant increase in the blood levels of
antioxidants was observed in patients (P<0.05) except that of vitamin E
in the group of depressed patients.
The Reality of Diets
We know that while the amount of antioxidants needed could be
obtained through good nutrition, it would be necessary to eat between 610 servings of fruits and or vegetables daily. Oftentimes, that is not
Therefore, we recommend supplementing with good
multivitamin/antioxidants called nutraceuticals which gives you a better
chance of ensuring that you are getting enough antioxidants and helps
with good absorption and bioavailability.
Diet and Illness
Although further study on the effects of nutrition is needed to maximize
the potential of nutrition on health, the research, to date, demonstrates
clearly that diet can play a huge role in preventing or ameliorating
illness. As can be seen from the research detailed above- having a diet
rich in different colored vegetables, and supplementing with
nutraceuticals can be a great start in getting the antioxidants your body
Below is a list of references that can help you in your journey to feeling
good both physically and mentally. Click here to schedule a mental
Role of antioxidants in generalised anxiety disorder and depression.
Gautam M, Agrawal M, Gautam M, Sharma P, Gautam AS, Gautam S.
Indian J Psychiatry. 2012 Jul;54(3):244-7.
“Minding My Mitochondria: How I overcame secondary progressive
multiple sclerosis” By Terry Wahls, MD
Dr Wahls’ super-nutrient paleo diet, that reversed her Multiple Sclerosis
Phytochemical and Pharmacological Profile: A Review. … Lobo, V., A.
Patil, A. Phatak, and N. Chandra. 2010. “Free Radicals, Antioxidants and
Functional Foods: Impact on Human Health.” Pharmacognosy Reviews
4 (8): 118–126.
Free radicals, antioxidants in disease and health.
Pham-Huy LA1, He H, Pham-Huy C.
Int J Biomed Sci. 2008 Jun;4(2):89-96.
Depressive and Anxiety Disorders Showing Robust, but Non-Dynamic,
6-Year Longitudinal Association With Short Leukocyte Telomere
Verhoeven JE1, van Oppen P1, Révész D1, Wolkowitz OM1, Penninx
10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.15070887. Epub 2016 Mar 4.
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