Depression and Anxiety Nutrition Strategies, part 1 of 3

My friend Shari called me last week. “Guess what. My friend Emily was totally normal, and has been in mental hospitals for 12 years now. They found out a few months ago that it was the MEDS they started her on that made her crazy. She’s been off them for two months and she’s just FINE.”

What a tragedy. Shari continues, ”Twelve years ago, she had two men who wanted to marry her. College-bound. Totally normal. She had everything going for her. But they put her on one drug after another and she was suicidal and psychotic.”

I’m a former mental health professional and have a master’s degree in social work. So let me make this disclaimer: you don’t want to go off your psychotropic drugs without careful supervision. Emily’s experience is not everyone’s experience. I bet her getting off those drugs was careful and gradual. Psychotropics are no laughing matter, and the transition ON or OFF can be scary.

Some of them are class C narcotics, and others are narcotic central nervous system depressants. SSRI’s, the most commonly prescribed, cause sexual dysfunction, increased risk of bone fractures, drowsiness, nausea, weight loss or gain, renal impairment, suicidal thoughts, and other symptoms. And, two meta-analyses of dozens of clinical trials (2008, 2010) for those drugs did not meet the criteria for a “clinically significant effect.”

For people upside down in a mental health crisis, a drug may be a lifesaver. People who want to kill themselves don’t have the wherewithal to sit down and problem-solve the actual life circumstances that seem overwhelming, let alone make major dietary and lifestyle changes.

But is the prescription a lifelong crutch, rather than a temporary sanity-saving measure while you figure out the actual PROBLEM and solve it? That I have an issue with. I know plenty of people who have been on psychotropics for a decade with no effort by them or their doc to solve the problems.

I also take issue with the dispense-it-for-every-little-complaint M.O. of too many docs. It should be a temporary, desperate act, putting someone on these hard-core drugs, while the doc helps get at the core causation. Not a first line of defense at the first sign of trouble!

The following discussion are my thoughts and should not be construed as medical advice. Please see your qualified practitioner for individualized help with depression or anxiety.

Mental health has its roots in biochemistry. And food is the fuel of our biochemistry, of course, causing it stability or instability. Does it not, then, make sense, that food can play a major role in good mental health?

It certainly has, in mine. I was born anxious. Oldest child. Type A. Red personality. Overachieving stereotype. All that stuff.

As a small child, I had stressed- out, sobbing meltdowns if I got a B on my report card or made a mistake in a piano performance. If I let someone down, or if someone didn’t like me.

I have struggled with anxiety my whole life. It is completely managed and no longer costs me sleep or causes any trouble. The past 10 years, it is where I want it. It is a good thing, when it is managed. That is: it fuels my constant drive to build things, learn and grow, help good causes, and GO-GO-GO. My anxiety no longer makes me cry or wrecks my well-being.

The only exception, before I QUIT COLD TURKEY, used to be when I’d eat sugar, or especially corn syrup. Eating something with HFCS in it sets me back for days—I wake up having panic attacks for 5 days after eating a handful of Junior Mints!

Why? Because sugar burns out adrenal glands, and virtually everyone living in the modern age has heavily taxed adrenal glands even WITHOUT sugar.

So let’s talk about things you can do, nutritionally, if you suffer with depression or anxiety. I start a nine-item list in my next blog entry.


27 thoughts on “Depression and Anxiety Nutrition Strategies, part 1 of 3

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  1. The single most effective things that I’ve done for depression include: 1) Getting tested for a MTHFR genetic mutation. I found out my methylation system is only functioning at 70% so I now take methyl folate to counteract this 2) SAM-e 3) 5-HTP. Also, someone mentioned getting checked for candida and parasites. I highly recommend these as welll. I discovered that these were the culprit for me as well as dealing with mold illness. Other helpful supplements: vitamin D, Carlson’s Cod Liver Oil, and a good B complex (thorne).

  2. Looking for help with anxiety and insomnia. My life is by and large free of stress causing situations, people and events. Yet I live in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear. I take 5mg of ambien each night to help with insomnia but, I hate taking anything. Without it, I would not sleep. I look for any healthy solution to both my anxiety and insomnia problems. I juice and drink smoothies nearly daily so I am open to any remedies.

  3. I am currently on anti-depressant for my pms.
    I exercise regularly (I’m a personal trainer) I eat healthy
    80% of the time, get lots of sleep, everything I’m supposed
    to but when I ovulate and 10 days before my period, I hit a
    mini depression. Without the Meds I am in rage mode 24/7
    and can’t put two thoughts together to complete the simplest
    task. Very frustrating considering I am a mom and wife. I would
    love to be off the Meds but even on them I still have the same
    symptoms just to a lesser degree. Any suggestions would be
    greatly appreciated!! Also, my mother and grandmother had the
    same pms problems. Thanks!!!!

  4. Opiates (narcotics is really a word that should only be used to describe illegal drugs) are not prescribed for depression. They are prescribed for moderate to severe pain. There are many different types of psychotropic drugs from atypical antipsychotics to SNRI’s to benzodiazipines but opiates are not one of them. A doctor who would actually prescribe opiates for depression is verging on malpractice. It is true that many chronic pain conditions usually have co-morbid depression, so someone is usually on both, especially since dr’s usually prefer to diagnose you with a mental health condition before they believe you have a physical one, and also because some antidepressants help neuropathic pain, for example, but they are not being prescribed for the depression in that case.
    I’m curious to read more on your strategies for this…the medication option is not the most effective and has tons of side effects (speaking as someone who, in a severe mental health crisis, went on a med that put on 60 lbs. that I’m still trying to get off) but at the same time, it’s not necessarily a sign of a bad lifestyle if someone comes down with a mental illness and constant attempts to “treat it naturally” and get off their meds can wreak havoc on the life of someone with moderate to severe mental illness. I’m very torn on this….I’ve seen both sides end up in disaster.

  5. Dear N.Martin, My mother’s friend cured her Hep C with high doses of good quality Milk Thistle. She had a bad case, but the Milk Thistle took it away. Of course, consult with an alternative health practitioner for advice, but you will also find some great info on There’s TONS of info from people who have cured their ailments with alternative treatments & supplements. Here’s the link to the Hep C info:
    Good luck! As for the anti-depressant, if you want off of it, go off SLOWLY with the help of an alternative health practitioner (don’t listen to the traditional Dr. say: “just cut your dose in half…and then stop taking it). You may want to look into EFT or tapping, too. It is helpful to so many people! Often times an experienced practitioner can help get you started more effectively than just the ‘do it yourself’. I wish you well!

  6. Robyn; I was wondering how you would prepare, food wise, for economic disaster? The food that has a long shelf life probably doesn’t have any nutrition in it…Is there a brand that you recommend that is flash frozen and retains most of it’s nutrition? I would love your input on this. Thanks.

  7. Anti Depressants?…I witnessed two people go on and off them at around the same time, it was scary to say the least, i tried everything i could that was natural for them, homeopaths, raw, EFA’s, green smoothies, lots of sleep…I must have missed something because it got out of control and they went back on everything and more…..I hope you have success as it is a terrifying epidemic.

  8. To n.martIn: I have had hep c for 22 years. Eat beets! Great for detoxifying the liver. My liver enzymes were not that high (326 and 275 in 2007), but after eating beets (maybe one-quarter of a cup of so) once or twice a week, they dropped down into the normal range of 10-40. I continue to eat beets (we grow our own!) to keep my liver healthy.

  9. I was on antidepressants for over 10 years. I wasn’t depressed but terrible exhausted. My doctor told me that I didn’t have to be depressed to have depression. I thought that was nuts and went to another doctor. I actually went to a total of 5 doctors that came up with the same diagnosis. So I took the pills. They helped give me a bit of energy but I still slept 12 hours at night and then had naps through out the day. My legs would give out on me and I’d almost fall down because my body wanted to sleep so bad. I fell asleep driving etc.

    I finally found a doctor and she did a bunch of tests and the only conclusion she could come up with was poor digestion. I visited a naturopath and found out I had candida. I went on the diet for 8 weeks and at the end of the 8th week I had felt the best I had ever felt in my entire life. But the sugar cravings were so intense that I needed sugar to calm myself down. So I went off the diet and feel good mentally but absolutely physically horrible. I have since found out that I have A.D.D. which causes lots of anxiety. No doubt why I have been addicted to sugar all my life.

    I now have found a raw food diet and am trying to become more alkaline. The yeast free diet is 80% alkaline and 20% acidic. When the body is healthy it is best to be slightly alkaline, whether you have any illness or not. This is the same as the yeast free diet. I have also tried to meditate and have found that this helps with anxiety. Want more energy eat more greens and switch your diet to 80% alkaline and 20% acidic. This does work and raw food works best as it has all the enzymes in the food and aren’t destroyed by the cooking process. There are many free recipes on line. I do believe if I can get my body to be more alkaline that I will have more energy. The body takes less energy to eat raw food than it does cooked food. Therefore you will have more energy. Now I’m not suggested going 100% raw because you will probably fail as it’s not practical. But please eat as much raw food as possible. Your body will thank you for it. The body can heal itself but only will, without interference (sugar, alcohol, smoking, medication, etc)

    I will beat this anxiety. Good Luck to you all!

  10. SSRI’s are not narcotics. Narcotics are controlled substances. Think: morphine, codeine, etc. I agree that SSRI’s are ridiculously over-prescribed but absolutely necessary in some situations.

  11. i too have been on anti=deppressants for 16 years, i also have been taking a sleeping pill for the same length of time, i have hep c and i guess the dr. figured i should be on anti depressants when i started the treatsments, although the treatments never worked for the hepc i am still on the meds.. i purchased a vitamix 6 months ago and have been trying to go healthy foods, i do slip and eat sugary treats then feel hungover the next day. i am always looking for reciepes for liver detoxing or just plain healthy eating for your liver, if anyone has any good info for me i would apprecitate the input.. since i have been using the vita mix and reading robyns blogs i have lost 30 pounds and my husband is down 50… still looking for extra energy though, im 57.. thank you

  12. Kylee,

    I work a lot with digestive issues in my practice. You might want to consider going to a Traditional Naturopath to be tested for Candida, H.Pylori and Parasites. Make sure you are taking a good Bioavailable vitamin and a separate mineral supplement to feed your cells and you also might try Slippery Elm tea several times a day or take the capsules to heal the inflammation. A Food Sensitivity Assessment would also be in order to find out which foods are contributing to the inflammation. Best Wishes on your journey.

  13. Robyn,

    I have a friend who was just started on Zoloft for severe anxiety about a week ago. I saw your article and was going to send it to her but then saw that you mistakenly placed Zoloft as a Class 3 narcotic. It IS a controlled substance but not a narcotic. I’m an RN so picked up on that right away. My friend is also an RN so I can’t even send the article to her with that info in it, then she will doubt the rest of the article. I have a Blendtec, she has a Vitamix so she is already into smoothies but hasn’t made them in a while. Otherwise this would be a great article series for her.

  14. Walk four miles every day. This may perhaps be the best antidote for anxiety and many many other problems. Do not rush. Start off slowly. time spent is more important than distance covered. Time minimum one hour.

  15. I am a publisher. I just published Dr. Judith Moore’s book “Between Two Minds: Healing From Depression and Anxiety for LDS Women”. Anyone can benefit from this book. I personally am very interested in your blog and article series on depression and anxiety. What are your thoughts about someone like me, who had depression and anxiety for over 30 years and whose siblings and parents all had the same mental health challenges? Do you believe that these conditions can be hereditary?
    Thank You for writing about this subject. As you know it’s very timely! I’m happy to share Dr. Moore’s book with you, if you are interested in it. It too, covers important information and guidance to assist people with their nutrition as well as ways to gain adrenal stress relief.
    Again, Thank You! I look forward to hearing from you,
    Tracy Izatt. (832) 265-7530

  16. I am so happy to see this series!! My mother went through a living hell a few years ago at the hand of a pill-dispensing doctor who never asked her ANY questions, let alone listened to her. She began telling him what some of her symptoms were, he interrupted her and BAM she was given meds. TWO YEARS later she had been hospitalized 5 times for sucidal behaviour, was having hallucinations, lost her job due to panic/anxiety, and was almost evicted from her apartment. I agree with you, Robyn, coming off the drugs can be scary and dangerous, but she did it on her own and has NEVER been heathier!!

  17. You’re right that many doctors reach straight for the prescription pad rather than considering other options to help patients with a problem. I went to my primary care doctor a few years ago to see if there were some sort of dietary changes I could make to help deal with PMS. For two days/month, I would find myself ravenously hungry and yelling at the kids. When I yelled at my 4 year-old for not putting on her gloves fast enough, I realized that I had hit my version of “rock bottom” because what in the world I was doing yelling at a 4 year old! So I went to the doc to see if there was something to help me through the two days. Again, I was looking for dietary advice. But the only thing she considered or would talk to me about was going on prozac or zoloft. I asked if that was something I could take for only those two days, and she said that I would have to take it every day. Guess what I decided to do — change doctors! Happy to say that I found your website, and have been trying hard to change my and my family’s diet. Those two days are still not easy, but it’s getting better. And no drugs.

  18. Can’t wait! My husband was diagnosed on the schizophrenia spectrum with extreme paranoia a couple of months ago (after we separated) and I’m absolutely positive that his going out to eat for every. single. meal. has contributed significantly to his illness (along with a 25-lb. weight gain in four months).

  19. Great insight, as always. I too was born anxious. I started having panic attacks at age 21 and have been dealing with them for four years. It triggers many problems, right now I have horrible reflux that burns my esophagus no matter how well I eat. I am on medicine for both reflux and anxiety, because I was getting so bad it was a last resort for me. Not even aloe vera juice and ACV would cure it. After talking with my therapist, I found out that when the body begins to sense danger like it does in a panic attack, the first thing it does is shut down the stomach in order to prepare the body for “flight”. She and I are working together to reduce my anxiety so that I can get off these meds. I notice that I am much more stable when I don’t eat sugar and go off it periodically as long as I can stand. The hard thing is that when I feel depressed or anxious, sugar is the first thing I go to and so it is a vicious cycle. Looking forward to reading your next posts.

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