Alcohol and depression don’t mix. According to the Mayo Clinic, alcohol impairs judgment, interferes with critically needed sleep, can interact with prescription medications and is itself a depressant. Alcohol depletes omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins essential to brain structures and communication. It’s simple: drinking makes depression worse.
1. Alcohol depletes omega-3s, the foundation of brain health. Your brain is 60% fat. Almost half of that is omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaeoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA form the basic structure of all your cells’ membranes, including nerve tissue and about a 100 billion brain cells, or neurons. Omega-3s maintain levels of dopamine and serotonin — two important mood-regulating neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, the chemical messengers that allow communication between neurons. Research shows a link between alcohol consumption and omega-3 fatty acid depletion, which exacerbates depression symptoms.
2. Alcohol depletes folate needed for brain communication. The B-complex vitamin folate is required for the synthesis of neurotransmitters and neuropeptides involved in brain cell communication — a deficiency is linked to nervous system problems, including depression. A Harvard study found that up to 38% of adults diagnosed with depression had low or borderline levels of folate. The same study found that a deficiency in folate is also linked to a decreased response to antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibiters (SSRIs).
3. Alcohol depletes mood-calming Vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is required to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps you feel calm and content. Vitamin B6 helps convert tryptophan into serotonin, as well as the other neurotransmitters dopamine, norepineprine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). A study conducted by the National Institute of Health shows that a deficiency in vitamin B6 may result in low levels of serotonin and is linked to depression.
4. Alcohol depletes depression-busting vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is also involved in the metabolism and function of neurotransmitters. Not only must it be consumed through animal sources, putting vegetarians and vegans at risk if they do not use supplements, but we easily become deficient in B12 as we age, which leads to depression.
Research backs this up. A study reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that up to 27% of older women suffering from severe depression were severely deficient in vitamin B12. And a large study of nearly 4,000 elderly men and women suffering from depression found that a deficiency in vitamin B12 increased the risk for depression by an astounding 70%.
5. Alcohol consumed in excess promotes unhealthy inflammation. Since alcohol metabolizes very quickly, it releases high levels of glucose and insulin in your body, increasing the risk of chronic inflammation and inflammatory diseases, including depression. According to a study recently conducted at Emory University, researchers found a biochemical link between stress, inflammation and depression. Curbing inflammation in patients helped improve both their depression and their response to antidepressants. It’s important to up your intake of antioxidants to manage inflammation. Antioxidants scavenge for dangerous free radicals that lead to inflammatory diseases.
6. Red wine contains antioxidant resveratrol but depressives, beware: Red wine contains resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant found in grape skins. New studies at Northumbria University show that since resveratrol can cross the blood-brain barrier, it helps protect your brain and nervous system by increasing blood flow to the brain. Not only that, but resveratrol lowers insulin levels and acts as an anti-inflammatory, thus slowing down the aging process.
But just because red wine contains resveratrol, it doesn’t give you license to drink more or start drinking “for health reasons.” Consuming alcohol, as discussed here, has severe repercussions for people with depression. If you don’t drink, you are better off not starting, and if you do, consider reducing your consumption to just one small glass a day or stopping altogether. If you want the antioxidant kick wine offers, safer sources of resveratrol include grapes, cocoa, dark chocolate and peanuts.
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