1. Feed Your Brain
The hunter-gatherer diet typically includes wild game that feed on grass, and fish that feed on algae — both abundant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Conversely, the extraordinary rise in depression rates over the last century has closely mirrored the disappearance of omega-3 fats from the Western diet, which has come to rely more on grains (and grain-fed livestock) than wild game and plants. In countries where people still get a better dietary balance of omega-6s from seeds and omega-3s from grasses, leaves and algae, depression tends to be substantially less common.
But how, exactly, does an imbalance of the fats we eat make us more vulnerable to depression? Neuroscientists have identified three mechanisms that play a role:
Serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps turn off the brain’s stress response. But when brain cells don’t have enough omega-3 fats, they have trouble understanding the message of serotonin, increasing a person’s vulnerability to the kind of out-of-control stress response that leads to the onset of depression.
Dopamine: Lack of omega-3s also scrambles the messages of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates the left frontal cortex — the part of the brain that puts us in a good mood and pushes us to go after the things we want.
Inflammation: When unchecked by a balance of omega-3s, omega-6 fats promote inflammation throughout the body. Over time, chronic inflammation triggers a reduction in the production of tryptophan, the primary building block of serotonin. It also impairs the hippocampus, which is critical to memory function. And it triggers the stress hormone cortisol, which has its own set of depressive effects on the brain.
A key element of the TLC protocol is to begin taking a daily omega-3 supplement. The easiest source is fish-oil capsules. Fish oil is the richest natural source of both EPA and DHA, the two omega-3 molecules that play an important role in the brain. I recommend starting a daily dose of 1,000 milligrams of EPA and 500 milligrams of DHA to all of my patients.
If you currently have symptoms of depression, or if you want to help prevent the onset of illness in the future, this is the dose I suggest you begin with, as well. (If you are taking any medications, particularly blood thinners, check with your doctor first.)