If you’ve been dealing with a case of seasonal blues, or have been coping with some random bouts of depression, know that you aren’t alone. According to this article published in June 2020, it is estimated that 16.2 million adults living in the US (or 6.7% of American adults) have experienced some sort of depressive episode in any given year.
Depression may be something that you experience only now and then in response to difficult times or for no explainable reason at all. You may also be one of many who has a diagnosis of persistent depressive disorder, a chronic low-level depression that presents for at least 2 years. Just remember, your diagnosis doesn’t define you, and you have some gifts and strengths that make you uniquely you!
While sadness and grief are entirely normal human emotions, staying in a state of sadness and grief is almost never productive as part of a joyful, fulfilling life. There is true value in experiencing all emotions to better understand the complexity of life and the lessons life brings, but I also want to empower you with some ideas around how to move through more difficult emotions without a complete change in lifestyle.
There are lots of effective treatments for depression. Some may choose to go to therapy, others may choose to take a prescribed medication. Given my work as a dietitian and health coach, I also believe that there are many effective lifestyle changes that one can make as part of a therapeutic treatment plan. For more on food and mood specifically, you can check out my blog post here.
Knowing that so many of us deal with depression (and this time of year can be a particularly difficult one), I wanted to share something I came across recently. As I was going through my inbox of emails the other day, I came across a link to an article from Robb Wolf called “Electrolytes and Your Mood: A Surprising Link”. I was immediately intrigued.
Let me make the disclaimer that Robb is affiliated with an electrolyte company called LMNT. I’ve also been using LMNT for close to a year now, and it is now part of my daily pre and post-workout routine. Like many electrolyte replacement powders or drinks, LMNT contains a blend of sodium, magnesium, and potassium.
So how does this all connect to sodium and your mood? Sodium may be a missing link in your daily dose of mood-boosting habits and behaviors, although not providing a cure for depression. Sodium is also a mineral that has been people can shy away from. Over my many years coaching clients, there have been countless times when I’ve discussed particular food choices or reviewed food logs with clients, only to have them ask something like “isn’t that food high in salt?” or “shouldn’t I be concerned with my sodium levels?”.
I’m not going to make a blanket statement and say that watching sodium levels isn’t of value to anyone. In fact, some individuals are known to be “salt-sensitive” meaning that a higher salt intake, or a higher sodium diet, will raise blood pressure. However, for the average healthy individual, without any pre-existing health conditions, I’m not so sure that stressing out about sodium is necessary. Why?
“Most people don’t eat enough sodium to support energy, sleep, and mood. Why not? Because the US government has promulgated a sodium-restricted diet for decades.”~ Robb Wolf
While Robb quotes an interesting study in his article, which I’d really encourage you to read through in detail per my link above as part of his quote, he lays out 3 reasons why a low sodium diet may be linked with depression. Those 3 reasons are:
- Evolutionary Craving – Key Point: From an evolutionary standpoint, salty tastes have the ability to reinforce pleasure centers (aka, dopamine receptors) in the brain; therefore, when we eat salt, it makes us happy.
- Higher Cortisol – Key Point: High cortisol has been scientifically linked to depression, fatigue, and stress in both men and women; therefore, when someone is sodium deficient, cortisol levels rise.
- More Aldosterone – Key Point: Sodium triggers your adrenal cortex to pump out aldosterone, which allows your kidneys to retain sodium, and is meant as a survival mechanism; however, longer term pumping out of aldosterone is linked to clinical depression.
Now, I’m not saying to dump huge amounts of sodium on your plate or intentionally choose the saltiest foods possible. And again, I’m not saying that sodium will cure your depression. But keep in mind, that a sprinkle here or a pinch there may be a very easy change to your daily routine if you are struggling with a noticeable down-shift in your more typically upbeat mood.
I’m not prescribing a high salt diet, but I am encouraging you to take a closer look at your diet and assess how you’ve been using (or avoiding) sodium as part of your typical daily diet. And like any changes you make, use your detective skills as part of your own personal assessment process, particularly if you are prone to depression or experience seasonal changes in your mood.
Do your own research and find what works for you! If the addition of some salt, or even an electrolyte replacement, may help to alleviate some bouts of depression or changes in mood that you may have experienced over the last few years, this could be a simple tweak to put to the test.
Remember, oftentimes a slight boost in mood can make all the difference in your motivation to accomplish important personal goals. And like many, once the New Year hits, setting out to accomplish some new goals may be part of your wellness plan! I hope that a little extra sodium may make the year 2022 a bit less “salty” and a bit more satisfying mentally and physically!