Depression is a very common ailment today and is on the rise. It is estimated that 1 in 20 women and 1 in 12 men will experience a major depression. It can also occur in children and teens as well.
Causes: Experts don’t yet agree on the exact causes but most feel it is a combination of genetics, nutrition, lifestyle and stressful life events. The first line treatment used to be counseling, but with the advent of the newer antidepressants called SSRI or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, drugs have become the most common first treatment. Although the new SSRI’s are considered safer with fewer side-effects than the older medications, they are still serious drugs with many unpleasant side-effects. These drugs prevent the breakdown of the neurotransmitter serotonin so that more is available in the brain.
Although they work well for some people, these medications do not fix the low levels of neurotransmitters and the underlying causes of mood disorders. True major depression is a serious illness that does need to be treated by a professional. Up to 15% of those who are clinically depressed die by suicide. In 1997, suicide was the 8th leading cause of death in the United States.
See a doctor if you have any of these depression symptoms for more than 2 weeks:
- Thoughts of death, suicide or suicide attempts
- Depressed mood – feeling hopeless, sad, discouraged, or empty.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed. Nothing seems to interest you anymore, including former hobbies, social activities, and sex.
- Changes in appetite and significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of your body weight within four weeks.
- Insomnia oversleeping, or waking up in the night unable to return to sleep.
- Feeling agitated or restless unable to sit still, anxious, restless or sluggish, slow speech and body movements.
- Fatigue or loss of energy. May have trouble getting out of bed or performing even small tasks without feeling exhausted.
- Self-loathing or strong feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.
- Concentration problems, trouble focusing or memory problems, difficulty making decisions.
- Irritability – easily annoyed, and frustrated by little things, angry outbursts or excessive crying.
- Aches and pains with no apparent cause.
So many people today are being prescribed antidepressants that you have to wonder is it possible that so many people can have a genetic chemical imbalance in their brains that warrant medication?
Depression is becoming more common along with other health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hormonal imbalances.
Stress and depression – Modern life can be very stressful and prolonged stress causes imbalances in hormones and the brain neurotransmitter levels. Cortisol is a hormone is secreted by the adrenal glands in order to help the body handle stress. Studies have found that about half of individuals who are clinically depressed have high levels of cortisol in their blood. Reducing stress is critical to alleviating depression.
Fortunately there is much you can do to help alleviate mood disorders with a healthy lifestyle. If you do not have a serious depression that needs immediate medical attention, then consider the following natural health options for improving your mood and energy.
Poor Nutrition and Depression
There are a number of vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can affect a person’s mood. A healthy diet is just as essential for a healthy brain as it is for a healthy body.
Here are some mood elevating foods:
Vitamin B’s are necessary for a healthy brain. Chicken, turkey, lean beef, shellfish, salmon, legumes, whole grains, fortified cereals and bread, seeds and dark green leafy vegetables all provide the various B vitamins that are essential for your brain.
Folic Acid (folate) Some studies have shown low levels of folic acid in depressed people. Low folic acid levels may also make depression less responsive to drug therapy, but other studies have not shown a clear relationship. Folic acid is very beneficial to your health in many ways and it wouldn’t hurt if you were depressed to eat plenty of foods that contain folate. These include green leafy vegetables, legumes, citrus fruits and juices, as well as fortified breakfast cereals and grain products (including rice, pasta, bread).
Omega 3 – Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and have been shown in many studies to be very beneficial to depression. Fish oil is the best source of these fatty acids. Flax seeds are another source but they have to be converted to DHA and some people’s body do not handle this conversions well, where as fish oil is already in the usable form. Cold water fish such as salmon and tuna are the best source. Another good source is walnuts.
Selenium – Low levels of this mineral have been shown to adversely affect mood. It is abundant in brazil nuts. It is also found in poultry, mushrooms, whole what, sea vegetables as well as beef and seafood.
Magnesium is also found to be deficient in depressed people. This mineral can be found in spinach, whole grains, nuts, legumes, seafood and dark leafy greens, as well as some fortified cereals.
Oregano is a culinary herb that can help with depression. Put plenty of oregano in your spaghetti sauce or pizza!
Bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan which the body uses to produce serotonin. Eat a banana day to keep away the blues.
Complex carbohydrates are particularly important for the individual who has a low serotonin level, as they promote stable blood sugar and the production of serotonin in the brain. Stick with fruit (not juice) whole wheat bread, brown rice and vegetables.
Foods to Avoid
Blood sugar highs and lows in your blood sugar can affect your brain chemistry and mood. Excessive refined sugar and white flour can cause an immediate spike in blood sugar and a surge in insulin, followed by a crash in blood sugar leading to extreme fatigue, depression and nervous anxiety.
Avoid the common simple carbohydrates: white rice, white flour including pastries, bread, donuts and cookies, as well as candy, alcohol and sodas. Caffeine products such as coffee, non-herbal teas, colas, refined sugar and flour all contribute to nervous anxiety, depression and highs and lows of blood sugar and energy.