“As a person who has suffered from depression, I can attest to the power of food, vitamins and lifestyle in helping me get through the darkness and become strong, happy and productive. I truly believe that choosing to explore these simple steps can help anyone beat depression.”
~ Brenda Blanco
Depression is one of the most common types of mental disorders, affecting about 340 million people worldwide. Interestingly, about half of all cases of depression go undiagnosed and untreated, yet depression is the most treatable form of mental illness. Depression occurs in all age groups, social classes and cultures. It is far more common in women, affecting 25 percent of women versus about 10 percent of men. Additionally, depression also affects one out of every 20 teenagers.
The core symptoms of depression include:
- A sullen mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt and anxiety
- Loss of interest in things that used to be pleasurable
- Change in appetite
- Change in sleeping patterns
- Inability to concentrate
- A lack of energy or feeling run-down
Those with a family history of depression are much more likely to experience its effects at some point in their lives.
There are several other factors that can precipitate depression:
- A recent loss or sad event such as the loss of a job, bereavement or social isolation
- Nutritional deficiencies of B12 or B6
- Side effects of certain drugs
- Pre-menstrual syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Certain types of cancer
- Neurological disorders such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.
- Infections such as AIDS, mononucleosis and viral hepatitis
Step 1: Foods to Remove
#1 Refined Sugar
The roller coaster of high blood sugar followed by a crash may accentuate the symptoms of mood disorders. Research has tied heavy sugar consumption to an increased risk of depression.
There are a couple theories explaining this connection. Sugar suppresses activity of a hormone called BDNF that is low in individuals with depression. Sugar is also at the root of chronic inflammation, which impacts the immune system, the brain and other systems in the body and also has been implicated in depression. Interestingly, countries with high sugar intake also have a high rate of depression.
Instead of refined sugar, use honey or maple syrup as a sweetener. For diabetics, stevia is the best option.
About 75 percent of the world’s population is genetically unable to properly digest milk and other dairy products — a problem called lactose intolerance. When undigested particles cross through our intestine into our bloodstream our body treats it like a foreign invader and sends an immune response. This response causes inflammation, and inflammation is strongly linked to depression.
Instead of dairy, consider using alternative milk, like almond or coconut milk.
For your calcium needs, included greens and beans in your daily diet.
Gluten, a major protein in wheat, rye, and barley, is found in many of the foods we eat. Gluten is a long, wound up tangle that we can only partially digest. This leads to large and possibly damaging segments that may irritate the gut and cause immune reactions and allergies that have been linked to depression.
Instead of using gluten, consider baking with almond floor. Consider rice, quinoa, or sweet potatoes as your side dish instead of bread and pasta. Also, beware of gluten-containing soy sauce.
Step 2: Foods to Add
#1 Whole Grains
The connection between carbohydrates and mood is linked to the mood-boosting brain chemical, serotonin. Carbohydrate craving may be related to decreased serotonin activity so don’t remove all carbs from your diet, just the processed ones. Make smart carb choices with whole grains like rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, vegetables, beans and fruits.
#2 Omega-3 Rich Foods
Omega-3s are brain health boosters so add a few foods that are a great source.
When eaten in moderation, most nuts are a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats as well as protein. Walnuts get the edge when it comes to lessening the symptoms of depression because they also are one of the richest plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
When it comes to omega-3 fatty acids, another great food source is fatty fish, like wild salmon. The fatty acids found in these fish not only have specific brain-boosting properties to fight depression, but also are good for overall health as well. They improve circulation and reduce inflammation and your overall risk of heart disease.
#3 Green Tea
Researchers know that green tea is an incredibly rich source of antioxidants, but its depression-fighting properties can be traced to an amino acid known as theanine.
Theanine is an amino acid naturally found in tea leaves that provides an anti-stress relaxation benefit to tea drinkers. The presence of theanine in green tea is thought to be responsible for the observation that caffeine intake in coffee drinkers (who aren’t getting theanine) is more apt to result in tension as opposed to the ‘relaxed alertness’ more common to tea drinkers.
If you’re feeling depressed, this bold spice found in many Indian and Asian curry dishes is a great way to improve your mood, among other benefits. It is also a powerful anti-inflammatory.
If you are not into cooking with it, you can try turmeric capsules.
#5 Raw Chocolate
Roasted chocolate is usually cooked above 266 Fahrenheit thereby destroying the natural enzymes and nutrients in the chocolate. Raw chocolate maintains its healthy enzymes and nutrients because it is cooked under 118 degrees. This is necessary to get the antioxidant benefits of chocolate as well as its boost to your mood, heart and digestion. It is still high in calories so keep your portions small.
Step 3: Vitamins to Consider
#1 Fermented Cod Liver Oil
Recent preliminary studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids found in cod liver oil may be helpful in maintaining a healthy mind. Cod liver oil is an excellent source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential fatty acid found in nerve and brain tissue.
With fermented cod liver oil, you will keep your mood sunny because of its more absorbable content of Omega-3, Vitamin D and Vitamin A.
Research has shown that the regular use of cod liver oil is negatively associated with high levels of depressive symptoms in the general population.
I use the Blue Ice brand. You can learn more about Blue Ice at http://www.greenpasture.org.
#2 Vitamin D3
If your vitamin D levels are very low, consider taking a Vitamin D3 supplement.
Vitamin D research has repeatedly shown that vitamin D can improve a number of brain disorders, including depression and dementia—the most devastating form of which is Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin D may also exert some of its beneficial effects on your brain through its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties.
#3 B Vitamins
B vitamins have been proven to help with mild depression. Consider a B-vitamin complex.
#4 Anti-depressant Supplements
You can also do your own research into non-prescription supplements that specifically address depression, including 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort and SAMe. All have shown effectiveness in treating depression and each carry their own risks that you can discuss with your doctor.
Step 4: Lifestyle Changes
Yoga classes can vary from gentle and accommodating to strenuous and challenging; the choice of style tends to be based on physical ability and personal preference. Hatha yoga, the most common type of yoga practiced in the United States, combines three elements: physical poses, called asanas; controlled breathing practiced in conjunction with asanas; and a short period of deep relaxation or meditation.
Studies of a wide range of yoga practices suggest they can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression. In this respect, yoga functions like other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation, relaxation, exercise, or even socializing with friends.
Yoga classes are easier to find than ever. Try a class at your gym, local community center, local studio or online.
A study published last fall in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that electroacupuncture—in which a mild electric current is transmitted through the needles—was just as effective as fluoxetine (the generic name of Prozac) in reducing symptoms of depression.
I am a big fan of acupuncture for many conditions and depression is just another one that this ancient healing method can help cure.
If you are in Northern NJ, I highly recommend Dr. Tammy Tsao in Tenafly.
Aromatherapy is another alternative to play with. You can wear a preferred scent, scent your pillow at night or diffuse an oil in your home and/or work for its soothing effect. Here are a few great options.
- Jasmine has a relaxing flowery scent that is known for its uplifting properties.
- Lemon’s refreshing scent has purifying and uplifting properties. It helps to combat negative emotions, stress, depression and boost your immunity.
- Lavender is a true cure-for-all. It helps with headaches, migraine, fear, anxiety, depression, nervousness, hypertension, and insomnia. It has a calming and relaxing effect on body and mind.
- Wild Orange has a refreshing, energizing, and mood lifting effect. It works great to ease feelings of panic, anger, irritation, and nervousness.
- Rose’s great fragrance has a stimulating effect on the entire nervous system and helps to create a sense of well-being.
- Sandalwood’s comforting scent has sedative properties that can help you to ease tension and fight inner stress.
In addition to these great lifestyle options, start spending more time in nature. A walk in the park or sunbathing by the lake can also boost your spirit.
Step 5: Get Your ZZZs
The relationship between sleep and depressive illness is complex – depression may cause sleep problems and sleep problems may cause or contribute to depressive disorders. For some people, symptoms of depression occur before the onset of sleep problems. For others, sleep problems appear first. Sleep problems and depression may also share risk factors and biological features and the two conditions may respond to some of the same treatment strategies. Sleep problems are also associated with more severe depressive illness.
Insomnia is very common among depressed patients. Evidence suggests that people with insomnia have a ten-fold risk of developing depression compared with those who sleep well. Depressed individuals may suffer from a range of insomnia symptoms, including difficulty falling asleep (sleep onset insomnia), difficulty staying asleep (sleep maintenance insomnia), unrefreshing sleep, and daytime sleepiness. However, research suggests that the risk of developing depression is highest among people with both sleep onset and sleep maintenance insomnia.
To improve your zzzs:
- Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule
- Remove electronics from your bedroom and keep your cell phone at least 5 feet away from your bed
- Get into bright light soon after waking in the morning
- Get some form of exercise every day
- Avoid afternoon naps if you have nighttime insomnia
- Limit caffeine and alcohol
Step 6: Talk it Out
While the changes in your nutrition and lifestyle help your depression, it is very helpful to see a counselor to discuss what you are going through. Choosing the right counselor is very important. I recommend researching a counselor in your area that is open to alternative therapies, not instantly prescribing medication.
If you are in the Northern NJ area, I highly recommend Felice Toonkel in Tenafly, NJ.
Namaste dear friends,