It is estimated that 10 percent of the U.S. population experiences depression severe enough to require medical attention.
Like many other chronic illnesses, depression is not caused by one single thing, but is a result of a variety of factors. It is usually diagnosed when the patient has several of a long list of symptoms. Depression has no bias. It affects people of all ages, races, and nationalities and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is considered the most costly of all diseases, largely because it disables people who would otherwise be productive.
What is depression? Although it is often normal and healthy to experience sad moods in response to a trauma, such as the loss of a loved one, a major depressive episode is characterized by inappropriate sadness that persists or is out of proportion with its apparent cause. Depression is more than just a sad mood. Someone who is depressed doesn’t just “quit” feeling that way. Along with the feeling of sadness, there is often great weakness, fatigue and apathy, an inability to enjoy once-pleasurable activities, disturbed sleep (either sleeping too much or too little), increased (or decreased) appetite, and a low sex drive. Depression generally leaves its sufferers feeling worthless, hopeless, guilty, irritable, or angry. This tends to be made worse by people who don’t understand the illness telling them to just “stop being depressed” or “pull yourself out of it”, as if they are making a conscious decision to feel this way.
Depression can even be deadly. In severe cases, the person may have constant thoughts of death and suicide. In fact, approximately one out of eight people will kill themselves during a major depressive episode.
Like other diseases, there are different categories of depression. The major two categories are: bipolar and unipolar depression. Bipolar depression is when the sadness alternates with periods of elation and mania, oftentimes simply referred to as bipolar disorder. Unipolar depression, by far the more common of the two, is marked by constant or recurring episodes of sadness. Unipolar depression is what we will focus on today, however, since both kinds can be caused by a number of similar factors, the suggestions here can benefit either type.
So what causes depression? What can cause some people to get so low that they feel the only option is to take their own life? Regardless of the type of clinical depression, it is probably a variety of factors, including: constant tension and unresolved stress, chemical or hormonal imbalances, chronic illness, poor diet, food allergies, nutritional deficiencies, genetics, and even inadequate sunlight.
What should I do?
If you suspect that you are clinically depressed, first consult a doctor to rule out any underlying illness (such as a thyroid problem). If you can, it is best to work with a doctor who embraces natural therapies and will work with you to find the cause of your depression, rather than just prescribing a drug that will only mask the problem. In addition, the suggestions here will support your therapy and will can help you to recover faster and more permanently.
How Do I know if I’m actually depressed?
Clinically, to be diagnosed with depression, a person has to exhibit several (a combination of at least 4) of the symptoms below. However, each person knows their own body and can usually tell if they are just sad, or if it is something more significant. Listen to your body, and follow the suggestions in this article for a healthier and happier mind AND body.
Inability to enjoy things/ fatigue/ mood swings, at times characterized by unexplained weeping/ feelings of apathy, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, irritability, or guilt/
sleep problems (either insomnia or sleeping too much)/ appetite disturbances (eating too little or too much)/ headaches, backaches, and digestive problems/ difficulty concentrating or making decisions/ increased anxiety/ decreased sex drive /recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
As a rule, depression occurs as a result of a number of factors, not just one thing or incident. These are called the “root causes”. Look at this list and see if these apply to you. Even if you don’t suffer from depression, attending to the things on this list can help to improve quality of life and prevent mental illness and depression.
Diet: 1. Food allergies. 2. Nutritional deficiencies (particularly of B12, folic acid, B6, B1, and tyrosine) 3. Alcohol and recreational drug use 4. Neurotransmitter imbalance.
Body/Illness Related: 1. Chronic illness/chronic pain. 2. A pre-existing condition—most commonly, hypoglycemia, anemia, sleep apnea, low adrenal function, and thyroid gland malfunction. 3. Hormonal imbalance, especially after childbirth or as a result of oral contraceptives and other synthetic hormone medications; commonly occurs with PMS and menopause.
Stress Related: 1. Excess tension or stress. 2. Unresolved emotional issues
Other Factors: 1. Lack of sunlight. 2. Medications, including: corticosteroids, antihistamines, blood pressure medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, narcotics, and some pharmaceutical antidepressants. 3. Heavy metal toxicity. 4. Candidiasis 5. Sleep disturbances
Changes in diet over the past 50 years appear to be an important factor behind a significant rise in mental health illnesses. In fact, scientific studies have clearly linked depression, along with attention deficit disorder, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, and other mental health problems to increased intake of junk food and the absence of essential fats, vitamins and minerals in industrialized diets. Even marginal nutrient deficiencies can change the structure and function of the brain and nervous system, causing immediate and lasting effects on mental health and behavior.
Foods greatly influence the brain's behavior. A poor diet, especially one with excessive junk foods, is a common cause of depression. What we eat controls the levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which regulate our behavior--and neurotransmitters are closely linked to mood.
Food to Eat
Diet therapy for depression includes adding foods that are high in nutrients that help improve mental health, such as: flaxseed and olive oil, leafy vegetables, brazil nuts, avocados, artichokes, broccoli, corn, kale, peas, potatoes, spinach, summer and winter squash, and sweet potatoes, bananas, blackberries, kiwi, oranges, strawberries, and tomatoes.
Eat a good diet balanced with complex carbohydrates from sources like whole grains, vegetables, and legumes. Carbohydrate-rich foods raise brain levels of tryptophan and therefore serotonin, which can lead to feelings of wellbeing. It is no coincidence that people often crave carbohydrate rich foods when they are feeling sad. This is particularly common in those suffering from SAD and PMS. So don’t shun carbs – just make smart choices. Limit sugary foods and opt for smart carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, which all contribute healthy carbohydrates as well as fiber. On the other hand, eating junk food reduces the levels of these hormones in our brain--increasing our stress and tension, and reducing our joy and alertness.
Soy products, beans, nuts (walnuts are excellent), and seeds are excellent sources of protein, which will boost your energy levels.
Deficiencies of folic acid and B12 cause defects in red blood cell production and function, which can lead to a reduction in the amount of oxygen reaching the brain. This can lead to fatigue, depression, and mental problems. In addition, a direct symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency IS depression. In depressed patients with documented vitamin B12 deficiency, intravenous administration of the vitamin has resulted in dramatic improvement. Interesting to note, is that researchers report that these symptoms may occur when vitamin B12 levels are just slightly lower than normal AND are considerably above the levels normally associated with anemia. So if your doctor says that you are just slightly low and that it is not affecting you, and you feel it might be, get another opinion.
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, works with enzymes that affect mood. Consequently, vitamin B6 deficiency might result in depression. Depression is a relatively common side effect of oral contraceptives. Why? Oral contraceptive use has been linked with low vitamin B6 levels. Of 22 women with depression associated with oral contraceptive use, 50% of them had vitamin B6 deficiency.
Folic acid deficiency can cause many mental health problems including: depression, insomnia, anorexia, forgetfulness, hyperirritability, apathy, fatigue and anxiety. Supplementing the diet can improve and possibly completely reverse symptoms.
Food to Avoid
Many depressed people have hidden food allergies. Any food is a potential allergen, but wheat is the product most often linked to depression. Dramatically reduce your intake of hydrogenated and saturated fats, which only increases fatigue and sluggishness. Caffeine and refined sugar may make you feel temporarily better, but your body soon “crashes” from the high, leaving you even more exhausted or irritable. This is partly due to the fact that they deplete vital nutrients from your system. Plus, diets high in sugar have proven to aggravate depression. Alcohol in itself is a depressant, which includes wine, beer, and liquor. Eliminate these substances from your diet. While it may seem that you are cutting out foods that you “want”, when you give your body the food that it needs, you will soon see a dramatic difference in the way you feel.
Fasting purifies cells all over the body, including those in the brain. Negative mental states such as anxiety, boredom, loneliness, tension, and fear, to some extent, can be understood as the mental expression of a physical state. When the brain is free of toxic poisons, the mind is liberated both physiologically and then psychologically.
To show the effect of fasting on the brain, think about this: in the last 50 years in Russia, therapeutic fasting has been found to be the most effective treatment for schizophrenia. As early as 1972, Dr. Yuri Nikolayev, director of the fasting unit of the Moscow Psychiatric Institute, reported on the use of fasting to successfully treat over 7000 patients who suffered from various mental disorders including schizophrenia. Now Nikolayev after 30 year’s experience fasting over 10,000 patients says, “seventy percent of those [schizophrenia patients] treated by fasting improved so remarkably that they were able to resume an active life.
If you’ve been following a diet that’s high in saturated fats and refined sugars, or if you’ve unknowingly been eating foods that have caused allergic reactions, some or even all of your symptoms may be caused by toxic buildup. A detoxification program will help cleanse your body. If you feel sluggish and dull, and if your doctor has ruled out an underlying disease as the cause, a three-day juice and liquid fast may refresh you.
Physically active people tend to have better mental health, according to the 1996 U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health. Some studies even suggest that more-active lifestyles may be linked with higher levels of alertness and mental ability, including the ability to learn. Doctors agree that exercise improves mental health and many even “prescribe” it to relieve depression and anxiety. Walking is the most frequently prescribed exercise, followed by swimming, bicycling, strength training, and running. In addition to helping relieve depression, exercise can also help improve self-esteem and lessen anxiety. Try to get 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
If you are exercising, try to do it outdoors, even in the winter. “The combination of a lack of sun and cold weather invariably strains your mood as well as your metabolism. It is an energy-depleting form of stress, similar to having a daily argument with someone. If your energy systems are already low or your plate is full with things to do, the addition of this weather stress can be significant “. (1)
“The energy of the sun is poorly understood by modern science and Western medicine. In fact, the industry of surgery-promoting cosmetic specialists want you to think that being in the sun will kill you unless you have toxic sunscreens on. However, the sun’s interaction with your skin produces vitamin D, a nutrient woefully lacking in the winter in northern climates.” (2) Vitamin D is vital to calcium metabolism, proper immunity, breast and prostate health, and has been scientifically proven to improve mood.
Additionally, the sun also produces photon energy. Photon energy is stored in cell membranes. Your ability to do so is based on the amount of omega 3 fatty acids in your diet. For example, along the equator there is plenty of sun and very little omega 3 fatty acids in the food. Yet there are no winter blues. In the north, the traditional Eskimo diet was very high in omega 3 oils all year long (whale blubber and other deep sea fatty fish). Still, there were no winter blues (until Eskimos started eating the omega 3-lacking Western diet). In the traditional Eskimo diet the high concentration of omega 3 oils in summer months would store up photon energy of the sun adequately to get them through the winter months. This is of course why every person likes a winter vacation in the sun – to get some photon energy back into the brain.”(3)
Knowing this information, I routinely tell my clients who I know are prone to the winter blues to increase their essential fatty acid intake during the fall, so as to prepare for the winter. You can do so by taking Evening Primrose or Flaxseed Oil supplements. Boosting up these essential fatty acids in the winter is also a good idea and will generally help boost overall mood.
If your depression is clearly reactive to stresses or events in your life, many of the following therapies may ease some of your discomfort and help you work your way through the source of your sadness.
If you’re depressed, you’re experiencing powerful and probably continuous levels of stress. It is vital for your emotional and physical health that you find at least one way to control anxiety, fear, or tension. Prayer and counseling are very helpful. If you sense that your depression is more than you can handle, don’t hesitate to seek help from a your pastor or a religious adviser, a counselor, or a support group. It helps a great deal to talk to people who have worked with others in great emotional pain.
Make an effort to stay in contact with nature. If at all possible, it is best to live away from the hustle and bustle of the city. People who live in rural areas tend to have less stress and depression. If you can’t live away from the city, try to spend as much time as you can outdoors in a garden, park, etc. Nature tends to calm the mind and soothe the soul. If you can’t get outside as much as you’d like, buy a plant or some fresh flowers to keep you in tune with nature.
Stress exacerbates symptoms of mental disorders, including fear, anxiety, and depression. In addition, stress slows the healing process and depresses the immune system, which will increase healing time. Take time out of the day to pray or meditate or use other relaxation techniques to help soothe the mind and body.
Help someone else! One of the best ways to forget about your problems and feel better about yourself is by helping someone else. Volunteer at a local shelter, get involved with a church group, or just be a friend to someone in need. They will feel better and so will you!
Get a massage. Any massage can help you feel better, but a full-body treatment is a highly effective way to release stress that has built up in your muscles. When your body is relaxed and pain free, you feel better all over.
Try some hydrotherapy. A hot bath or a sauna can relax edgy nerves; the steam will also help detoxify your body allowing you to feel better all over.
Sleep deprivation destroys not only physical health, but mental health as well. It can cause everything from minor irritation to outbursts of temper to full-scale mental illness. A continuous lack of sleep, too few hours for too many nights, has proven to lead to many mental health disorders.
In addition, lack of sleep at a young age can bring on depression later in life. “Recent research shows that teens with sleep problems are 2.3 times more likely to become depressed within seven years, with a statistically significant increase in suicidal thinking and suicidal attempts.” (4)
It is becoming clearer and clearer that antidepressants are far from benign drugs. And unfortunately, the combination of depression and medication, as well as still being very much trial and error, has some unique worries due to the nature of the condition itself. Consider how anti-depressants are prescribed: Since no one anti-depressant has proven more beneficial than another, often the mode of prescription rests solely on which one causes the least side effects. Side effects, depressing in themselves, which include: dry mouth, urinary retention, blurred vision, constipation, sedation (which can interfere with driving or operating machinery), sleep disruption, weight gain, headache, nausea, gastrointestinal disturbance, diarrhea, abdominal pain, inability to achieve an erection, loss of libido, agitation, anxiety, and most recently publicized: an INCREASE in suicide risk.
If that’s not bad enough, turns out, they don’t even work! “Mainstream media is now widely reporting that antidepressants do not work – and it’s about time. The frenzy was set off by a new study that included all the negative antidepressant studies that the drug companies kept out of the scientific literature, but were reviewed by the inept FDA when the drugs were originally approved. The conclusion is that for mild to moderate depression antidepressants work no better than placebo. In severe depression the drugs work only slightly better than placebo. In no case does antidepressant use reach a level of statistical significance in being able to show that they work.” (5)
If you feel that you need something in addition to the therapies listed above, there are many helpful nutritional supplements that can improve your symptoms without the risk of side effects related to conventional antidepressants. First of all, vitamin and mineral deficiencies can directly cause depression, and simply correcting those deficiencies, often relieves depression. Interestingly enough, even if a deficiency cannot be demonstrated, nutritional supplementation may still improve symptoms in selected groups of depressed patients.
In addition to nutritional supplements, there are a variety of herbal supplements that help fight and reverse depression. Here are the natural products that I recommend for helping battle depression:
Products that provide the nutrients essential for proper brain function:
Mega-Multi - This is a high potency multi-vitamin that provides a powerful base of nutrients involved with brain function.
B-complex - The B vitamins, especially B12, folic acid, and B6 are intricately involved in neurotransmitter metabolism. Patients with depression have shown oftentimes to have a much lower level of B-vitamins in their body than non-depressed patients, and supplementing with B-Complex has shown to improve and sometimes even completely eliminate symptoms of depression.
Flaxseed Oil – Studies show that a deficiency of essential fatty acids is directly linked with depression. Depressed patients have much lower blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids compared with non-depressed patients. Flaxseed can also help improve neurotransmitter function.
C-Blast - Vitamin C is used in the body to help convert amino acids to serotonin. So for people with depression associated with low levels of serotonin it may be helpful.
Ginkgo Biloba - Ginkgo improves blood flow to the brain and enhances neurotransmitter activity.
Products specifically designed help treat depression:
Sunny Day - This product was specifically formulated to help treat depression. Packed with vitamins and nutrients essential to mental functioning and health, it also has minerals and herbs that help to calm the mind, energize the body, and relieve depression.
Tranquility - Saint-John’s Wort has been shown in numerous studies to be effective for mild to moderate depression. A review of twenty-three randomized clinical studies involving 1,700 people found that Saint-John’s Wort was Just as effective as pharmaceutical therapy for mild to moderate depression.
Soothe - For insomnia or anxiety that accompanies or causes depression, Soothe with valerian (Valeriana officinalis) can help.
Liver Detox – If you think your problem may be a problem of toxicity, our Liver Detox will help to begin the cleansing and healing for your body.
Green Clay – This product also helps detoxify the body, but has the added benefit of enhancing mineral absorption, which is often lacking in depressed patients.
If you feel like you might need help, but don’t know where to start, call us. We offer FREE health counseling with trained professionals who can help you with your personalized health plan . Call us today, at 309-343-5853.
1, 2, & 3: Wellness Resources, Cold Weather Mood Shock: Avoid the Winter Blues, Thursday, December 18, 2008
4. Wellness Resources, Teen Sleep Problems Lead to Depression & Drug Abuse, Monday, October 27, 2008
5. Wellness Resources, Are Antidepressants a Sad Joke?, Monday, March 03, 2008