Michelle Schoffro Cook May 10, 2012
Everyone feels down at some point, usually as a reaction to difficult circumstances, but clinical depression goes far beyond that. In such cases a person experiences a prolonged sadness that is out of proportion with the apparent cause. The physical and psychological symptoms affect a person’s capacity to function normally in the world.
Depression is often accompanied by sleep disruption, fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, prolonged lapses of concentration, pain, apathy, decreased sex drive and suicidal thoughts. Because these symptoms can be attributed to other diseases or conditions and are serious, it is always important to consult a medical doctor for a diagnosis.
Diet: Poor nutrition, in my opinion, is one of the greatest causes of depression, and one of the easiest and most overlooked solutions. My two decades of clinical experience tell me that depression cannot be managed for the long-term without addressing the diet.
Poor diet is frequently linked to depression because food additives, chemicals, alcohol, sugar, and sugar substitutes can have severely negative effects on our mental and physical health.
Eating a healthful diet (not a low carb diet, in this case) helps the body balance hormone levels, including important brain hormones that help us feel good. For example, complex carbohydrates from vegetables, legumes and whole grains help the brain manufacture serotonin, a “feel good” neurotransmitter that is needed to prevent and treat depression.
Food Sensitivities: It’s also important to address possible food allergens or sensitivities, which can sometimes be tough to pinpoint. The most common ones include: dairy, wheat, gluten, MSG, sugars, artificial sweeteners, and food colors. Removing these foods from the diet in favor of wholesome, nutrient-dense food choices frequently improves mood. Assistance from a qualified natural health practitioner can be helpful.
Blood Sugar Fluctuations: Many of my depressive clients confirm that they are in the habit of skipping meals (like breakfast) or waiting long periods of time between eating. This confirms a suspicion that blood sugar imbalances are a factor in depression. Keep blood sugar levels balanced by eating a healthy snack or meal every two to three hours.
Essential Fats: Essential fatty acids are necessary to treat depression, as they are required to create healthy brain cells and are involved in regulating neurotransmitters—the brain hormones that balance mood including serotonin and oxytocin. Take 3000 mg daily of either fish or flax oils, or 500 mg of DHA or EPA, or a blend of both. Flaxseed oil is also a good source of essential fatty acids. Two tablespoons daily of flax oil can be helpful. You can pour flax oil over baked sweet potatoes or vegetables, or blend some into smoothies.
Digestion: Improving the body’s ability to extract nutrients from food can be helpful in treating depression naturally. Supplementing your diet with a high-quality full-spectrum digestive enzyme formula that includes the amylase, invertase, lactase, maltose, lipase, and protease, enzymes can be beneficial. One to three enzyme capsules or tablets with every meal help your body break down the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in your food into natural sugars, essential fatty acids, and amino acids needed for optimal healing.
Nutrient Deficiencies: Because so many vitamins and minerals are involved with mood balancing, it is important that you address any possible deficiencies by taking a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement with meals.
Mood-Boosting B Vitamins: Additionally, because the B-complex vitamins are so vital for restoring balanced moods, an extra 100 mg B-complex supplement daily is often necessary in people suffering from depression.
Balancing Serotonin: As a precursor to serotonin, 5-HTP helps to restore healthy levels of this much needed brain chemical. I usually use 50 to 100 mg of 5-HTP at bedtime for two months for people with depression.
Herbal Support: Despite one well-publicized study that demonstrated the ineffectiveness of St. John’s wort against severe depression, many research studies show that it is effective against mild and moderate depression, and it also helps raise serotonin levels in the brain. I recommend 900 to 1200 mg daily. However, avoid taking St. John’s wort if you are taking pharmaceutical antidepressants, and do not take it within two to three hours of sunlight exposure.
Boosting Oxygen in the Brain: The herb gingko biloba helps bring more oxygen to the brain via the blood stream. Your brain needs oxygen to work properly. A beneficial dose for depression is 60 mg three times daily.
Regulating Brain Biochemistry: S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) occurs naturally in the body and helps regulate certain biochemical reactions, including those linked to mood regulation; however it can be low in people suffering from depression. Four hundred to 1600 mg daily of SAMe to ensure your brain can make important mood elevating hormones.
Balancing Hormones: Supplementing with 2 to 4 grams of vitamin D daily can help with depression, because it helps the body make serotonin.
Sunlight: We all know that getting moderate amounts of sunshine helps boost mood. It’s no different with depression.
Exercise: People suffering from depression should also supplement their daily routines through more fresh air and physical activity. Exercise is a natural anti-depressant, and engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise like brisk walking or jogging is good for your body and mind.
Dehydration: And as always, drink lots of pure water to avoid dehydration, which is frequently a factor in depression.