Depression is a major problem in the United States. Nearly 15 million Americans will suffer true clinical depression each year. Depression is also a big business for drug companies, especially for the maker of Prozac—Eli Lilly and Company. The good news is that there are natural measures to deal with depression that are both safer and more effective.
Prolonged, persistent depressed mood may be accompanied by one or more of the following: poor appetite, increased appetite, insomnia, excessive sleeping, fatigue, hyperactivity, constant nervousness (jitters), decreased sexual drive, feelings of low self-esteem, inability to concentrate, or recurrent suicide compulsion. The presence of five or more of these symptoms definitely indicates depression. Most of the health problems of Americans are related to lifestyle and dietary practices. Depression is no different. At the root of many cases of depression is an addiction to nicotine, caffeine, and other stimulants. According to Joseph Beasley, M.D., the primary investigator involved in the famous Kellog Report: The Impact of Nutrition,
Environment, and Lifestyle on Illness in America, the United States is a nation of addicts. In many instances, people claim that they smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs because it calms them. In reality, these substances actually complicate matters. The relaxation or chemical high from these drugs is short-lived and ultimately leads to adding even more stress to the system. Individuals suffering from depression or other psychological conditions would greatly benefit from the cessation of smoking, drinking alcohol, and ingesting coffee and other sources of caffeine.
Smoking and depression: Cigarette smoking is a significant factor in depression. Central to the effect of nicotine is the stimulation of adrenal hormone, including cortisol, secretion. Elevated cortisol levels are a well-recognized feature of depression. One of the key effects of cortisol on mood is related to activating an enzyme (tryptophan oxygenase). When activated, this enzyme results in less tryptophan being delivered to the brain. Since the level of serotonin in the brain is dependent upon how much tryptophan is delivered to the brain, cortisol dramatically reduces the level of serotonin and melatonin. In addition, cortisol also “down regulates” serotonin receptors in the brain, making them less sensitive to the serotonin that is available. Smoking also leads to a relative vitamin C deficiency, as the vitamin C is utilized to detoxify the cigarette smoke. Low levels of vitamin C in the brain can result in depression and hysteria.
Alcohol and depression: Individuals with depression would do best to avoid alcohol. Alcohol is a brain depressant. It also increases adrenal hormone output, interferes with many brain cell processes, and disrupts normal sleep cycles. Alcohol ingestion also leads to hypoglycemia. The resultant drop in blood sugar produces a craving for sugar because it can quickly elevate blood
sugar. Unfortunately, increased sugar consumption ultimately aggravates the hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia aggravates the mental and emotional problems of the alcoholic.
Caffeine and depression: Caffeine is a stimulant. People prone to feeling depressed or anxious tend to be especially sensitive to caffeine. The term “caffeinism” is used to describe a clinical syndrome similar to generalized anxiety and panic disorders that include such symptoms as depression, nervousness, palpitations, irritability, and recurrent headache. The intake of caffeine has been positively correlated with the degree of mental illness in psychiatric patients. In other words, the more caffeine that is consumed the greater the mental illness in these patients. The combination of caffeine and refined sugar seems to be even worse than either substance consumed alone. Several studies have found an association between this combination and depression.
Exercise and depression: Regular exercise may be the most powerful antidepressant available. Various community and clinical studies have clearly indicated that exercise has profound antidepressive effects. These studies have shown that increased participation in exercise, sports, and physical activities is strongly associated with decreased symptoms of anxiety (restlessness, tension, etc.), depression (feelings that life is not worthwhile, low spirits, etc.), and malaise (rundown feeling, insomnia, etc.). Furthermore, people who participate in regular exercise have higher self-esteem, feel better, and are much happier compared to people who do not exercise. Much of the mood elevating effects of exercise may be attributed to the fact that regular exercise has been shown to increase the level of endorphins. When endorphin levels are low, depression occurs. Conversely, when endorphin levels are elevated, so is one’s mood. There have been at least 100 clinical studies where an exercise program has been used in the treatment of depression. It was concluded that exercise can be as effective as other antidepressants including drugs and psychotherapy. More recently, even stricter studies have further demonstrated that regular exercise is a powerful antidepressant. The best exercises are either strength training (weight lifting) or aerobic activities such as walking briskly, jogging, bicycyling, cross-country skiing, swimming, aerobic dance, and racquet sports. The important thing is to train with an intensity that will keep your heart rate in the training zone.
Nutritional factors in depression: There are a number of important nutritional factors to consider in the depressed individual. First of all, since the brain requires a constant supply of blood sugar, hypoglycemia must be avoided. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can range from mild to severe, and include such things as depression, anxiety, irritability, and other psychological disturbances; fatigue; headache; blurred vision; excessive sweating; mental confusion; incoherent speech; bizarre behavior; and convulsions. The association between hypoglycemia and depression is largely ignored by most physicians—they simply never even consider it as a possibility, despite the fact that several studies have shown hypoglycemia to be very common in depressed individuals. There is no explanation for this oversight by so many physicians, especially since dietary therapy (usually simply eliminating refined carbohydrates from the diet) is occasionally all that is needed for effective therapy in patients that have depression due to reactive hypoglycemia. In addition to glucose, the brain also requires a constant supply of other nutrients. It is a well established fact that virtually any nutrient deficiency can result in impaired mental function. To function optimally the human brain requires virtually every known nutrient. Correcting an underlying nutritional deficiency can restore normal mental function and relieve depression. However, according to Dr. Werbach, the leading expert in the field of nutrition
and mental function, “Even in the absence of laboratory validation of nutritional deficiencies, numerous studies utilizing rigorous scientific designs have demonstrated impressive benefits from nutritional supplementation.” A high potency multiple provides a good nutritional foundation upon which to build. When selecting a multiple vitamin and mineral formula it is important to make sure that it provides the full range of vitamins and minerals at high potency levels. Deficiencies of a number of nutrients are quite common in depressed individuals. The most common deficiencies are folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6. According to research published in Lancet and Arch Gen Psychiatry, the genetic inablity to efficiently convert folic
acid into its two active forms (L-5-MTHF and 5-Formyl THF) is associated with anxiety and depression.
Endocrine and neurotransmitter imbalances may be contributing. The adrenal glands and sex hormones when hyper or hypo may contribute to symptoms of depression. Once balanced, moods return to a more happy state. Neurotransmitter such as serotonin, melatonin, dopamine play an important role in mood dysfunction.
Naturopathic Approach to Depression
A naturopathic approach to treating someone with depression starts first with modifying lifestyle behaviors that may be contributing to their depression. Clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, essential oils and homeopathic may also be prescribed to address underlying causes such as poor sleep, poor digestion, blood sugar dysregulations, candida over-growth or dysbiosis, hyper or hypo coritisolemia, thyroid dysfunction, sex hormone dysregulation, and to enhance gene expression of those gene participating in the role of neurotransmitter balance