Did You Know . . .
That antidepressants only have about a 13% effectiveness rate? (1) That’s just a smidge better than a placebo! Considering that they may cause homicidal tendencies I believe it’s time we rethink our approach. Depression is REAL, and it deserves to be taken seriously. Here are five things we can do to help our bodies heal.
Remedy #1: Eat. Good. Food.
When someone is depressed, what does the psychiatrist do? Give them a pill. Where does it go? In their gut. We’re well aware of the power of something we put in our bodies to effect our state of mind, but do most of us realize the potential of food to function this way? Because it absolutely does. What we eat shapes how we experience the world in a profound way.
When it comes to treating depression I believe food is much more powerful than pills. Our bodies are brilliant chemists. They know exactly what to do with food in order to synthesize it into the perfect form for our needs. Unfortunately, they are not alchemists. They can’t turn trans-fats into brain building omega-3 goodness.
In the case of people with “unexplained” depression (depression not connected with painful events or stressful circumstances), the root cause is often nutrient deficiencies. The body’s internal chemist simply don’t have all the materials it needs to synthesize “feel good” chemicals. Even people eating a good diet can experience a rapid depletion of vitamins B, C and E as well as magnesium and potassium in times of intense stress or illness.
Which Deficiencies Are Associated With Depression?
[pullquote_right]The best book on depression and food I’ve seen is Rebuild from Depression, by Amanda Rose, who understands the condition from bitter experience. ~ Nina Planck, Author of Real Food[/pullquote_right]The list of usual suspects is pretty long, but I’ve posted it below in case you want to skim. For a more methodical approach Rebuild From Depression can teach you to identify a nutrient deficiency, locate the best supplements / vitamins available, and select and prepare foods to maximize those nutrients in their diets.
- Vitamin D: Called the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D is actually more accurately classified as a hormone. A study “among the elderly in 2006 showed that those with lower Vitamin D levels were 11 times more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms.” (2) Absorption rates are much higher when our bodies produce Vitamin D via time in the sun, but supplementation with lard from pastured pork, cod liver oil and eggs also play a vital role in keeping levels where they should be.
- Omega 3 fatty acids: Prozac “works” by increasing serotonin levels, but a much safer way to accomplish the same goal is through serotonin enhancing foods like wild caught salmon, sardines, anchovies and herring. Cod liver oil is also a good source. “Studies have linked depression with low dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids. In countries with higher fish consumption, such as Japan and Taiwan, the depression rate is 10 times lower than in North American. Postpartum depression is also less common.”(3) Note: Though it does not contain omega-3’s coconut oil is also a serotonin enhancing food. (4)
- B-Complex Vitamins: Especially B-12, B-6 and folate (B-9). “B-complex vitamins are essential to mental and emotional well-being. They cannot be stored in our bodies, so we depend entirely on our daily diet to supply them. B vitamins are destroyed by alcohol, refined sugars, nicotine, and caffeine so it is no surprise that many people may be deficient in these.” (1). For a complete list of B-vitamins and what they do check out this article. Note though, that “folic acid” is actually a synthetic form of folate. Good sources of B-vitamins are eggs, salmon and beef.
- Magnesium: “Deficiency can result in depressive symptoms, along with confusion, agitation, anxiety, and hallucinations, as well as a variety of physical problems. Most diets do not include enough magnesium [due to modern farming practices and water filtration] . . . stress also contributes to magnesium depletion “(5) Though I pretty much exclusively recommend magnesium oil over internal supplements, I read an article from Cheeseslave that is very informative. (She recommends magnesium oil too and even shows how to make it. She just also recommends internal supplements :))
- Vitamin C: Low levels can cause generalized depression, extreme tiredness and outbursts of hysterical behavior. Nearly all vitamin C supplements are synthetic and may cause kidney stones. For natural sources try oranges, kiwi fruits, broccoli, black currants and potatoes, red pepper, parsley, green leafy vegetables (especially kale), green pepper, tomato puree, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage (especially savoy), strawberries, watercress, spinach, grapefruit, melon (all types), peas, raspberries, spring onions, turnip and tomatoes. (6)
- Calcium: “Depletion affects the central nervous system. Low levels of calcium cause nervousness, apprehension, irritability, and numbness.”(7) Homemade bone broth is an excellent source of calcium.
- Zinc: “Inadequacies result in apathy, lack of appetite, and lethargy. When zinc is low, copper in the body can increase to toxic levels, resulting in paranoia and fearfulness.” (8) Liver, beef, scallops sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds are all great sources of zinc.
- Iron: “Depression is often a symptom of chronic iron deficiency. Other symptoms include general weakness, listlessness, exhaustion, lack of appetite, and headaches.” Caution: Iron deficiency often indicates that iron loving microbes (Actinomyces spp., Mycobacterium spp., pathogenic strains of E. coli, Corynebacterium spp., and many others) are living in the digestive tract and hogging all the goods. Increasing iron intake without balancing gut flora to contain more beneficial bacteria only causes the pathogenic ones to grow stronger. It does very little to help with anemia.
- Manganese: “This metal is needed for proper use of the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. Since it also plays a role in amino-acid formation, a deficiency may contribute to depression stemming from low levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. Manganese also helps stabilize blood sugar and prevent hypoglycemic mood swings.” (1) Food sources are spelt, brown rice, spinach, pineapple and pumpkin seeds
- Potassium: “Depletion is frequently associated with depression, tearfulness, weakness, and fatigue.” (9) Sources are swiss chard, lima beans, yams, spinach and lentils
- Salt: According to Dr. Mercola, “Sodium deficiency actually creates symptoms that are very much like those of depression. Make sure you do NOT use processed salt (regular table salt), however. You’ll want to use an all natural, unprocessed salt like Himalayan salt, which contains more than 80 different micronutrients.”
Wouldn’t it be easier to just close the nutritional gap with supplements? Yes, it would! Unfortunately, most “whole food” based supplements are not what they seem, so as much as possible I recommend sticking with actual food. Besides, we’re talking about butter, bacon and salt — not rice cakes! Oh yes, a Weston A. Price style-diet should cover your nutritional bases. However, if your depression is severe or you have other issues you’d like to deal with (such as ADD, eczema, weight issues, anxiety and adrenal burnout) I highly recommend looking into the Gut & Psychology Syndrom (GAPS) diet.
Having said that, I think quality herbs such as St. John’s Wort are helpful for some people – just not folks that are pregnant, nursing, or taking certain other medications (here’s the full breakdown of contraindications).
Remedy #2: Ditch The Donuts
Certain foods – especially sugar, grains, and any processed food- can have druglike effects that worsen depression. According to Dr. Mercola, “processed foods also contain a variety of additives that can affect your brain function and mental state, especially MSG, and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. There’s a great book on this subject, The Sugar Blues, written by William Dufty more than 30 years ago, that delves into the topic of sugar and mental health in great detail.
Remedy #3: TLC For Your Body
Go for a walk or bike ride. Rebound. Learn to swing dance or find another way to exercise that’s fun. Get a massage (yes, you!). Restore balance with reflexology. Exhale tension via a quiet yoga session.
Remedy #4: Earthing
Earthing improves hormone function, reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone), and reduces inflammation (intestinal inflammation has been linked to depression). In the study I wrote about here nine of the twelve participants reported waking up less frequently, and 9 reported having more energy in the day and feeling more refreshed. Nine also reported less anxiety, stress and depression.
Remedy #5: Do Something Creative
Oh sure, you can paint, start a journal, or bake an afternoon away. But why not consider some other options. Like, um, these? Except #9. Definitely don’t do that one
Remedy #6: Probiotics
Probiotics are absolutely essential because they help us absorb nutrients from other foods. This is one of the few supplements I take in addition to eating fermented foods like pickled peppers and carrot dilly sticks.
Sleep deprivation is strongly implicated in depression, so consider winding down your evenings early with a cup of chamomile tea.
What natural treatments for depression have you found helpful?
Disclaimer: This post is not medical advice. I am not a doctor. Please work with your trusted healthcare provider to develop a healing protocol that works for you.