Depression is a growing disease that numbers into the hundreds of millions worldwide.
However, it's worth mentioning that depression statistics are inflated due to the fact that the medical industry is very quick to "diagnose" the disease and prescribe anti-depressants as the primary solution.
The problem is that this can lead to dependency as does little to address the underlying cause of the condition, even though there are natural ways that it can be turned around without the need for a lifetime of medication.
Here we reveal the most overlooked causes of depression, as well as a handful of lifestyle tips that can help to deal with depression in a more positive, natural way.
Depression and The "Gut Health" Connection
Though it's rarely talked about, many cases of depression actually begin in the gut because of the very real connection between the gut and the brain.
Poor gut health impacts brain health, which in turn can lead to depression over time if the gut is not brought back into balance.
Here’s how the gut plays a role in mental health...
Depression is a downstream collection of symptoms driven by inflammation, oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction, meaning that any significant disruption to the natural gut ecology or terrain is a major factor when it comes to mental health.
For this reason, since Hippocrates, the gut has long been regarded as our 'second brain'.
Just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut. The 'gut brain' is known as the enteric nervous system, and its neurons produce many of the same neurotransmitters as your real brain, including serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin is found in your gut, not in your actual brain. Communication between the two brains occurs along the vagus nerve, which means the signals your gut bacteria send to your brain exert significant influence over your moods, thoughts and behaviour.
Interestingly also, more than 70 percent of your immune system resides in the wall of your gut. Systemic inflammation and immune deficiency occurs in the form of TH1 dominant cellular response, in which macrophages produce IL1, IL6 and TNF alpha, all of which have been shown to be elevated with depression.
The Relationship Between Maternal Microbiome Transfer & Depression
Once upon a time, infants were “seeded” with their mothers’ microbiome as they traveled down the birth canal, but this is occurring less frequently and less effectively these days due to the growing movement away from natural births.
Without the vaginal transfer of the mother's flora, babies miss out on an important inoculation. Even many vaginally delivered babies are developing suboptimal flora because maternal flora is out of balance, and fewer mothers are choosing to breastfeed, which is another source of natural immunity for the baby.
This coupled with the ever increasing consumption of processed food, toxic personal care products, antibiotics and environmental factors, all have contributed to the rise in poor gut health, and in turn, depression.
The goods news is that the gut microbiome can be restored with the right lifestyle habits and plenty of naturally fermented foods in the diet. In fact researchers have demonstrated that fermented foods can even help curb social anxiety disorder in young adults.
Depressed Food = Depressed Mood
Depressed food is processed food that is devoid of life-force and quality nutrition.
Known good ingredients and additives that can cause or aggravate depression include refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, gluten, GMO’s, glyphosate and synthetic vitamin supplements that contain very little nutrition that the body can actually process or recognise.
One of the worst chemical ingredients out there is the artificial 'zero calorie' sweetener known as aspartame, commonly found in diet sodas and so called 'sugar-free' yogurts, energy bars, confectionary and condiments.
Aspartame has been linked to depression and panic attacks. In fact, an investigative study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, using data from the Women’s Health Initiative, found that diets higher in artificial sweeteners and processed sugar were associated with increased rates of depression.
The Relationship Between Refined Sugar & Depression
Studies are piling up about the adverse effects that 'man made' or processed refined sugar has on just about every aspect of human health.
Processed sugar triggers a cascade of chemical reactions in the body that fuel inflammation, and unsurprisingly, depression as well. Refined sugar contributes to leptin resistance which suppresses healthy neurons in the brain.
As an example, in 2013 a large study involving 264,000 people above age 50 was completed by the American Academy of Neurology. It concluded that people who drink more than four cans of soda per day had a 22 percent higher risk of depression than those who drank none. Interestingly, the risk for "diet" soda drinkers (soft drinks that include aspartame) was even greater, with a 30 percent higher risk of depression.
The Relationship Between Gluten & Depression
Gluten intolerance is a widely misunderstood problem that is largely caused by the soaking of grains in chemicals for purposes of transportation, storage and to prevent attack from weevils.
Chemicals ingredients such as aluminium which are commonly used for this purpose, are what causes intolerances in the gut and toxicity in the brain, not necessarily the grain or wheat itself which is mostly blamed.
Gluten is associated with many neurotoxic reactions, including mood disorders, schizophrenia, and autoimmune neurological issues. In fact, gluten intolerance has been shown to produce headaches, seizures, anxiety, ataxia and neuropathy, and has recently been directly linked with depression—even among non-celiac individuals.
Having said all of this, it's worth noting that gluten intolerances such as celiac disease, were once very rare when grains were consumed with minimal processing and chemical additives used.
This is why many people who suffer from sensitivities to gluten, have been known to turn the problem around when they return to the consumption of whole organic, fresh harvested grains that have not been processed, refined or exposed to any chemicals from farm to table.
The Problem with Antidepressant Drugs
Antidepressant drugs may provide short term relief, but over time they can hurt more than help as they're known to cause everything from sexual dysfunction to insomnia, weight gain, dysglycemia and even aggression and violence.
According to data collected from the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), five of the top 10 violence-inducing drugs are actually antidepressants.
But there are other serious adverse effects to taking antidepressant drugs also. Among those with unipolar depression, treatment with an antidepressant drug increases the risk for mania.
The biggest issues with antidepressant drugs is that they can easily lead to a lifetime of dependancy and the fact that they do little to help address the underlying causes of depression in the first place.
Even though antidepressants can be a godsend for some people, for many others they can compound the state of mental decline, making it virtually impossible to heal and return to a normal happy life if drugs are seen as the only solution.
Tips For Aiding Depression More Naturally
1. Get Plenty Of Sunshine
Sunlight is known to be a rich source of Vitamin D, which your body needs to support a healthy liver and immune function.
However, it's the sun's incredible, mental-health boosting powers that are often overlooked.
Exposure to sunlight increases the release of a hormone called, serotonin in your brain, which is associated with boosting mood and stimulating emotional molecules of happiness and joy. This is why rates of depression are far less in countries and regions that have an abundance of natural sunlight and populations that spend a lot of time outdoors.
Your body also produces nitric oxide when exposed to the sun, which helps regulate blood pressure, as well as beta-endorphins to lift your mood, and a host of other awesome bio-chemical reactions.
By regularly exposing the body and brain to sunshine for short stints responsibly and on a regular basis, it can have a dramatic impact on someone's mental state and help make depression a thing of the past.
2. Include Omega-3 Fats In The Diet
Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in normal brain function, as well maintaining good mental health and balancing mood. In fact, Omega 3's have actually been referred to as "nature's active antidepressants for the brain".
The problem is that while your body can synthesise other types of fat from dietary components such as carbohydrates and proteins, it can’t make its own omega-3s. Which means, you have to get them from food or the right type of supplementation.
The importance of lowering inflammation for treating depression has already been stated and one of the best ways to achieve this is by getting plenty of Omega 3 fats into your diet.
The good news is that Omega 3's are plentiful in a variety of whole foods that are easily accessible in the everyday diet. Some of the best sources include:
- Chia Seeds
- Edamame Beans
- Kidney Beans and;
- Flax Seed Oil
When searching for Omega-3 supplements, it's a good idea to avoid fish oils. There are many known toxic side effects of fish-oils which will not be helpful in overcoming depression. You can also find some good brands of vegan supplements made from sea vegetation that can give you all the omegas you need.
Learn more about Omega 3's in our blog: Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Good for Inflammation, Brain & Heart Health.
3. Eat Foods Rich In Vitamin C
Even moderately low levels of vitamin C have been linked with depression.
The main reason why Vitamin C is a natural booster of mental health, is because it is essential for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Vitamin C works together with the enzyme dopamine-beta-hydroxylase to convert dopamine into norepinephrine, which plays an important role in the regulation of mood.
Dopamine is a happy brain chemical that helps us feel energised and plays a vital role in regulating the 'pleasure' and 'reward' systems of the brain.
For this reason, the link between vitamin C deficiency and depression may relate to diminished neurotransmitter levels.
Interestingly, some of the foods that are richest in vitamin C are orange and yellow coloured foods, which also are known to have a positive effect on mental health. These include:
- Mangoes and'
Other fruits and vegetables loaded with Vitamin C include, Kiwi Fruits, Strawberries, Leafy Greens, Capsicum and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
4. Embrace Essential Oils
Essential oils are potent plant extracts that send messages to the cells of the body and brain for health and healing.
Chamomile has also been clinically proven to be effective for both depression and anxiety, as well as being beneficial for sleep.
Essential oils can be used aromatically, topically and in some cases, ingested.
When choosing essential oils, just be sure to buy 100% pure, food-grade essential oils for purity and potency, which is why we recommend doTERRA essential oils.
5. Get Regular Exercise
One of the best known ways to boost mental health and to ease depression is through regular physical movement and exercise.
When you move your body, it activates 'feel-good' chemicals in the brain and body that boost your mood and give you a sense of self accomplishment.
Any type of exercise that you can perform on a consistent basis is a good type of exercise to embrace. As a bare minimum, you should aim to walk for at least 30 minute every single day, particularly outdoors whenever possible and in the morning if you can. When you do this, all of the sense are activated and you're able to breathe fresh clean air which is good for the lungs and brain.
Morning exercise also is a wonderful way to kick start each day on a positive note, which will have a flow on effect for how you feel for the rest of your day and your ability to be positive and productive.
If your work or life schedule does not allow you to move your body in the morning, then choose a time of day that works for you that you're able to stay consistent with over the long term.
Besides walking, other great forms of exercise, depending on your age, fitness level and personal goals, include:
- Weight Training
- Hiking and;
- Circuit Training
6. Practice Gratitude
One of the biggest causes of depression is when people are constantly focussed on their problems rather grateful for what they have.
A continued focus on 'what's wrong' in your life as opposed to 'what's right' or 'what's possible', is a sure fire way to feel down in the dumps consistently which can lead to debilitating depression.
Since depression is a mental health problem, it requires a different mental approach to avoid it and to overcome it properly. This means that often people who suffer from depression will need to shift their perspective from a 'cup half empty' to 'cup half full' mindset, in order to feel good mentally.
Of course, this is not always easy and may require a complete change in environment, counselling or coaching to be effective, but gratitude is such a powerful antidote to depression that it must be brought to the fore as a positive daily practice if depression is going to be dealt with for the long term.
Some basic morning meditation or a few minutes of deep breathing can work wonders for easing negative thoughts and cultivating gratitude and a positive mental state each day.
If you need help, there are easy to find 'how-to' videos on You Tube for practicing gratitude and Apps like "Calm", which you can quickly download onto your smart phone for tapping into a daily guided meditation.
The Main Take Away
Depression is a very real mental health problem suffered by millions of people around the globe.
Unfortunately, the medical world is quick to diagnose this disease and to prescribe drugs that may mask the problem temporarily, but long term, will often lead to dependency and never actually address the true problem.
For these reasons, a holistic approach to avoiding and overcoming depression should be considered for anyone who is wanting to conquer mental health challenges and who is committed to getting back to feeling their best self.
By practicing and embracing the tips and suggestions offered here on a consistent basis, you can start the process of dealing with depression in a more constructive and natural way, and move faster towards a happier, more vital life.
Tolman Self Care.