Natural Treatments for Depression

Depression is a wide epidemic in the modern world. Estimates show that approximately 19 million adults in the United States are affected by depression, close to 10% of the population! Additionally, depression affects millions of adolescents and children, with an estimated 23% being affected. Depression in our culture, while common, is still taboo for many. Upwards of 70% of individuals are unlikely to seek treatment, and for those that do, they are mostly commonly prescribed anti-depressants as the ‘fix.’ There is no quick fix for depression, however, and its root causes can stem from lifestyle challenges, nutritional deficiencies, chemical/hormonal imbalances, and emotional struggles that must be addressed. Antidepressants have been shown to work for only 30-40% of the population, and many are prescribed a cocktail of numerous antidepressant and anxiety drugs when a single drug fails to be of benefit. Unknown to many, there are numerous natural treatments that can be used as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, antidepressant drugs.

*As always, please consult your medical physician before starting any new routine or supplements, especially if you are utilizing them in conjunction with other medications or supplements.

Exercise is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for treating depression, and it’s also the most economical! It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do, whether it’s aerobic (cardio) or anaerobic (strength training), it’s getting it in that counts. As little as 15-30 minutes a day of exercise can substantially increase the mood elevating hormones in your brain, as well as help you to reduce stress. This process is largely attributed to your body creating a direct pathway for the amino acid Tryptophan to your brain while engaged in physical activity. You don’t have to give it your all to reap the benefits of exercise; even a brisk 20 minute walk, cleaning the house, or finding a group exercise class will help you on your way! Aim for 30 minutes of mild activity a day, or start with whatever you are comfortable and able to get in.

Diet, along with exercise, is the other crucial component in changing your lifestyle for helping to treat depression. It is critical to reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet as they lack the substantial nutrients your body requires to function at an optimal level. Replace processed foods with whole foods, those that you make yourself. Keep the food your put in your meals as simple as possible, as close to their natural form. Additionally, add a fully array of fruits and vegetables to your meals and snacks. Fruits and vegetables are packed with the antioxidants and nutrients your body craves. Try adding vegetables to every meal, especially dark leafy greens. You’ll also want to try reducing the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume — both can overtax your body’s hormonal systems.

Controlling your blood sugar is also especially important in conjunction with diet, and can additionally be helped with exercise. This includes reducing the overall sugar content of your diet, be it from white sugar or even sources such as honey and maple syrup. You’ll also want to check out how food combining will help maintain a steady blood sugar over a longer period of time, and how to control your sugar cravings. When you’re blood sugar is peaking wildly again and again, it puts an enormous strain on your body’s hormonal system, especially involving the hormone insulin. Control your blood sugar and you’ll be on an even keel, able to function and think more clearly.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids have been widely shown to benefit individuals that suffer from depression, especially in conjunction with another form of treatment (be it antidepressants or a supplement). You can choose to supplement Omega 3s in the form of krill/fish oil, flax oil, chia seed oil, or hemp oil. Additionally, you can also add foods rich in Omega 3 to your diet, such as fatty fish (such as salmon), or by adding various seeds rich in Omega 3 to your diet (flax, chia, hemp). While many studies suggest the benefit of Omega 3 for depression lies in the combination of EPA and DHA, adding any Omega 3 to your diet can help tremendously. We will have a followup article specifically for Omega 3 soon!

St. John’s Wort
is a widely utilized herb for treating depression. It is also one of the few herbs where clinical trials have shown it to be as effective, if not more so, than antidepressants for those that have used it for at least 4-6 weeks. As with antidepressants, the effectiveness of St. John’s Worst can vary widely depending on the individual. Additionally, it may have interactions with other supplements and medications, so it is especially important to discuss this herb with your physician. St. John’s Wort
is widely available, from health food stores to your local drug store.

Vitamin B -Complex are the vitamins your body utilizes primarily to create energy, and include a whole host of various B vitamins. However, there are two specific B vitamins shown to help with depression: vitamin B6 and Folate. Taking various medications, such as aspirin, birth control, and other medications, have shown to reduce your body’s B6 and folate. While taking such drugs may not put you in a state of deficiency, even being on a borderline deficiency can reduce your body’s ability to produce neurotransmitters, such as seratonin and dopamine. Eating a diet rich in whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, will help you to get the B vitamins your need. You can also choose to supplement with a B vitamin complex, which can be found at all health food stores. Another natural alternative is to add brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast to your food, a natural byproduct of alcohol fermentation loaded with B Complex Vitamins!

5-HTP is a free-form amino acid supplement, known as 5-hydroxytryptophan. 5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin, one of the many feel good chemicals in your brain, and so can help boost the overall level of serotonin in your body. The dosage of 5-HTP varies depending the individual, and I highly suggest looking into the book The Mood Cure by Julia Ross for determining your individual dosage. As an individual that has suffered from depression for many years, I have found significant benefit in my life by taking 5-HTP, such as feeling more calm, relaxed, at ease, with a great mental focus. 5-HTP can be readily tracked down and almost any health food store, or online.

Healing depression can be a difficult road, and the road is drastically different for each individual. Finding and experimenting with the right supplement routine for you, be antidepressant or natural alternatives, will do wonders for your life. But again, there is no quick fix, especially for those who suffer from major depression. Couple these alternatives with a new lifestyle, including adequate rest, good food, moderate exercise, dealing with stuck emotions, and reducing stress, and you’ll be on your path!

Understanding Sugar Cravings

Is sugar an obstacle standing in the way of you and great health? Sugar can disrupt Candyinsulin levels, feed “bad” bacteria and fungus in the body, and if unused, be converted to body fat. So why is a sugar habit so hard to kick? Sugar cravings can be caused by multiple factors. Luckily, once you understand your sugar cravings, there are solutions.

Causes of sugar cravings:

  1. Dehydration/need for water
  2. Amino acid/hormone Imbalance
  3. Habits: Psychological and physical associations with food.
  4. Lack of “good” bacteria in the body and/or too much yeast or fungus in the body.
  5. Inflammation or disease that feeds off sugar.
  6. Body is agitated after ingesting food it can’t process well.

Problem: Dehydration/Thirst
WaterThis may seem too simple, but sometimes when you’re hungry for sweets, you’re just thirsty! This is especially true between meals. If you’re hungry only an hour or so after eating, you probably just need water.
Solution: If the thought of eating something healthy, like a salad or apple, doesn’t sound good, but candy does, you’re probably thirsty! Also, think about the last time you had a drink. You shouldn’t go longer than ½ hour-1 hour without water.


ProThe Mood Cureblem: Amino Acid/Hormone Imbalance
Many people lack certain nutrients and amino acids, or their hormone production/regulation is off. Lacking certain amino acids can cause sluggishness, depression, hyperactivity, or sleeplessness. A hormone imbalance can have similar effects. Lack of energy or low serotonin causes sugar cravings, since sugar gives a boost that gives temporary relief.
Solution: If you think you have a thyroid problem or an amino acid deficiency, get tested at a practitioner’s office. If you can’t afford a test, or you don’t have insurance, read The Mood Cure. The book offers self-diagnosis tools and a supplementation regimen that can be seriously helpful.

Problem: Habits-psychological and physical associations with food.
When we do something on a regular basis, our brain is carved with little neural pathways. This is a habit! Evolution has designed us to feel comfortable with habits. As long as the summer and rain came when it was supposed to, and winter was on schedule, our ancestors could predict food and migration patterns. Unfortunately, the cookie you eat after every meal is not beneficial to your survival. But our brain carves the neural pathway just the same, so every time you’re done eating, you will crave a cookie. The same goes for a drink after work, or chocolate every day at lunch break.
Solution: Catch yourself having “habitual” cravings! Break the habit by doing something different; change the association. Every time you get home from work, have strawberries instead of cheesecake. You will soon crave the strawberries! Habits can change.

Problem: Lack of Good Bacteria/Too Much Yeast/Fungus
This is a surprisingly common condition. The common diet today has almost NO fermented food, which our ancestors ate daily. Fermented food (i.e. raw sauerkraut, kimchi, nato, kombucha, and homemade ginger beer) contain beneficial bacteria that feed the “good” bacteria in our gut. This good bacteria helps digest food, fights off infections and supercharges our immune systems! Sugar can be harmful because it “feeds” the negative bacteria and yeast. This can cause digestive upset, low energy, and a sluggish immune systems. Sugar isn’t the only cause of a yeast imbalance (often referred to as “candida”), alcohol, over-consumption of starch, medications, and yeast also cause candida.
Symptoms: You may have a yeast imbalance if you have: Toe fungus, yeast infections, thrush (candida in the mouth and throat), digestive issues, bloating, low-functioning immune system,Wild Fermentation and constant sugar cravings.
Solutions: Take probiotic supplements. They come in the form of capsules, liquid, and concentrated yogurt. Eat fermented foods daily. Make they sure they are raw/unpasteurized and unsweetened. You can buy them at health food stores, or make your own! It can be cheap and fun. My favorite fermentation recipe book is called Wild Fermentation Stay away from refined sweets and starchy desserts for awhile. (Once your back in balance, you can give yourself a “treat day.”)

Problem: Inflammation/Sickness
Many things in our body feed off sugar, and most of them are harmful. There are plenty of helpful organisms (like the beneficial bacteria mentioned earlier), but there are plenty of harmful ones that make their livelihood leaching nutrients, causing disease, and giving us weird cravings. For instance, sugar makes cancer cells grow and multiply. Parasites thrive Fermented Foodsoff it. Even a fungus that grows during a sinus infection is fed by sugar. Sugar also causes inflammation, and inflammation is the cause of arthritis, Chrohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, and many other problems. Since sugar causes inflammation, eating less sweets can be a big step towards reducing it. (There are more lifestyle changes that reduce inflammation, and I will go into greater detail on this point in another post.)
Solution: Eat less sugar and reduce stress!

Problem: The body is agitated after ingesting food it can’t process well.
Even if you try to be healthy, it’s easy to slip off the wagon and grab a doughnut when you’re in a hurry. Don’t beat yourself up over small treats here and there, but there is more to that gas-station food than extra calories. When our body ingests something that it can’t process well (chemicals, hydrogenated oils, allergens, etc), it wants to push it out. There’s no use for it and it’s toxifying, so the body wants it gone! So it makes us crave sweets, since sugar is an intestinal irritant, and might “speed things along.” (In layman’s terms: You will poop the faster, before the toxic food has the chance to hang around in the intestines and cause more damage.) But as mentioned, this causes inflammation, which has its own problems.
Solution: Eat whole, chemical-free food that your body has use for. Cut down on processed food, and eat out less.

So pay careful attention to your sugar cravings! When are they happening? Why are they happening? Are you stressed, low on energy, or eating out of habit? Try keeping a food journal and chart your cravings! You can find unexpected links, and learn the ways of your mind and body. And hey, everyone once and awhile…it’s ok to have some ice cream.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Banana Protein Muffins

In my ever present search for easy recipes, I stumbled upon these delicious gluten-free muffins. But these aren’t your average muffins, filled with sugar and simple carbohydrates, creating a blood sugar spike and leaving you hungry for more. These muffins are a meal! Bake up a big batch or two (or three), and you have easy, on-the-go mini meals, filled with complex carbs, good fats, and protein to keep you full for hours! As with all recipes, the ingredients listed below function as a base. Experiment to your heart’s content!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup Almond Flour
  • 1/2 cup Oat Flour
  • 1/4 cup Amaranth Flour
  • 1 cup Egg Whites/Eggs (I use 1/2 cup each, feel free to use whatever ratio your prefer or what you have on hand)
  • 7 to 8oz Greek Yogurt
  • 3 Ripe Bananas
  • 1 tbsp Coconut Oil
  • 2 tbsp Cacao (Chocolate) Powder
  • 1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon

Preparation:

  • 1. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Coat silicone muffin cups or muffin pan with olive oil so as not to stick.
  • 2. In a large bowl, mash bananas into a paste. I like them a little chunky for texture.
  • 3. Mix all remaining ingredients into the bowl until a smooth consistency is reached.
  • 4. Spoon mixture into muffin cups/muffin pan.
  • 5. Bake in oven approximately 15-17 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool, and eat!

Thinking about going gluten free? Or not sure what gluten is? Check out this article!

The Proteins

Perhaps more than any other macronutrient, protein is the most consistently mentioned. In fact, it means literally “of first importance/quality.” When we think of protein, we think mostly of what we are eating, and while that will be mostly the focus of this article, proteins extend far beyond what’s on the end of your fork. Proteins are building blocks of all living organisms, creating the structures that support their cells, functioning as hormones to organize our life processes, creating antibodies to safe-guard our being, acting as catalysts in the form of enzymes, as well as having thousands of other functions. Protein is the most abundant molecule in the human body, with the exception of water. Because of proteins’ vast array of functions, it is the nutrient primarily used to build and rebuild tissues within our body, such as your muscles.

Protein as a macronutrient differs from the others in that it is a large molecule composed of amino acids linked together by peptide bonds. The are 22 amino acids important to our health, as they serve important functions in our body, and are divided into three categories: essential amino acids, non-essential amino acids, and conditionally essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by our body, and as such must be acquired from the foods that we eat. Non-essential amino acids on the other hand can be created by the human body through the breakdown of proteins during digestion, provided enough protein is ingested. Conditionally essential amino acids are usually non-essential, except in times of stress, such as illness.

There are nine essential amino acids including leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine, threonine, methionine, phenylalinine, tryptophan, and histidine. Non-essential amino acids include alinine, asparagine, aspartic acid, and glutamic acid. Conditionally essential amino acids include arginine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.

All food contains some protein, as it must in order for whatever organism it came from to survive – the only exception is if a food is processed from its natural form. Primarily we think of protein deriving from animal sources, such as beef, chicken, fish, milk products, and eggs. It can also be found in plant sources, such as legumes, grains, roots and tubers, seeds, nuts, vegetables, and fruit. Foods are classified into two groups when it comes to proteins: sources of complete protein and sources of incomplete proteins.

Sources of complete protein are foods that contain the full array of amino acids as required by the human body. Most frequently this includes sources of animal protein, but can also include exceptional plant foods such as quinoa and chia seeds. Sources of incomplete protein are foods that do not contain all amino acids in significant amounts as required by the human body, which primarily includes plant based foods.

There are some important caveats to this that will be touched on in future articles, but especially includes the source from which meat derives. For example, a cow fed a diet that is unnatural or atypical from what it would normally eat (ie. consisting primarily of corn and other grains), may lack specific amino acids required by its own body, as well as the human body, as opposed to a cow fed its natural diet of only grass.

The human body is a magnificent engine, and as such, it is not necessary to eat food containing only complete proteins. So long as our food is not derived from a single source of calories, our bodies are able to break down proteins from a vast array of foods and obtain whatever it may require to function. While it is important to eat a wide variety of foods to obtain the nutrients (not only protein) your body requires, it is even more important to eat a wide variety of foods if your diet does not contain sources of complete proteins. A way of thinking about this is to imagine a ‘pool.’ When your body breaks down proteins, it takes amino acids and adds them to the pool. As you continue to ingest and break down more proteins, it takes the amino acids and again adds them to the pool. When your body requires specific amino acids, it is able to gather what it requires from the pool, and assimilate them into the specific proteins it requires.

There has a been a wide debate for many, many years, nearly since the discovery of protein on a molecular level, about how much protein we actually need in order to survive. The requirement for protein varies on an individual level, determined primarily on an individual’s activity level. For example, a sedentary individual requires much less protein than an athlete, as the athlete is more frequently breaking down tissue in need of repair. Largely, trial and error are required to determine how much protein you need, and from what sources your body best derives and assimilates them from.

Macronutrients! (A bird’s eye view)

Everything we eat can be broken down into two nutritional groups: Macronutrients and Micronutrients. Today’s feature is the macronutrients!

Macronutrients compose the majority the foods we take in for energy, classified as calories. Macronutrients are further broken down into three groups: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Each macronutrient provides a different amount of calories that can be utilized as energy: proteins and carbohydrates provide approximately 4 calories per gram, while fats provide approximately 9 per gram.

Proteins are large molecules formed of amino acids linked together by bonds called peptides. When a protein is digested, it is broken down into its amino acid parts. Humans require 20 amino acids to live. As long as we have an adequate intake of proteins in our diet, our cells are able to manufacture 11 amino acids from other amino acids – these amino acids are called non-essential amino acids. However, 9 of those amino acids must be obtained from diet alone, these are called essential amino acids. Like the other Macronutrients, proteins are essential to our health. Most people recognize proteins as being able to repair our tissues, but they’re utilized in almost every process in the body! Examples of foods most people associate with protein are: eggs, dairy, meat, legumes and beans.

Protein!

Protein!

Carbohydrates are molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and are frequently referred to as saccharides. There are four groups of carbohydrates: monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides. Monosaccharides are the simplest of carbohydrates, they are simple sugars such as fructose, the common sugar found in most fruits. Disaccharides are groups of two monosaccharides, a more complex sugar, and include lactose, the sugar found in milk. Oligosaccharides are more complex sugars, and not typically fully digested by humans. An example is fructo-oligiosaccharides, which is found in a large variety of plants. When fructo-oligosaccharides enter our intestines, any undigested bits will be further digested by our gut-bacteria. Whenever the term ‘pre-biotic’ is used, it is because the fructo-oligosaccharides are feeding these bacteria. The last group, polysaccharides, are the largest molecules in the carbohydrate group. Two good examples of polysaccharides are starch, such as that found in grains and potatoes, and cellulose, the fiber found in plants.

Fructose!

Fructose!

Fats round out the Macronutrients, and are very large group of molecules. They are also classified as a group of lipids (an even larger group of molecules). There are three main groups of fats we’ll focus on: saturated fats, unsaturated fats, and trans fats. Saturated fats are fats with all available molecular bonds being filled by hydrogen, and thus ‘saturated’ by hydrogen. There are a large variety of saturated fats, but they are primarily found in our diet from animal fats, such as butter or lard, or from tropical fruit oils, such as coconut and palm. Unsaturated fats are broken down into two major groups: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats have a similar molecular makeup as saturated, but have only one molecular bond unfilled by hydrogen. Monounsaturated fats are found primarily in animal fats and plants; they compose the primary fat of avocados. Polyunsaturated fats are fats with multiple molecular bonds being unfilled by hydrogen. This group also includes the all important Omega fats (such as Omega 3 and 6). Trans-fats are a group of fats that are either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, and are unique in that they contain two sets of double carbon atoms bonded together. Trans-fats very rarely occur in nature, but can occur frequently in the processing of food, especially when high levels of heat are utilized. Processed trans-fats are regarded as a dangerous substance when it comes to health, and are heavily linked to coronary heart disease and unhealthy levels of cholesterol – processed trans-fats are best avoided entirely.

Fats!

Fats!

In our next articles we’ll be focusing in more detail the specifics of each macronutrient. We’ll also begin to cover the micronutrients, the group of nutrients that don’t contribute the calories for you to live, but are still essential for optimal health!