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!