Depression affects nearly 1 in 4 Americans at some time in their lives. Although it can stem from a wide range of conditions, recent studies show that depression is often caused by physiological or biochemical imbalances in the body. Science is just now discovering that the foods we eat can have a powerful effect on our state of mind.
Are you depressed? Take the quick test below.
The American Psychiatric Association says you are clinically depressed if you experience 5 of the following 8 symptoms for a month or longer. If you experience 4 out of 8, you are probably depressed. Are you experiencing:
Depression can be the result of many factors, so we want to be sure not to over-simplify its causes or treatment. Depression has several broad origins:
Heredity can play a significant role in depression. Up to 50% of people who suffer recurrent depression have one or both parents suffering from depression.
Amino acid imbalance in the brain is believed to be a major cause of depression. Amino acids are proteins that form neurotransmitters, which carry messages within the brain and also between the brain and the body. When there is a disturbance in these neurotransmitters, people can experience mood swings. Seratonin, melatonin, dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline and norepinephrine are the neurotransmitters that can become unbalanced. Many of the drugs that are prescribed by doctors are designed to address these imbalances. Anti-depressant drugs can be useful to help you feel better while you address the possible underlying cause(s) of your depression.
Rule out poor thyroid function. A low thyroid can cause depression, especially if you are also fatigued. A medical doctor can check it or you can by taking your basal temperature. It should be between 97.6 and 98.2 degrees first thing in the morning. If your temperature is lower, the thyroid may be under-active. Take steps to rebalance the thyroid because even subtle decreases in thyroid hormone can cause depression.
Adrenal gland malfunction can also effect depression. Excess cortisol, an adrenal hormone, can cause depression, mania, nervousness, and insomnia by inhibiting tryptophan uptake by the brain. Corticosteroid drugs prescribed by dermatologists can have the same effect. Cortisol interferes with proper metabolism of tryptophan, which is necessary for seratonin synthesis.
Our diets can cause or aggravate depression in many ways. Probably the worst dietary offender is sugar. The brain is very dependent on stable blood sugar levels. When we eat sugary foods, our pancreas becomes over-stimulated and produces excess insulin that pushes our blood sugar too low. This leads to a compensatory overproduction of the adrenal hormone cortisol and a disturbance of the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. In other words, sugar disturbs the delicate balance of brain chemistry. Oddly, sugar will sometimes temporarily relieve symptoms of depression. But in the long run, we do ourselves harm, as there is an inevitable crash in energy and depression in the wake of a sugary snack.
Hypoglycemia, chronically low or unstable blood sugar, is another common cause of depression. If this is a problem for you:
Fried and fatty foods can inhibit the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain by making blood cells sticky. They can also inhibit circulation to the brain. Stay away from whole milk, cheese, fried foods, and hamburgers.
Another common cause of depression is an overgrowth of candida (yeast). If you have one or more of the following symptoms, see Conquering Candida in the “Nutrition Connection” section for more information:
Food allergies can be one of the most common causes of metabolically induced depression. High levels of histamine in the blood can cause depression and mood swings. Cerebral allergy is caused by foods we are sensitive or allergic to. Symptoms of cerebral allergy include depression, fatigue, anxiety, dizziness, irritability, confusion, headaches, and dullness. Allergic responses are produced one of three ways:
Oral contraceptives deplete the body of nutrients that prevent depression, such as vitamin B12, folic acid, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and zinc. In addition, oral contraceptives disturb tryptophan and blood sugar metabolism.
Drinking too much coffee, tea and sodas with caffeine can bring on many of the symptoms associated with depression (headaches, nervousness, and irritability). Low levels of Vitamin C can cause depression. Smoking is famous for depleting Vitamin C (every cigarette destroys 25 mg). In addition, nicotine increases adrenaline and cortisol secretion and disturbs tryptophan uptake and can be a very real cause of depression.
Avoiding swings in blood sugar and controlling for allergic reactions to food seem to be the two most important nutritional things someone can do to relieve depression.
A low allergy diet should also produce positive results. Remove all the common allergens from your diet: Wheat, chocolate, milk, corn, soy (all associated with cerebral symptoms), cheese, alcohol, eggs, and citrus. Remove all of these foods for two weeks. Notice if you feel better. Then add one of them every two days to see if you have a negative reaction (this can take 12 to 24 hours after eating to appear). We crave the foods we’re allergic to, so don’t be surprised if you get some powerful cravings during this time. But don’t give in, the cravings mean you’ve got a problem with that food. Once you get all the metabolites of a problem food out of your system (can take weeks), the cravings will go away. Below is a list of foods that can be used as a foundation for an allergy-free diet:
Dietary balance of complex carbohydrates and proteins has an affect on the production of neurotransmitters.
Chocolate is high in phenylethylamine, a stimulating and anti-depressive substance that is associated with the feeling of love. Many people go for the chocolate when they break up with a partner or are having a relationship problem. The chocolate makes them feel loved and lifts their spirits.
Vitamin supplementation can have an influence on depression, especially if someone is deficient in them.
Stress can trigger depression, so managing stress is important.
The nutritional suggestions in this material are not offered to treat, mitigate or cure disease, and should not be used as a substitute for sound medical advice. This information is designed to be used in conjunction with the services of a trained, licensed healthcare practitioner.