5 Natural Ways To Prevent Depression

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - 11:50am

By Wendy Hodsdon, ND

Most people have experienced depression. However, if these feelings become more severe or are prolonged-progressing to fatigue, withdrawal from social activities, lack of interest in ordinary pleasures, hopelessness, low self-esteem and decreased productivity-it's usually a sign you should seek help. There are many theories about what causes depression. The dominant theory is that there is an imbalance of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, epinephrine, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Other theories suggest that depression is a reaction to loss, or that depression is aggression turned inward. Another model suggests that depression results from a habitual pattern of learned helplessness or from decreased or excessive activity in different areas of the brain.

Treatments for depression

Modern psychiatry focuses on changing brain chemistry through drugs to eliminate depression. Having identified low levels of serotonin as a prime cause of depression, it aims to increase those levels with antidepressant drugs.

Talk therapy aims to identify and eliminate the psychological factors that cause depression and can be very effective in treating mild to moderate symptoms. Teaching people to be more optimistic also changes brain biochemistry.

Significantly, there are also ways to modify your diet and lifestyle, which can address many of the factors that contribute to depression. Factors that can be changed include: low thyroid hormone, increased cortisol levels (often seen in people under high stress), low blood sugars, nutrient deficiency, toxic overload, and a deficiency in the omega-3 oils used to manufacture the neurotransmitters in the body.

Diet and lifestyle recommendations to decrease depression

1.   Reduce your consumption of refined carbohydrates to avoid low blood sugar

The brain prefers sugar as its source of energy. However, when a person eats refined sugar or carbohydrates, blood sugars tend to rise and fall quickly, leading to low blood sugar. Symptoms of low blood sugar include depression, anxiety, fatigue, irritability and headaches.

2.   Increase your intake of omega-3 oils may help with depression

Omega-3 oils are an important component of the membranes of nerve cells. It is important to support nerve health so that neurotransmitters function normally. Omega-3 oils are found in wild, deep-water fish (salmon, cod, and sardines) and in nuts and seeds including walnuts, pumpkin and flax.

3.   Decreasing your intake of alcohol and caffeine may improve your depression

A major toxin for the body is alcohol, which functions as a brain depressant and increases cortisol levels in the body. Caffeine is technically a stimulant, but has been linked in several studies to depression. The effect of caffeine is worse when combined with sugar.

4.   Increase your exercise improves your mood

The natural endorphins released during exercise seem to have a mood-elevating effect. Some of the best exercises to this end are weight lifting, walking briskly, jogging, bicycling, cross-country skiing, swimming, and dancing aerobically. Participate in a regular exercise program as part of a healthy lifestyle.

For more information on the benefits of exercise for lifting you mood see the following article from TheDietChannel: Mental Health & Exercise: How Exercise Lifts You Out of a Funk.

5.   Depressed people should eat more vegetables and/or take vitamin supplements

Depressed people are often deficient in many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folic acid, iron, and trace minerals. These vitamins are important for making and processing neurotransmitters in the body. The levels of these vitamins may be low due to hormone or birth control pills, excessive stress, or low levels of stomach acid, which can cause decreased absorption of vitamins and minerals.

Conclusion: diet & exercise help alleviate depression

Effective treatment is directly dependent on accurately identifying the factors that contribute to an individual's depression. However, optimizing nutrition and/or balancing neurotransmitter levels, as well as decreasing the body's toxic load, and taking nutritional supplementation can help alleviate the causes of depression in almost all cases. Counseling can help in promoting a more optimistic mental attitude, learning to cope with loss, and exploring feelings. If depression continues, a naturopathic doctor may prescribe additional herbs, amino acids, or other medication. There is help available for depression.

For further information on the benefits of eating chocolate to help with depression see the following article from TheDietChannel: : Chocolate: Help for depression?

For further information on foods that can influence your mood see the following article from TheDietChannel: Moods - Can food improve your mental health?