Help Beat Depression with Whole Food
More than likely each of us will face situations in our lifetime that will diminish our mood and cause states of depression. We are all a combination of our past experiences, our genetics, our environment, our thoughts, emotions and we are more or less the food we eat, digest and absorb. When tragedy hits, no matter how big or small, all these factors can potentially play a role in how we react. When these events inevitably occur they strain our mind affecting all the factors previously mentioned, dropping each one of us somewhere along the spectrum of depression. This is normal and nothing to feel ashamed of as I and many of my colleagues in the wellness community would be fearful of those people who do not experience the ups and downs of life, especially when life throws us a curve. For those of us who get depressed, over the course of a short period of time we adjust and return to the way we are accustomed to feeling, this is called reactive depression*. However, for those of us who can’t recover right away for whatever the reason may be, which I’ll shed some light on below, there are alternatives to the commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs such as Paxil (SSRI), Effexor (SNRI) and company.
Symptoms of depression
- Feelings of worthless or guilt
- Poor concentration
- Loss of energy, and fatigue
- Thoughts of suicide or preoccupation with death
- Loss or increase of appetite and weight
- A disturbed sleep pattern
- Slowing down both physically and/or mentally
- Agitation (restlessness or anxiety)
Brothers and sisters in arms
One very important player in helping to ease depression is through what we eat and often just as important, what we don’t eat. Before I get into how nutrition plays a key role in combatting depression, it would be negligent of me not to mention some of the other pathways that go into helping those 350 million people world wide, reported by the World Health Organization, fight depression naturally. Other holistic factors that need to be addressed when fighting depression are a person’s lifestyle choices which include the amount of exercise they participate in as well as the amount and quality of sleep they get along with their ability to manage stress.
The effects of depression
Hypothyroidism, can result from long term poor nutrition and stress management, poor supply of thyroid hormone to the brain that allows the body to function optimally and has been shown to be a direct link to depression. Methylation is a biochemical reaction within the body that is essential for mental and physical health. It is also responsible for metabolizing the neurotransmitters dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, melatonin and serotonin. Methylation also has significance in turning off histamine production, among many other processes.
Foods to avoid that make depression worse
What you choose to eat is just as important as what you choose not to eat. It is vital to focus on keeping inflammation in the body to a minimum as it is common for people who battle depression to be histadelics. Another common trait is the inability to control blood glucose levels due to the overconsumption of processed foods, sugar and a lack of fiber and protein at each meal, all of which over time will lead to hypoglycemia.
Whole Foods to help beat Depression
It is not just important for those battling depression but for everyone, to feed the brain and provide it with the structure it needs to function properly. Essential fatty acids, omega 3 & 6’s, are necessary for creating the structure of the brain. The brain is made up of roughly 70% fat which is used for mylenation and protection using the phospholipid bi-layer. Two of the functions essential fatty acids provide are the teamwork with amino acids to create neurotransmitters which are needed for hormone optimization. The appropriate ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fats should be around 1 to 3 or 1 to 4. Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet’s (SAD) ratio falls somewhere around 1 to 25 causing a wide array of health issues (which ones) in addition to the illnesses already associated with trans fats, hydrogenated fats and excessive saturated fats (such as.) Omega 3 fats such as those found in flax seed, hemp seed, walnuts, sea algae, salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines should be consumed often where as Omega 6 fats even though considered somewhat healthy such as vegetable oils, safflower and sesame oils should be used sparingly. Sea vegetables and fish provide the best forms of omega 3 fatty acids as they are easily converted into EPA & DHA. These two omega 3’s are essential for creating the anti inflammaory prostaglandins in the body.
Proteins, more specifically amino acids, are needed to produce important neurotransmitters involved with overcoming depression. Omnivores usually don’t have an issue with consuming adequate levels of amino acids but again I stress the importance of organic, free range and grass fed meats and eggs while the plant based folk need to make sure they are taking in amino acids from a variety of sources. Food combining principles are great such as combining a grain with a legume to form a complete protein but this isn’t necessary at each meal but rather within a 24-36 hour window. The essential amino acid tryptophan leads to the creation of the neurotransmitters melatonin, serotonin and tryptamine. The essential amino acid phenylalanine creates dopamine (motivation/inspiration), adrenaline and noradrenaline (fight or flight) while Lysine starts the process to create GABA which is our calming neurotransmitter.
Complex carbohydrates provide fuel for the brain while keeping blood glucose levels and hypoglycemia at bay. Great sources of complex carbohydrates would be whole grains, tubers and vegetables as they contain loads of fiber, vitamins, minerals and even in some cases, protein. A word of warning, many people are sensitive to various whole grains without ever noticing any internal or external side effects, with this in mind sticking to the gluten free grains such as quinoa, millet, buckwheat, wild rice and amaranth would be a great start.** Fruit has been dragged through the mud lately, is it good? Is it bad? How much is too much? For the most part, fruit sugar from low glycemic fruit has minimal effect on blood glucose as it is nullified by the fiber it contains. However, not all fruit are created equal and if we were to consume sweet fruits such as bananas and dates all day this may contribute to poor blood glucose management. It is best to save those sweet fruits for after bouts of exercise and stick to lower glycemic fruits such as apples, pears and berries.
Depression takes its toll on the body by depleting some very significant vitamins and minerals. Vitamins B6, folic acid and B12 as well as the mineral magnesium are commonly deficient and need to be replaced in abundance and most likely even supplemented. Vitamin B6 can be found in pistachios, hazel nuts, fish, garlic and sunflower seeds while folate (the food version of folic acid) is found in dark leafy green vegetables. B12 is found in animal products which I strongly encourage everyone to do their research on finding local farms to buy organic, free range and grass fed meats and eggs, sorry my fellow vegans, you are going to have to supplement with a sublingual methylcobalamin. The last thing anyone needs, especially those who are struggling with depression (or any other disease for that matter) is to consume or be exposed to heavy metals, antibiotics, toxins, chemicals (household and cosmetic included), synthetic hormones and even electromagnetic fields (EMF).
Magnesium is an extremely important mineral which has several hundred functions in the body, one being the transmission of nerve impulses, and can be found in raw nuts & seeds, dried herbs, squash and unsulphured black strap molasses. Why is this important?
Often depression can stem from something that isn’t working in our life. Maybe a relationship that didn’t work out, or we are unhappy with our job, maybe we were brought up not to express emotions but instead to reserve them possibly resulting in bottled up anger. We may be depressed because of unfinished business or we aren’t loving the life we live or living the life we love. These may all be barriers for a counselor or psychotherapist to help us through but if we are aware of the players involved in what is holding us back and we make an effort to take care of these things within our power, we can get back to living the life we would much rather be enjoying.
*Reactive depression can also be categorized as depressed feelings over a long period of time due to an event that continues to cause these feelings. ie- A parent who verbally abuses their child throughout their childhood and/or adolescence.
**There is some new evidence that even the gluten free grains/pseudo-grains contain small amounts of gluten. Find evidence
Nathane Jackson is a veteran health and wellness authority, specializing in holistic living. He has a decade worth of knowledge as a personal trainer and strength & conditioning coach and is dedicated to improving all aspects of health starting at the cellular level by combining holistic nutrition, functional exercise, and restorative practices to help his clients strengthen their mind, body and spirit.