The Holidays are over, the decorations put away, and a huge pile of bills sits waiting for you.
Short, gloomy, dreary, cold winter days ahead.
Enough to make you depressed?
You are not alone.
Although depression can make you feel alone, at least 20% of Americans live with depression.
Women are almost twice as likely to become depressed as men. This is partly due to monthly menstrual hormonal swings, puberty, and pregnancy as well. And because women are often the caretakers of the family, they may feel overworked, stressed, and neglect their own wellbeing.
Many men go undiagnosed, and fail to recognize depression or to seek help for it. While men can have the typical symptoms of depression, many actually become irritable, angry and hostile instead, and try to self-medicate with alcohol, marijuana or drugs. Suicide is more serious risk for men with depression, who are four times more likely to successfully attempt suicide than women.
Did you ever stop to think that the pile of cookies you ate last night in front of the TV, or the carton of ice cream you ate after a stressful day, may actually be making you more depressed?
The causes of depression can vary, but doctors usually never even consider that diet plays a huge role in our mental and emotional wellbeing.
While physicians tend to hand out anti-depressant drugs like candy, these drugs often can have very negative side effects.
Wouldn’t it be better to find natural cures for depression?
While you may not think so, what you eat has a very definite effect on your mood and outlook on life.
We truly are what we eat.
There are some surprising and very effective ways to fight the ‘blues’ with diet, lifestyle changes and supplements, and you can avoid the trap of having to turn to medical antidepressants with their unpleasant, and sometimes tragic side effects.
Your brain must have the right chemical balance in order to function optimally. Eating the wrong types of foods will not only alter the brain’s chemistry, but many processed foods have synthetic chemicals, preservatives, and other unnatural additives that confuse or distort your brain's natural chemistry.
Brain chemistry can actually be changed significantly for better or worse by a single meal.
Some foods like sugar and caffeine can create a seemingly positive effect on brain chemistry immediately, but actually have the reverse effect in the long run. So knowing how certain foods can affect your brain chemistry and your mood can be very helpful in figuring out what to eat or avoid.
Did you know that a deficiency of any one nutrient can actually alter your brain function and lead to depression, anxiety, irritability, ADD, and other mental disorders?
The natural chemicals in the brain that govern your mood are neurotransmitters. The ones that play a role in depression are serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. In depression, there are primarily reduced levels of serotonin. Serotonin has a lot to do with your feelings of wellbeing and is involved with emotional control, mood, arousal, and even appetite.
Along with decreased serotonin, there are lower than normal levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in depressed people as well.
These energizing neurotransmitters create a sense of alertness and excitement, and help you take action. Antidepressant medications help mostly by helping to preserve levels of serotonin in the brain, but when you change your natural brain chemistry with medication, you get side effects such as anxiety, drowsiness, irritability, nausea, diarrhea, and dizziness. Antidepressants can take away interest in sex and cause weight gain, as well as increasing thoughts of suicide.
Yes, antidepressants can actually increase the risk for suicide.
These drugs have very dangerous side effects if you quit them cold turkey too. But there are ways to help our bodies naturally make more of these neurotransmitters, and avoid the harmful side effects and feel better too.
Many of the building blocks of our brain’s neurotransmitters are made from the amino acids in the protein in our diets.
The amino acid tryptophan or l-tryptophan as it is sometimes called, is a precursor to serotonin while the amino acid, tyrosine, is a precursor to dopamine and norepinephrine. Eating foods rich in protein will help to increase the amount of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in your brain, and serotonin is absorbed better by eating foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates.
BUT, not all sources of carbohydrates will work for raising the serotonin level.
This is KEY.
Sugar molecules in complex carbohydrates are bound together by fiber and must be broken down and digested in the small intestine in order to release the sugar into the blood. Because these sugars must be broken down during digestion, they are released into the bloodstream steadily and slowly. So the complex carbohydrates found in fresh vegetables, fruits, and starchy root vegetables like potatoes, help your body maintain high levels of serotonin.
Refined carbohydrates on the other hand, are simple sugars with no fiber, that enter blood stream immediately after the first bite without the long process of digestion. So, blood sugar instantly goes up, creating a quick burst of serotonin (this is why you feel good immediately after eating sweets). Simple sugars are burned very quickly and the end result is low blood sugar. When blood sugar levels drop, so does serotonin.
So a diet of sweets and simple carbs actually will make you MORE depressed.
Besides depression, low levels of serotonin also contribute to sleep disturbances, hostility, aggression, and irritability. While certain foods act to raise serotonin and prevent depression, other foods can actually trigger depression. These include processed foods, sugary foods or foods containing hydrogenated oils. Alcohol can also contribute to depression, by causing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). And while caffeine is a stimulant, too much of it causes anxiety and nervousness.
So the bottom line is, when you are down and think that going on a drinking binge, or eating a pile of cookies and ice cream to help you feel better, you are wrong.
It will actually make you feel worse, besides what it does for your waistline.
Molecules of certain types of partially digested foods actually affect the body’s chemistry and can definitely have an effect on mood. In many people these foods are not fully broken down during digestion, and the proteins and peptides from these partially-digested foods leak into the bloodstream through the intestines. Research on people with celiac disease (gluten intolerance) shows that their lack of the right type of digestive enzymes may cause this kind of situation. And depression and irritibility are commonly symptoms of gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
Casein, (the protein in diary products), is very difficult to digest and can definitely be one of the primary undigested food substances that leak into the bloodstream. These substances affect the amounts of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine levels in the brain, and in turn affect mood. Incomplete breakdown of both casein and gluten leaking into the bloodstream can easily become a source of depression, anxiety, irritability or mood swings, affecting normal levels of brain chemicals.
[Note: casein, the protein molecule in dairy products primarily causes problems when the dairy products have been pasteurized—as most commercially produced dairy produts are. Raw dairy products like raw, aged cheeses or raw milk do not usually cause this reaction.]
It’s not surprising to conclude that intestinal permeability, and digestive enzyme deficiencies can also found in many folks suffering from clinical depression, the once in a while ‘blues,’ and mood swings. So if you are suffering from depression, it may be a function of your digestion, food intolerances, and intestinal permeability.
I know I am so sensitive to dairy, and all it takes is a bite to feel really depressed the next day. Try avoiding dairy and wheat gluten entirely for a week or so and see if that helps you feel better mentally and emotionally.
A diet to prevent or cure depression is rich in natural, unprocessed foods.
Especially plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and organic, or grass-fed meats, organic poultry and eggs. Foods like beans, seeds, nuts, and legumes are also rich in protein and contain tryptophan which is what you need to make more serotonin, as well as dopamine and norepinephrine.
Just remember to get some complex carbs with your tryptophan as well.
Consider that five servings of beans, a few portions of cheese or peanut butter, or several handfuls of cashews provide 1,000–2,000 mg of tryptophan, will work as well as prescription antidepressants—but don't tell the drug companies.
Tryptophan is really quite easy to get from the foods listed below (in mg):
Dried peas 250
Red kidney 240
Soy 525 Brazil nuts 185
Peanut butter 330 (natural, not commercial)
Pumpkin seeds 560
Sesame seeds 330
Tahini (ground sesame seeds) 575
Sunflower seeds 340
Brewer's Yeast 700
And, grass-fed beef, as well as fish and other seafood are very healthy, high-protein, dopamine and norepinephrine boosting foods, in addition to their contributions of Omega-3’s, CLA and zinc that help healthy brain function.
People suffering from depression generally are missing some important nutrients.
The most common deficiencies are:
Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
Sunshine or vitamin D3
Folic acid and vitamin B12 are essential B vitamins and work together in many biochemical processes.
In studies of depressed patients, at least half were found to be deficient in folic acid. Depression is the most common symptom of a folic acid deficiency. A vitamin B12 deficiency (more often a problem in vegetarians) can also cause depression. Correcting a folic acid and vitamin B12 deficiency with supplements or diet will quickly result in a dramatic improvement in mood.
Food sources that are rich in folate include beef liver, pumpkin seeds, leafy green vegetables, and yeast. Vitamin B12 is abundant in animal products such as red meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese and eggs.
Vitamin B6 is another B vitamin that is often low in many depressed people. The best food sources of vitamin B6 are protein-rich foods such as red meat, fish, and eggs. Other good sources of B6 are quinoa, brown rice, oats, lentils, peanuts, and walnuts.
The latest research also shows a strong connection between depression and low levels of omega 3 fatty acids. And the more severe the depression, the lower the level of omega 3 fats. Omega 3 fatty acids are an essential part of brain cell membranes in healthy individuals, and a component of the myelin sheaths, which cover nerves and transmit messages properly. Omega-3 fats are generally found in grass-fed meats as well as wild caught fish and organic eggs, or as supplements.
A depletion of the neurotransmitter called norepinephrine may result in poor memory, loss of alertness, and clinical depression. To make norepinephrine, amino acids from our diet are changed into dopamine, which then turns to norepinephrine. To do this, it requires a large amount of vitamin C. Physicians have had great success reversing depression with large doses of vitamin C, and is a very safe and inexpensive approach to try.
Sunshine or vitamin D3 helps banish the blues as well. When we can’t get enough sun exposure in the winter, obviously a trip to a tropical island would certainly put a smile on your face, but since we can’t all do that, just getting out in the sunshine when you can, and supplementing with vitamin D3 will definitely help brighten your mood as well as protect your health.
And, my favorite natural (very effective) antidepressant is Sam-E.
SAMe (known formally as S-adenosylmethionine) is not an herb or a hormone. It's a molecule that all living cells, including our own, produce constantly. To appreciate its importance, you need to understand a process called methylation. It's a simple transaction in which one molecule donates a four-atom appendage—a so-called methyl group—to a neighboring molecule. Methylation occurs a billion times a second throughout the body, affecting everything from fetal development to brain function. It regulates the expression of genes. It preserves the fatty membranes that insulate our cells. And it helps regulate the action of various hormones and neurotransmitters, including serotonin, melatonin, dopamine and adrenaline.
And without SAMe, there could be no methylation as we know it. Our bodies make SAMe from methionine, an amino acid found in protein-rich foods, then continually recycle it. SAMe breaks down to form homocysteine. Homocysteine is extremely toxic. But with the help of several B vitamins (B6, B12 and folic acid), our bodies convert homocysteine into glutathione, a valuable antioxidant.
High homocysteine is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. During pregnancy, it raises the risk of spina bifida and other birth defects. And many studies have implicated it in depression.
How does SAMe improve a person's mood? Scientists are not really sure, except for the fact that it really works well.
Since the 1970s, researchers have published 40 clinical studies involving roughly 1,400 patients. And the findings are remarkably consistent. In 1994 Dr. Giorgio Bressa, a psychiatrist at the University Cattolica Sacro Cuore in Rome, pooled results from a dozen controlled trials and found that "the efficacy of SAMe in treating depressive syndromes… is comparable to that of standard… antidepressants." Without the side effects of regular medical antidepressants.
Our brains do not require antidepressant medications to function properly.
Instead of masking the symptoms with a drug induced haze, is far far better to find the underlying cause of depression, and diet is KEY.
Amazingly, a healthy diet not only reduces or eliminates the symptoms, but it also prevents the occurrence of depression by keeping those important brain chemicals in balance.
The quick fix may be tempting, but in the long run, you will feel drastically better following a healthier diet—without the side effects—and have improved health and well being.
Studies show our mood and physical bodies favor traditional foods that our ancestors ate. These foods include grass-fed meats, organic and raw dairy and butter, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Avoiding processed, packaged foods with refined flour, sugars, or corn syrups, and preservatives and chemicals is extremely important for those of you with depression.
Don’t go for the quick fix, when you can permanently change your life and health for the better.
REAL Happiness is just around the corner!
Till next time, stay Happy, Healthy and Lean!
Catherine (Cat) Ebeling RN BSN, is a back-to-basics diet and nutrition specialist. In addition to her advanced degree in nursing from a major medical school, she has spent the last 30 years intensely studying diet, health and nutrition. She also has a book titled "The Fat Burning Kitchen, Your 24 Hour Diet Transformation" that has sold over 60,000 copies worldwide, and has helped thousands of people transform their lives, lose weight and improve their health.
Her mission is to help others prevent disease and live their best life ever.
Nutrition made Easy. Simple.Smart.Nutrition.
Andrew Saul, Depression, Doctoryourself.com, 2007.
Food Allergies and Depression,
Ron Hoggan M.A. & James Braly M.D.,About.com
Food and Depression,
WebMD, Depression and Diet, Jan 2012
8 thoughts on “Eat Your Depression Away”
This is a great article filled with so much valuable information. I have never heard about the connection between dairy and depression… that is very interesting to me. I know I will be referring to this article again. Thank you!
Nice article Cat. I like how it brings together so many of the natural remedies for depression. This will be a great reference for anyone trying to remember all the ways for dealing with this problem in a natural manner. Thanks for sharing!
Sooo much valuable information! This is more than an article…it is a resource page to be printed and posted on my refrigerator! And that is exactly what I am going to do! Thank you so much!:)
Cat, this is one heavy dose for me, having just had a late-night meal of pasta and meat sauce! I wish I were kidding, but I am not! I am that category of woman whom you referred to up top, overstressed and overstretched caretaker. I wish it weren't so.
I use SamE on occasion too. It truly is amazing stuff. And it's a natural substance, so no side effects and you can take quite a bit of it with no toxic effects. Best way to do it is to start with recommended dose and increase until you get the desired effect. May take a week or so for the full effect, but I notice it often right away. 🙂
Thank You! your posts are always full of valuable information. I especially appreciate the info about Sam-e. I have a friend I know will be interested in trying it – instead of St John's Wart.
Thank you for writing this Great information. It is this info that I always thrive on.
Wow. Thanks Cat for this post so full of valuable info. I will keep this as a reference.