What is depression?
Depression is more than just feeling blue. We all go through varying mood states, depending on events in our life and the make-up of our bodily chemicals at that moment in time. These emotions, even if they present as deeply sad, do not constitute depression as such. Prolonged sadness or feelings of despair should certainly be taken notice of and advice sought. However, depression is most often a result of a physiological imbalance of chemicals in the brain that bring about a deeper, more difficult low mood. This chemical imbalance can be a result of genetics or it can be as a result of events during formative development that shaped the workings of the brain. However natural ways to treat depression can benefit most cases of depression.
Depression is a medical condition and it can develop in people who have previously not suffered with symptoms. It can manifest itself as a response to trauma or extended abuse to self-esteem. It can equally be a consequence of a sedentary lifestyle, with a diet high in processed food.
16 million people in America are diagnosed with depression each year. It is one of the most likely causes of long-term absence from work and is a major factor in the break-up of relationships. In short, depression is one of the most pressing medical concerns of recent times.
Is a healthy diet and exercise enough?
Maintaining a healthy balanced diet and a regular exercise routine, of let’s say 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week, is a sound recipe for avoiding depression. Human beings, although we like to think ourselves much more complex, are merely an organic input output machine. If we put in the right chemicals then our body, and by extension our mind, should function well. Exercise also releases endorphins, a natural mood booster, which helps exercise become habit forming. Our bodies will eventually crave the endorphin release and we will want to exercise and we will miss it when it is not there.
In reality, however, our modern diet does not provide us with the nutrients we need. B-Vitamins are the best example of this. Vegetarians and those of us with dietary issues, will struggle to get enough B-Vitamins. Even regular meat eaters may struggle, especially with advice being to cut down on red meat because of other health problems. So, there is a wealth of research that suggests a healthy diet and exercise will help but it is likely at some point or another we will need to look to other sources of vital mood enhancing brain chemicals.
To avoid is to remedy
The reason that this article is focused on ways of avoiding, rather than remedying, depression is because depression is a complex condition. Once diagnosed you will likely need a package of treatment that involves medication, counselling techniques such as meditation and mindfulness and other interventions including light therapy, acupuncture, reflexology and yoga. This package should always be designed in consultation with a doctor. Some supplements that present themselves as remedies for depression do have equal and sometimes better outcomes with mild depression with fewer side effects. However, if your depression is moderate to severe, you will need specialists in the area to monitor and deliver your care.
However, to avoid the onset of depressive symptoms is possible with the use of supplements and there is a lot of hope available. Herbal remedies have been used for centuries as folk and alternative treatments. Here are ten supplements that you might want to put on your shopping list if you think your lifestyle puts you at risk of developing depression.
- St John’s Wort
St John’s Wort has been used since Ancient Greece as a remedy for nervous disorders. It is said to provide the body with hypercin, which is similar in impact as serotonin uptake inhibitors such as Prozac. It essentially helps more serotonin, our happy hormone, become available for the brain. A 2008 review of 29 studies suggested St John’s Wort could be considered an effective remedy for mild depression with few side effects. Therefore, it would be seen as highly effective as a precautionary method.
The caution comes when you put St John’s Wort into a regimen of medication. St John’s Wort is known to interact with anti-depressants, so the two should never be taken together. It can also prevent blood thinners working. So, it is worth while seeking medical advice if you are uncertain.
The importance of magnesium to our body should not be under-estimated. It is the fourth most prevalent mineral in our body and the only way we receive it is through our food. It is a cofactor in over 300 enzyme systems that regulate our biomechanics. It is likely that many of us are deficient and would definitely benefit from supplements. The obvious restorative property of magnesium is its ability to stimulate a deeper, more restful sleep. Sleep deprivation is seen as both a symptom and cause of depression. However, it is also thought to contribute to the actions in the brain that create the necessary hormones needed for a balanced mood.
Be aware that stress depletes the magnesium, therefore the more stressful our lives the more likely we are to need a supplement.
- Green Tea
Caffeine can be a contributory factor in depression, as it creates a boom and bust mood pattern that is damaging to mental health. Caffeine, when interacting with L-theanine can work in synergy to boost mood without the crash effect.
Green tea is an excellent source of both these elements. It is also able to cross the brain-blood barrier meaning it has psychoactive properties. Studies have seen significant outcomes that suggest Green Tea can reduce stress and boost dopamine – both helpful factors in avoiding depression.
If you feel you are susceptible to depression but you want to include caffeine powder as part of your exercise program, then take L-theanine in conjunction with your caffeine supplement to help avoid the drop in mood that sometimes comes from caffeine alone.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Fish oil, usually found in salmon and trout, is seen as excellent for the health of the mind. A lot of oily fish are also high in mercury. So, although fish should definitely be part of a healthy diet, it might be better to moderate fish intake to a couple of times a week and use supplements such as fish oil capsules. Other healthy oils are thought to feed the brain better than the less-healthier oils. Flaxseed oil and coconut oil are two that are recommended by experts.
This is a plant that has sedative and anaesthetic qualities. Therefore, on a simple level, it helps us to avoid depression by ensuring a healthy sleep pattern. However, it is often used in teas for more medicinal value, as it: relieves stress, elevates mood and is seen as calming. Some studies have likened the effect of kava to benzodiazepines. Trials have proven the root to be safe and effective at reducing the effects of some of the causes of depression.
Zinc has been linked to functions of the brain, including learning and behaviour. It is also seen as a vital element in hormonal balance. Studies have shown that taking 25mg a day for twelve weeks may relieve symptoms of stress and upset, which if left, could lead to depression. Zinc also helpfully interacts with Omega 3 Fatty Acids, another supplement that helps mood balance, so is doubly important within a regime of vitamins and minerals.
- SAM-e or S-adenosyl-L-methanine
SAM-e occurs naturally in the human body and is vital for healthy brain and liver function, amongst other things. It is reported in some studies that it has promising effects on the symptoms of mild depression. However, some studies are cautious. People with bipolar conditions, or manic depression, as it is sometimes called, have reported mood swings and mania. It can also cause an upset stomach and constipation. So seeking a medical opinion before taking SAM-e could be the best approach – definitely if you are already on anti-depressants. SAM-e should never be taken at the same time as anti-depressants.
- Chamomile Tea
There is a lot of cynicism about chamomile tea and nobody purports it is a treatment of depression. It does, however, have calming properties. If, as part of the early signs of depression, you struggle to rest or sleep, then chamomile tea might be just what you need. There is a flavonoid in the leaf of the chamomile plant that is effective at promoting relaxation. If you mix this with a small bag of lavender under your pillow at night, you will find sleep easy and may be soothed just enough to prevent a low mood becoming something more sinister and sustained.
- The B Vitamins/ Vitamin D
Both B vitamins and Vitamin D are important to our mood. Vitamin D has a direct link to our sense of well-being. Unless you live in a particularly sunny state, you are likely to be deficient in this vitamin and some see the high suicide rates in some countries within the arctic circle as a direct connection to the six months of darkness and twilight. The B vitamins are important in the brain’s ability to produce serotonin. It is hard to get enough of the B vitamins in our diets and it is one of the most important supplements to include in our daily routine.
- Some possible others…
There is also DHEA, which is a hormone our bodily naturally produces and those suffering depression are often shown to have low levels of this hormone. Then there is 5 HTP, which naturally occurs in the brain and increases the amount of serotonin available.
There are some concerns about the long term effect of taking doses of DHEA and 5 HTP and, as the FDA does not test supplements, there are as yet no clinical trials to suggest long terms side effects. Therefore, these are two possibilities that are worth considering but may be better taken after consulting your doctor.
Is it worth the effort?
One of the major struggles of depression is the loss of control you feel. You feel buffeted by life rather than being the one who is directing your destiny. This is partly due to a lack of energy that comes from being drained by the disease, but it is also a consequence of being placed in the hands of expert others. Therefore, it is worth noting that if you feel this way it is going to be hard to put in the effort to make changes. It is completely acceptable to find it hard but that doesn’t mean you should not try.
One of the ways you can take control, and therefore avoid further bouts of depression, is by considering the chemical balance of your body, most importantly your brain. Look carefully at your lifestyle and find what is lacking and what is draining important serotonin, dopamine and epinephrine from your system. Work out what supplements you can use to boost important vitamins and minerals in your body and so create a more even mood. By doing this for yourself you will have the added bonus of feeling as if you are taking charge of your life again – you no longer rely on medical professionals and other experts to direct you through life. As brilliant as these people are, we all crave independence and control over our life.
There are a range of supplements that can be used to help avoid the onset of depression. Although we should avoid considering these as treatments, we can work to take control of our systems and ensure we maintain a hormonal balance that equates to positive mental health.
Along with these supplement, look carefully at your lifestyle and consider what might put you at risk of depression. Remember, we can take control through a healthy diet, regular aerobic exercise and a balance of vitamin and mineral supplements. With all these elements we might even find that we can do better than just avoid depression. We might be able to find that rarest of places: contentment and a sense of well-being.