Nutrition and Lifestyle Strategies for Depression

Publisher: Natural Medicine Magazine, June 2016

Question from reader:
I suffer from depression. Its pretty bad. Some mornings I wake up and I just don’t want to go on. I don’t see the point. I have nothing to offer humanity. I have children but they don’t care much for me. My husband passed away four years ago and I am caught it the mundane routine of daily life, ill health, insomnia, alcohol dependancy and frankly – everything bores me to tears. Talking of tears – I cry all the time.

Please help. I have tried every possibly anti-depressant and a combination of them together with sleeping pills, anti-anxiety meds etc etc. Nothing has even slightly lifted my depressed mood. I have stopped all the meds four months ago and just want to give up. My neighbour is tired of checking in on me and suggested I try something more natural. So I am asking for any suggestions you may have. I use to be happy. I use to laugh.

Jeanne’s reply:
Depression can be experienced on different levels and driven by various factors, including: insufficient nutrient intake, unhealthy lifestyle, chronic disease, hormone imbalances, challenging circumstances and emotional trauma, just to name a few.

Serotonin, a brain chemical appropriately referred to as the ‘happy hormone’, is biologically responsible for a happy, uplifted mood. Conventional anti-depressant medications work to keep serotonin circulating in the brain and thereby improve mood and prevent depressive episodes. This is why many people experience a ‘mood crash’ once they discontinue taking anti-depressants, as you have done recently. The good news is that the body has the ability to produce serotonin naturally if the correct building blocks (nutrients) are adequately provided:

  • Several foods are particularly rich in nutrients required for serotonin production: whole rolled oats, chicken, avocadoes, bananas, cashews, almonds and dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, mustard greens, etc.)
  • Eggs, salmon, walnuts and chia seeds provide nutrients that support communication between brain cells, thereby improving the brain’s ability to regulate mood.
  • Daily exposure to natural sunlight provides vitamin D, which is required for serotonin production and hormone regulation.
  • Regular intake of these foods in combination with a whole food diet (unprocessed, unrefined, fresh and organic where possible) may effectively help your body to maintain healthy serotonin levels.

Sugar, alcohol, caffeine and artificial sweeteners may negatively influence mood and you may find relief and emotional stability by removing these components from your diet for a few weeks or longer if needed.

Imbalanced blood sugar levels contribute to imbalanced mood and heightened appetite (especially for sugar and starchy foods). Balancing blood sugar levels can be attained by avoiding refined starches (white bread, pizza, pasta, pastries, sugar, etc.) and instead opt for high quality carbohydrate sources: vegetables, fruit, whole rolled oats, brown rice and quinoa. Combining carbohydrates with a protein source (e.g.: handful of nuts) is also useful to regulate blood sugar levels.

Physical exercise promotes the release of various brain chemicals involved in uplifting the mood. Find a type of exercise that you enjoy and aim for 2-3 sessions per week, even if it’s just 20 minutes.

If you enjoy taking relaxing baths, add a few drops of ylang-ylang, lavender and rose essential oils to the water and soak in the bath for at least 15 minutes. These oils have been indicated in lifting the mood and calming the nervous system. Lavender is also indicated in promoting deep, restful sleep and thereby helping the body to recuperate and to discharge any deep-seated negative emotions (one of the primary reasons we require sufficient sleep).

Digestive health is important for emotional well-being, first of all to ensure that nutrients required for serotonin production are absorbed, but also to support serotonin production in the gut (it is estimated that 90% of serotonin is produced in the digestive tract). If you suspect that your gut health is sub-optimal, it may be useful to see a natural health practitioner who will tailor a personalised program to support your digestive function. There are several useful herbal remedies associated with mood, which you can additionally discuss with your natural health practitioner.
Chronic stress may contribute to depression, especially if the stress is related to emotional challenges. You have gone through some traumatic life situations in recent years, so it may be useful to see a counsellor or therapist to support you in appropriately dealing with challenging emotions if you haven’t already done so.

Regularly partake in hobbies or activities that you enjoy, even if it’s something basic like knitting a sweater or sitting in nature. A self-nurturing attitude can bring deep contentment and appreciation of life, simply for the joy of being you and being alive.

Reference: article written for Natural Medicine Magazine

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