Food: The Vital but Overlooked Connection to Depression
By Jan Roberts
Drug Companies have done a good job of persuading us that many human emotions, depression the most notable
amongst them, are completely fixable by pharmaceutical manipulation. The end results. The potential for a lifetime of drugs that do more harm than good! Here is a verbatim quote from Dr. Kelly Brogan, a holistic psychiatrist certified in the USA in Psychiatry/Psychosomatic Medicine/Reproductive Psychiatry and Integrative Holistic Medicine.
“What are these medications actually doing?! The truth is, we have very little idea. An important analysis by the former director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) claimed that antidepressants “create perturbations in neurotransmitter functions” causing the body to compensate through a series of compensatory adaptations which occur after “chronic administration” leading to brains that function, after a few weeks, in a way that is “qualitatively as well as quantitatively different from the normal state.”
But let’s leave the topic of anti-depressant medication aside for the moment and look at some simple, logical steps you can take to improve your mental and emotional wellbeing. Let’s start with what you eat (and absorb and metabolize), which is well recognized as being intimately connected to your physical health. But you may be surprised to learn that what you eat is also intimately connected to your mental and emotional health!
One of the key players in this scenario is your ‘microbiome’ – that’s the (mostly) bacteria that co-exist with you. There is at least as much (and some researchers suggest maybe 10 times more) DNA present in that bacterial
population than is present in you! Most of those co-existing organisms reside in your gut, and research now recognizes a very real and strong gut/brain connection. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression, anxiety and aggression, is found in your intestines, not your brain!
But the health of that all-important microbiome may be compromised from birth. Culprits begin with birth by C-section and formula feeding, and then include antibiotics, prevalent use of antibacterial wipes, chlorine in the water supply, the use of glyphosate in agriculture (such as Roundup), refined and processed diets—the list goes on and on.
Restoring a healthy microbiome can include the use of pre- and probiotics. With so many probiotic products to choose from, you need to be sure that the product is pure, stable, sufficiently potent, and contains an appropriate mixture of strains to ensure results. Rotating a selection of fermented foods is another way to a healthy microbiome. Get five different options (e.g. kimchi, Greek yogurt, kombucha, pickled beets, sauerkraut, etc) and eat a serving of each daily on a rotating basis. This simple dietary change will increase the bio-diversity of your gut bacteria. The more diverse you make your options, the healthier your microbiome. To further support your microbiome, choose whole foods that have been organically grown or raised, and filter your tap water.
Reducing inflammation in your body can also have a major effect on your mood. There’s a bi-directional relationship between all of the major chronic diseases (i.e. inflammation) and psychiatric diagnoses.
For example patients who struggle with chronic diseases are more likely to be depressed, and vice versa. Simple first-aid steps to reduce inflammation include: avoiding inflammatory factors (e.g. gluten); avoiding sugar, especially products containing high fructose corn syrup; switching to a whole-food, minimally processed diet; and including anti-inflammatory supplements such as omega-3s in your daily regimen.
Another important step is to test, restore and maintain your zinc. Zinc deficiency is considered to be the most widespread deficiency in the Western world, with stress and lifestyle factors (including hormonal birth control) identified as major culprits. Zinc is involved in the workings of over 300 enzyme systems and is intimately involved in the function of your brain. Simply restoring zinc status to optimal levels can have a positive impact if you’re depressed. There’s an easy-to-do ‘zinc taste test’ that you’ll find in pharmacies, health food stores, also available from practitioners of natural medicine. Depending on the level of insufficiency that the test identifies, you can supplement as appropriate and repeat the test regularly to make sure those zinc levels are optimal.
To sum up, there are many effective self-help steps that should be the first line of defense when you feel depressed, and you should explore them all before you enquire about anti-depressant medication:
- improve your microbiome
- reduce inflammation
- enjoy restful sleep: get rid of electronic devices from your bedroom
- get regular exposure to sunshine:10-15 minutes daily between 10am-2pm (expose 40 percent of your skin area)
- increase your intake of whole foods: healthy food grown on healthy soil, fresh and in season
- watch what you put in your body: avoid stimulants (e.g. caffeine, nicotine), alcohol, refined foods, sugar-laden foods, and chemical-laden foods
- hydrate: drink plenty of high-quality purified water (2 liters daily)
- exercise: do muscle building and aerobic activity (at least 40 minutes daily)
- meditate: studies show it is every bit as good as those dubious drugs!
- find something to laugh about every day: whatever it takes, there are plenty of laughs to be found in the real and virtual worlds.
Take as many of the above initiatives as you can to lift your spirits. In the event that “the blues” linger and the “black dog” still bites, you could read and heed Thomas Moore’s book “Care of the Soul”.
Ask yourself if maybe, just maybe, a period of less than joyful enthusiasm for life might actually be part of that mysterious, remarkable journey that is your life. We all have our ups and downs, our highs and lows. Life was most certainly never designed to be a never-ending pleasure cruise 🙂