Depression is a tricky subject. On the one hand conventional medicine has become strongly specialised in its treatment, on the other hand more and more people are falling victim to poor mental health and feeling helpless.
Diagnosing depression is also questionable. Since there is no standard criteria, it’s at the doctor’s discretion to determine if one needs help, usually in the form of medication. I have never come across a medical case where depression was treated as a symptom of deeper underlying issues. After all, anti-depressants are hugely profitable, and lifestyle is not. Medication has long-lasting adverse effects and doesn’t address the individual root cause… unless one suffers from Prozac deficiency 🙂
WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
Signs and symptoms of depression include (but are not limited to):
- persistent sadness, feeling of doom and gloom
- self-harm or suicidal thoughts
- addictive behaviour (drugs, sugar, alcohol including drinking wine every day)
- insomnia or oversleeping
- decreased or increased appetite
- failing memory
- significant drop in energy
- anxiety, panic attacks
- anger, aggression
- lack of motivation
- digestive issues
The first three were deliberately grouped together. If they were taken away, the rest looks rather non-specific and yet these strongly indicate that the brain is crying out for help. Many people out there don’t feel significantly sad or have suicidal thoughts but are still depressed. They like hiding at home, over-watching TV or engaging in other purposeless activities while sipping on wine (full bottle gone again, oops!), and they cannot motivate themselves to do literally anything. It’s a dark cloud that is difficult to shift and a world that is difficult to face… a vicious cycle that feels impossible to break.
Often, people struggle to find the right words to describe their symptoms which makes them ‘unqualified’ for treatment. In other words, there is a grey area where many are stuck without a solution because non-specific symptoms don’t count. And yet, this is exactly the place where preventative measures should be taken to avoid a full-blown breakdown.
DEPRESSION FROM THE NATUROPATHIC AND FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE PERSPECTIVE
Depression is a limiting word. I think that ‘lack of mental vitality’ comes a lot closer to what it really is. From a naturopathic and functional medicine perspective, this lack of vitality has multiple causes and each case should be analysed and addressed individually:
- impaired digestion and detoxification
- microbial imbalance in the gut leading to increased intestinal permeability (‘leaky gut’), which further leads to a permeable blood-brain barrier (‘leaky brain’) and eventually brain inflammation
- unstable blood glucose levels leading to decreased brain energy, leading to neurotransmitter imbalances
- nutrient deficiencies, e.g. cholesterol, vit A, D, K2, Omega 3 (EPA, DHA) , Omega 6 (arachidonic acid), B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, antioxidants, certain amino-acids
- underactive thyroid
- any chronic health condition like auto-immunity
- hormonal imbalance
- physical and mental stress (food intolerance can be a stressor)
- diet rich in pro-inflammatory foods (mainly processed foods)
- alcohol, medication (incl. the pill and antacids), environmental toxins
- poor circulation and oxygenation (cold hands and / or feet is a common symptom)
- emotional trauma
As seen above, brain chemistry is determined by multiple factors. The question then arises: what if depression was misunderstood? What if it wasn’t a mood disorder but a protective mechanism for the brain and a strong message to nurture the body? A state of hibernation to store energy that is so depleted? Is mood enhancement really the key point before the necessary steps are taken to naturally make the body happy?
SELF-HELP FOR MENTAL VITALITY
Dealing with depression can be complex and requires a truly personalised approach. Fortunately, there are small steps that you can start taking today that will bring you to a better place. All it takes is a little effort to get out of your shell because only YOU can do it.
- Whole foods: what you eat and are able to break down and absorb provides fuel to create chemicals that help with motivation and the feeling of worthiness. Some people are unable to have a healthy mindset with a starved brain.
The more items on the ingredients list, the more processed the food. Real, whole foods have no list of ingredients; they are ingredients. They also have anti-inflammatory and detoxifying properties. Things to watch out for include: glucose syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, sugar, anything that ends with -ose, flavour enhancers, E’s, and generally anything you don’t understand the meaning of. If your grandma wouldn’t know it, don’t eat it.
- Healthy fats: pasture raised meats, fish, butter, ghee, eggs, olive oil, coconut oil, cold pressed nut and seed oils (but never used in cooking), avocados, nuts, seeds.
- Protein with every meal: protein includes meat, fish, eggs, some pseudo-cereals like teff and quinoa and to a lesser extent legumes and pulses, which are mostly carbohydrates. Nuts and seeds also contain some protein but they are mostly a source of fat.
- Digestion in check: observe your body and see what foods make you bloated or change your bowel movements. Ditch these foods until digestion gets better. A little water with raw apple cider vinegar, digestive enzymes and certain probiotics can help tremendously.
- Movement: yoga, dancing, walking, hiking, trekking, gardening, DYI-ing, gym, sports, rebounding, rope-skipping; anything that you ENJOY doing. Movement that you don’t enjoy is a stressor and should be avoided.
- Sleep: it’s not just the length of time that matters but also the hours when you sleep. Certain organs regenerate better at a certain time. Realistically, try and sleep by 23:00 and get up by 07:00, at least mid-week. Stretch in bed properly before you get up.
- Natural light exposure: look at natural light in the morning to wake up and between 12:00- 14:00 when the UVB rays help to synthesise vitamin D. In the morning it’s enough to go to your balcony or look out the open window with a cup of tea for 5 minutes. It’s important the sun rays hit your retina, even it it’s cloudy.
- Wi-Fi: turn off your modem for the night; it can do wonders to the sleep quality.
- Friends and community: surround yourself with like-minded people who lift you. Being a part of a community and having a purpose are natural anti-depressants.
- Broccoli, ginger and turmeric: the answers to most health related questions 🙂
- Therapist: they are there for YOU and will help you address your specific root cause.
TURMERIC AND GINGER LATTE
• 1 Cup of full fat organic coconut milk (with no added sugar, stabilizers etc. – check ingredients)
• Pinch of organic turmeric
• Organic Ceylon cinnamon to taste
• Slice of fresh, organic ginger
• Raw honey or pure maple syrup to taste
• Optional: cloves, star anise, cardamom pods
• Put all ingredients in a saucepan except for honey or maple syrup
• Heat until fragrant; if you like it spicier heat for a longer time
• Pour into a mug
• I like to froth mine with a milk frother
Written by Maya Flynn
About the author
Maya Flynn, founder of www.welcometoglow.com is a nutritional therapist, certified GAPS practitioner (Gut and Paychology Syndrome) and a natural health consultant.