We all have our moments of weakness, where we feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders. Depression is a serious disorder that involves chronic symptoms of sadness, anger, resentment and hopelessness. As with many disorders, new research now suggests a link between depression and chronic inflammation.
For centuries, depression has been treated with natural remedies and lifestyle changes. Today’s doctors seem all too eager to prescribe medication even if one’s depressive state is temporary or situational. Instead, these safe, natural treatments can help you return to normal without harmful side effects.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to be effective in combating depression and depressive states of bipolar disorder. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds. Just one to three grams of fish oil or flaxseed oil each day is recommended. These healthy fats can help your body produce normal levels of serotonin, the hormone that makes you feel happy. Eggs also contain healthy fats that help your body produce serotonin.
B vitamins, especially vitamin B12, is important for maintaining proper brain health. These vitamins can help in the production of vital chemicals that control your mood, including serotonin, dopamine and epinephrine. Folic acid is another important B vitamin that helps control your mood. Spinach and avocados are high in B vitamins, and in particular, folic acid. Other healthy sources of B vitamins include shellfish, fish, bell peppers, cheese and turkey. People who are on a vegan or vegetarian diet are more likely to be deficient in B vitamins, especially B12. If you do not wish to take a supplement, you can incorporate nutritional yeast in recipes to get an adequate plant-based source of B12.
Magnesium is important in helping our body maintain energy, brain chemical function, a regular heartbeat, DNA synthesizing and over 300 enzyme systems that control a wide range of biomechanical bodily functions. Unlike other nutrients in our diets, our bodies cannot produce magnesium. Unfortunately, most Western diets are lacking in magnesium, and stress can really put a damper on our integration of dietary magnesium. Bananas, cashews, almonds, black beans and leafy greens (such as spinach and kale) are all abundant sources of magnesium. Pumpkin seeds are high in magnesium as well, and also contain L-tryptophan, an amino acid that is used in the production of serotonin.
Coffee consumption in moderation may have a protective effect against depression in women, according to a 2011 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study, performed by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, found that women who drink four or more cups of caffeinated coffee per day were 20 percent less likely to suffer from depression compared to study participants who consumed less or none.
When choosing coffee, we recommend opting for an organic, fair-trade variety so that you can enjoy the benefits of your morning brew without consuming the pesticides found in conventionally-grown varieties.
Green tea can be a helpful alternative for people suffering with depression. Green tea contains L-theanine, which actually works synergistically with caffeine to boost your mood. It also increases dopamine levels, reduces stress, and increases the brain’s inhibitory transmitter GABA receptors, which act to calm the central nervous system.
Teas without any stimulants or caffeine can also be beneficial in treating depression. People with depression can sometimes suffer from insomnia, either waking up in the middle of the night or having trouble going to sleep in the first place — or both. If this is something you deal with regularly, chamomile tea can help calm your nerves and help you sleep. After all, sleep helps your mind and body heal and recharge. Without proper sleep, you can be more sluggish, irritable and prone to negative thinking. Chamomile is very gentle and is not nearly as strong as a sleeping pill. As a result, it can also be used during manic states or in hypersensitive depressive states to calm you and allow you to more clearly evaluate the situation and your surroundings.
Hormones are important to every bodily function. Even just a slight imbalance in any one of our hormones can cause us to feel and behave very differently. If you are feeling sad or erratic and don’t know why, you might need to have your hormone levels tested. There are three types of hormones that could be the culprit: thyroid gland hormones, adrenal gland hormones and sex hormones. If you have an imbalance, you may be prescribed hormone treatments or be told to consume foods that will stimulate production of those hormones. There are also bio-identical hormones that are specific to your body that can help you feel more balanced and energetic.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is a herb that has been shown to be effective in combating depression. Taking anywhere from 300 to 600 milligrams of St. John’s Wort can be beneficial for low to moderate depression. St. John’s Wort has been used to treat nervous disorders since the times of Ancient Greece. The active ingredient in this herb is hypericin, which is believed to act in a similar manner as serotonin. However, St. John’s Wort has side effects that make it unsafe for some individuals. It also interacts with some antidepressants and birth control pills. Always talk to your doctor before taking a supplement.
Saffron is a Persian spice that is used to help heal the digestive system. By assisting neurotransmitters that are created in the digestive tract, saffron has been shown to elevate mood. It also helps improve your mental state because it is high in B vitamins. According to Dr. Oz, cardiothoracic surgeon, author and television personality, just 15 milligrams per day can make a difference.
SAM-e is a supplement that is created using naturally occurring proteins in the body. SAM-e, also known as S-adenosylmethionine is thought to be involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain. Several clinical trials have demonstrated that it can be as effective as some antidepressants and more effective than a placebo.
5-Hydroxytryptophan is the chemical found in turkey that makes you feel relaxed after Thanksgiving dinner. This is because 5-HTP is used by the body to produce serotonin. It does this by providing the raw materials the body needs and has the ability to break the blood-brain barrier, which means it can actually get into your brain to alter your brain’s chemistry. It is not only effective against depression but it can also be used to fight anxiety, weight issues and insomnia.
Light and sound therapy
In the winter, many people get depressed as a result of shorter days and colder weather that prevents them from being outdoors. People also get depressed when they spend all their time inside working at a desk and then sitting in front of a computer or television when they get home. Vitamin D is important for consistent mood levels. Light therapy, or the use of artificial light to simulate the sun, can therefore be helpful in areas that receive less daylight.
In addition, sound therapy can be helpful in reducing stress and anxiety, while also boosting positive thinking and relaxation. We encounter this when we hear a beautiful piece of music, listen to nature or hear a song on the radio we enjoy. Sixth century philosopher Pythagoras is the creator of music therapy, and we have been consciously and subconsciously using it ever since.
Sometimes, the best solution isn’t taking something in, but releasing it and allowing our mind and body to simply relax. Multiple studies have shown that meditation, prayer and deep breathing can help relieve stress hormones and enhance our mood. When we are tense, our body is tense as well, leaving us in pain and discomfort. Yoga is a blend of relaxing stretches, light exercise and meditative breathing that can relieve the mind and rejuvenate the body. Simple deep, methodical breathing is often enough to calm us down from mild anxiety episodes. Incorporating one or all of these techniques into your daily life can help reduce cortisol levels and promote a more positive outlook. Every once in a while, taking a break from stressful activities in your daily life can help as well. Everyone deserves a vacation from time to time.
Yoga is not the only exercise that can help boost your mood. Running, jogging, biking and other moderate- to high-intensity cardiovascular activities can elevate levels of endorphins, which leave you feeling blissful. Daily exercise can also help prevent your joints from stiffening, which is extra important if you are indoors often or are suffering from depression. If you join a friend, you get the added bonus of companionship, which can keep you on track and help give you someone to talk to. When you are feeling stressed and need a safe, physical outlet, go to the gym and lift weights, use their punching bag or start running!
You can also relieve stress by doing things you love — activities that make you feel like yourself again? Do you enjoy a night out with the girls? Do you love the outdoors? What about the arts? Reconnecting with yourself when life gets out of control can help you regain your confidence, reduce anxiety and release hormones that help you sustain that good feeling. Sometimes, if our depression is deeply felt, it can be difficult to enjoy the activities we used to love. If this is the case, whip out an old coloring book and some crayons. Studies have shown that a simple activity like coloring or cooking can act as both a creative outlet and as a form of meditation.
Let it out
The most difficult thing to do sometimes is to admit to yourself or to others how you truly feel. If you keep it bottled up though, it will build and fester until it gets out of hand. When you feel overwhelmed, let it out. Talk to a professional about it, go to your life coach, talk with a friend or join a support group. If you don’t feel like opening up to anyone, write about it. Journaling is powerful therapy. We are often more honest when we are alone with our thoughts than when we are in public. Journaling offers the opportunity to read over what we wrote and confront the thoughts that flowed out of us. Listen to music that portrays how you feel or create your own. Paint it or sketch it out. Whatever you use as an outlet, just make sure it is safe.
Depression is a difficult experience to go through. You are not alone though. Nearly 15 million American adults suffer from depression. What has helped you through your depression?
—The Alternative Daily