A few months ago I wrote about depression and made a video about it. Since then there’s been a lot of new research about the benefits of natural treatments for depression. I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the subject, especially in the light of the Covid pandemic and the resultant escalation of depression worldwide.
Depression is considered as the leading cause of global disability according to WHO. It results in a massive loss of productive lives and costs health authorities and employers billions every year. The WHO estimates that depression affects approximately 322 million people globally, or about 4.5% of the population, as can be seen from this graph.
While this is bad, I think it’s far more important to focus on the individuals suffering from depression. Nothing can be worse than not being happy with one’s self, feeling hopeless and having no hope for the future. It’s not a wonder that depression is the leading cause of suicide, resulting in an estimated 800 000 deaths a year!
The good news is that there is a massive amount of research showing that there is a lot a depressed person can do to help themselves. Just realizing that one can do something, that the situation isn’t hopeless, will make a huge difference. I think the key is to accept that we are actually in control, because it’s our decisions that make our lives good or bad, and only we can make those decisions.
So where does one start? The first step is deciding to do something, the second is making a plan of action and lastly, committing to do whatever it takes to get better. Just having a plan of action gives one something concrete to do and shifts the focus from negative to positive.
Here are three key areas to look at:
Let’s see what the latest science is telling us about each one.
How we think determines how our lives turn out. It’s the most exciting piece of information I have ever learned (apart from the fact that God loves me), because it mean that I’m in control of my life and my future. It means that I can’t blame others, or circumstances, for where I am in life right now. And, best of all, how I think will determine how my future turns out. If I don’t like my present situation, all I need to do is change the way I think about things and my future will change.
If you’re reading this for the first time you may be tempted to reject these statements as nonsense. Please don’t! There is overwhelming evidence that the way we habitually think plays a major role in our health, our happiness and our success (in every area of life). Read the following for more on this –
Here are a few things you can do:
– Count your blessings every day (we all have many!) Stop just for a minute and think about this.
You woke up this morning – over 150 000 people didn’t.1
You have eyes that are able to see this. There are 285 million visually impaired people in the world currently, of whom 39 million are totally blind!2.
You can read. There are over 750 million illiterate adults in the world today.3
You have access to the internet – over 4 billion people don’t.4
I could go on – you have so much going for you! Developing an Attitude of Gratitude helps take our mind off the things we don’t have, or don’t like, and focuses our thoughts on all the good in our lives. When we start to think like this, it’s hard to remain depressed.
– Avoid negative people who pull you down and start associating with positive people who will encourage and uplift you. Sometimes it’s the people closest to us who are our worst enemies. While it’s obviously hard to avoid them altogether, getting around other, positive people will help dilute their effect on us. Also, sometimes our negativity rubs off on those closest to us. As we change and become more positive, so do they!
– Be mindful of what you read and watch. Our minds can be compared to a computer. If we have corrupted software on a computer it doesn’t work as well as it could. If we upload incorrect data we get incorrect results. The same applies to us. Be very careful what you allow into your mind because it affects the quality of the decisions you make. As we have noted, it’s our decisions (or choices) that determine how our lives turn out. Only allow positive stuff in. One of the best things you can do is to stop watching, listening to and reading news media – it’s all negative and most is slanted to a particular political viewpoint.
– Start monitoring what you say to yourself all day. Over 95% of all our conversations are in our heads, with ourselves! If you’re constantly putting yourself down, or telling yourself you’re unhappy, that’s what will manifest in your life. Start telling yourself that you can do it, that you are happy and that you deserve the best.
There is overwhelming evidence that diet plays a major role in depression. Here are links to just three studies5,6,7 that confirm this, there are many more. Our modern Western diet, with an overabundance of refined carbs, sugar, additives, preservatives and other chemicals, has negatively affected our health dramatically and that includes depression.
Today medical science tells us that we have a “second brain’ in our gut. It is constantly communicating with our brain and plays a role in preventing and mediating depression. It also controls about 70% of our immune response, another reason in this era of Covid to ensure we eat a healthy diet!
Here are a few things to note:
– Serotonin, the ‘feel good hormone’, is made from an amino acid called tryptophan. The body needs a constant supply of tryptophan in order to supply the brain with enough for its needs. People fed a low tryptophan diet have been found to become depressed in a matter of hours. Tryptophan is found in meats (especially chicken and turkey), leafy green vegetables, whole gains (especially oats), pulses (beans, soy, lentils and chickpeas) eggs and oily fish (salmon, anchovies, sardines, herring, etc.). A deficiency of tryptophan has been shown to aggravate depression8.
– High blood sugar levels have been associated with an increased risk of depression. A study of 3456 people in Britain found that those who ate a diet high in processed carbs and processed foods had a 58% increased risk of depression, while those who ate a healthier diet had a 26% decreased risk9. High blood sugar levels also decrease the levels of B vitamins in the body, which play a role in stabilizing moods.
Eat a well as you possibly can. Avoid junk, processed and packaged foods and increase your intake of fresh, whole foods. Eat a low GI diet to keep blood sugar levels stable.Supplement to fill any nutritional gaps that are bound to occur.
Here are some essential supplements to consider:
1. A good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement.
The body needs vitamins and minerals daily to help repair and renew cells, produce hormones and enzymes and process foods. Think of it as the foundation for good health. There are also studies showing that they help with depression.10
Preferably look for one made from whole food sources, as the body utilizes them better than synthetic ingredients. A good multivitamin and mineral supplement will contain all the vitamins and minerals needed by the body on a daily basis. Make sure it contains chromium, which is essential for the control of blood sugar levels.
2. Omega 3
Omega 3 fatty acids cannot be made in the body and they are essential for a host of health benefits, including combating depression. In fact, Omega 3 is probably the most studied nutrient in the world! A Google search for “health benefits of omega 3” yielded over 77 million results in 0.67seconds! There are numerous studies showing that increasing Omega 3 intake helps reduce the risk and severity of depression11,12,13. One review of studies noted that people using Omega 3 had, on average, approximately double the improvement compared to using antidepressants.
The most efficient sources of omega 3 are oily fish like salmon, anchovies, sardines and tuna. Plant sources like flax seeds don’t actually contain omega 3, they contain a precursor, ALA (alpha linolenic acid), which the body has to convert into omega 3. This process is very inefficient, resulting in only about a 5 – 12% conversion. This makes it difficult to get sufficient omega 3 from these sources.
Look for an omega supplement that contains all 8 omega factors, as science has discovered that they are far better utilized when together. Most omega supplements only supply 2 factors. Also make sure that the omega supplement you buy is health screened to be free of contaminants like heavy metals and pesticides and is guaranteed to be pure and not rancid.
3. Vitamin B Complex
Low blood levels of B vitamins affect depression in two ways. Firstly, they are essential for helping the body convert carbs into energy. A deficiency results in lethargy, fatigue and can lead to depression. Secondly, B vitamins control our levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid produced in the body that, in high levels, is extremely dangerous to our health. High levels are also linked to increased risk of depression and the severity of episodes14,15,. The ideal level should be below 7, the average in the Western world is 10-11. A level of 15 will double the risk of depression. Taking a good Vitamin B complex will lower your homocysteine levels, help reduce your risk of depression and also help protect you from heart disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s. Not bad!
Look for a supplement that contains ALL the B vitamins, there are seven of them, and has them in the correct balance (many products have negligible amounts of Vit B 12, for instance, because it’s expensive to produce). It should be from whole food sources and have a sustained release mechanism. B vitamins are water soluble and cannot be stored in the body. As a result the body will only use what it needs when the supplement is taken. The rest will be excreted in the urine. By releasing the B vitamins slowly into the body over a 5 -6 hour period, the body can utilize the entire amount in the supplement, making it more efficient and cost effective.
Exercise makes a huge difference to depression, especially if you do so outdoors. In fact, one study showed that exercising in sunlight reduced depression scores by over 50%!16 A number of studies have borne this out and some even suggest that just looking out onto greenery can help. An added benefit of exercising outdoors is that you boost your Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D has been in the news lately for its host of health benefits, including helping depression!17
However, even if you can’t get outdoors there are numerous studies that show that exercise helps combat depression. 18, 19, 20, 21 Exercising releases mood lifting chemicals called endorphins and encephalins, which help to reduce depression. And, there are all the other health benefits to consider – reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes, assisting with weight loss and slowing the aging process. It really is a great idea to get active.
The bottom line is, you can do something to help yourself. Just accepting this fact can make an enormous difference and help you to take action. Consider getting someone to join you, we all need encouragement and having someone to be accountable to helps one stick to our goals and plans to get better. As the ad says – ‘Just Do It’ – because you can!