12 Things You Can Do for Depression
1. Exercise. Study after study shows that mild exercise is highly beneficial for depression. Realize that the need to exercise isn’t going to go away. It’s like brushing your teeth; you need to do it for the rest of your life. So spend time trying different forms.
2. Fish Oils. Fish oil is brain food! There is no reason for anyone to not be taking the recommended doses of fish oil . And that includes children where it has been shown to increase IQ as well as decrease Attention Deficit Disorder. Fish oil has been shown to be extremely helpful in depression and bipolar disorder. Recommended doses start at 1 gram and can easily go up to 4 grams.
3. Increase protein intake. We need amino acids to make neurotransmitters. Research shows that depressed brains don’t have enough of certain neurotransmitters, primarily serotonin and the catecholamines. Antidepressants work by increasing the availability of neurotransmitters in the brain but also come with side effects like weight gain and decreased libido. They increase available neurotransmitter levels by “recycling” what you already have. That is one reason why it is so difficult for many people to move away from antidepressants. Taking amino acids directly replenishes neurotransmitter levels.
4. Increase B vitamins. B vitamins are co factors in making neurotransmitters. The problem is that almost 50% of the population has a problem in absorbing folate, an important part of the B vitamin complex. Methylated forms of folate and B12, and vitamin B6 as a Pyridoxal 5 Phosphate, greatly increase the chance that our B vitamins can be used by the body. Methylated B12 has also been shown to be a preventive for Alzheimer’s Disease.
5. Increase Vitamin D. Vitamin D acts in the body as a hormone, and there are receptors sites for it in the brain. Vitamin D deficiency is now linked to depression and cancer. Sun bathing increases vitamin D. The current recommendation is 15 minutes of sun exposure per day, without sunblock, and between the hours of 10 to 2. Of course this is controversial for many. If you prefer to avoid the sun then take a vitamin supplement of D3 at about 1600 to 2000 IU every day. Ask your physician to have your Vitamin D3 measured.
6. Thyroid function is so important. A common story I hear is “I’m cold all the time, I can’t ever seem to lose weight, I’m tired and my skin is dry, but my doctor says my thyroid functions are normal”. What is happening is that their “normal” thyroid blood levels aren’t being seen by their cells. They have T3 hormones circulating in the blood, but it’s not being taken up by the cells, for a variety of reasons. This can certainly be adjusted.
7. Hormone function. The connection between hormone levels that are changing, and menopause, is well known. Low hormone levels are directly linked to depression. Less well known is that andropause occurs in men as testosterone levels decline. Hormones can be easily measured with saliva testing. Adjusting hormone levels can have a dramatic effect on mood.
8. Adrenal Function and Adaptogens. Stress depletes adrenal function. Do you know anyone who is stressed? These days even children test weak on their adrenal function. Not everyone has low adrenal function. High stress can actually cause the body to manufacture too much cortisol, causing anxiety, panic attacks and even depression. People can be way too high at one time, like 11 in the morning, and then too low much later in the day. Using adaptogenic herbs, that is herbs that normalize function by decreasing hyper secretion or raising hypo secretion, is a safer way to go than just adding straight adrenal glandulars. Ashwaganda is one of the most well known adaptogenic herbs, along with rhodalia, licorice, rehmannia and cordyceps, a mushroom.
9. The gut. Ninety percent of all serotonin, a neurotransmitter we mentioned previously, is made in the gut. 60% of immune function depends on the gut. Many people have digestive difficulties. Bloating and gas are signs that food is not being properly digested. We have just spent a lot of time showing that depression is often caused by a lack of specific nutrients. If you are going to supplement it is important to make sure that you are actually absorbing those supplements. As we age our stomach loses the capacity to make HCl. HCl digests protein and provides a low pH, which not only prevents bacterial and parasitic invasion, but sends the proper hormonal signals to the pancreas for further digestive processes. Since we noted earlier that protein is needed to supply neurotransmitters, it seems logical to think about poor digestion as one of the causes of depression, especially in the elderly.
10. Positive thoughts, affirmation and Emotional Freedom techniques are all helpful. EFT is free, can be found easily on the web and as has helped many people correct negative belief systems. Biofield Repolarization Techniques are also extremely effective in transmuting beliefs about how loveable we are, or how safe it is to love others. These deeply held beliefs profoundly affect all of us. They can be corrected, and it worth doing so.
11. Homeopathy can be surprisingly effective in the treatment of depression, grief states, and anxiety disorders. It is quite useful in combination with the above suggestions. Bach Flower remedies are also quite effective in smoothing troubled emotional states, especially when correctly prescribed.
12. Spirituality. We are all much bigger than we think we are. We have a spiritual anatomy as well as a physical anatomy. That is very easy to forget among the pressures of 3D. Ask to connect with your larger self in your dreams. When I first did that I dreamt of a giraffe, which was able to look above all the trees and see the much bigger picture. And don’t forget to ask your greater self to help with your healing. No one heals anyone else. We heal ourselves, through the innate healing capacities of our body, our mind, and our spirit.
Everyone is an individual and the above are only meant to be suggestions where one can start to think about changes in lifestyle and nutrition that can have significant benefits on mood. There is no magical pill and the improvements can take time to manifest. When one is severely depressed it is best to seek medical help. Feeling hopeless and suicidal is a temporary state that can be appropriately treated with pharmacological agents, hospitalization and counseling. Only when the crisis has been resolved is it appropriate to consider the suggestions for lifestyle and nutritional change.
- Mary Ackerley MD, MD(H), ABIHM