Lifestyle and core health issues have a lot to do with depression. Smoking, drinking alcohol, drug abuse, prescription medications, nutritional deficiencies and even caffeine use can contribute to depression. Eating a lot of refined food is also a major contributing factor. One of the easiest and often most effective treatments for depression is to exercise and to eat properly.
The brain is like the heart, lung, liver, intestine or any other organ. It needs nutrients to ensure proper function. The function of enzymes and neurotransmitters and the integrity of the nerve tissue are all affected by nutrition. When there is chemical imbalance through poor nutrition or any other reason, the brain can be adversely affected; this can manifest itself as depression or anxiety.
This is not to say that past trauma and other issues addressed by psychologists are not valid, but good biochemical health will make the task of ending depression or anxiety easier. Problems like poor adrenal function, poor thyroid function and even food allergies can all cause depression or anxiety. Hypoglycemia, vitamin deficiency and poor diet are also a source of problems.
The common medical approach to depression is to take medications that increase the activity of various neurotransmitters. Nutritional approaches can often accomplish the same results as the drug therapy that addresses depression and anxiety. Medication is, of course, necessary if there is a danger of the patient harming him or her self.
The two neurotransmitters on which antidepressant drugs act are norepinephrineand serotonin. These drugs prevent reuptake (recycling) of the neurotransmitters, keeping them in the synapse longer. Patients who need norepinephrine tend to sleep a lot, cry, stay in bed and can’t function. Patients needing serotonintend to be angry or agitated. They don’t sleep well.
If a patient does not sleep well, then he or she may need serotonin. If he or she sleeps all of the time, norepinephrine may be necessary. Of course there are other issues if someone cannot sleep or sleeps all of the time. It is just that neurtransmitters in short supply can cause either extreme fatigue or a problem with sleeping, depending on the neurotransmitter. Consider the pathways for the neurotransmitter production.
The above chemical reactions need various vitamins and minerals to take place. These nutrients are written above the arrows. The reactions cannot take place without them. If you are deficient in iron, copper, vitamins C, B6, niacin or folic acid, you may have trouble making the neurotransmitters (norepinepherine and serotonin) necessary for good mental function. Also, the raw material for these brain chemicals are the amino acids, tyrosine and tryptophan. If you do not eat or digest protein well, you may have problems producing neurotransmitters.
A neurotransmitter that is possibly associated with anxiety is gamma amino butyric acid, or GABA. It has the action of inhibiting too much activity in the brain. Some anti-anxiety medications work to boost the activity of GABA. Once again the chemical reactions that take place in the body that produce GABA require nutrients—most notably B vitamins and magnesium. Eating sugar and refined carbohydrates deplete B vitamins. A very good strategy to ensure enough GABA production is to eat whole foods in their natural state and to avoid starch and sugar.
Lifestyle Changes that can Help Improve Function of the Brain and Nervous System
- Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrate:These deplete B vitamins and B vitamin deficiency can cause anxiety and depression. They can also create blood sugar swings that can affect mood. A highly refined diet can affect the bowel flora (dysbiosis) and cause important precursors for neurotransmitters (the building blocks for necessary brain chemicals) to be destroyed. This is a serious cause of fatigue and depression.
- Don’t skip meals: Not eating can cause hypoglycemia, which can cause depression.
- Exercise(according to your doctor’s recommendations): Exercise is one of the best was to make sure that the body has enough serotonin. In most instances it is best to do simple aerobic exercise (you should be able to hold a normal conversation during the activity), but everyone’s needs are different. In some studies, exercise has actually outperformed pharmaceuticals for the treatment of depression
- Hidden food sensitivities may be a possibility: William Philpott, MD, wrote a book entitled Brain Allergies: ThePsychonutrient Connection Including Brain Allergies Today (Keats Publishing, 1988). The concept of food allergies causing mental problems is controversial, but it is an interesting idea. Some believe that allergies can make your brain swell, much the same way they can make your nasal passages swell.
- Avoid stimulants like coffee and depressants like alcohol.
- Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and raw foods.
- Avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oil.
- Avoid chemical additives.
Mental health issues are among the most complex in health care. Each patient will have a different solution. Some will need drugs and other medical approaches, others will not. No matter what other therapy you employ, it is best to try to balance the body’s chemistry and nervous system to achieve optimum health.