Depression, known as the common cold of psychiatry, is for many a well known companion.
The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as having 5 of the following symptoms for at least one month:
- Poor appetite with weight loss, or increased appetite with weight gain
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (too much sleep)
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation (movements of the body, related to brain activity)
- Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, or decrease in sex drive
- Loss of energy and feelings of fatigue
- Feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach or inappropriate guilt
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms of depression affect one in five Australians, and one in ten will have enough depressive symptoms to be diagnosed with depressive illness. The lifetime risk of being treated for depression is approximately 12 per cent for men and 25 per cent for women.
A spell of depression is normal when grieving, after a separation and so on. However, if your depression doesn't have an obvious cause, or continues for more than six months, seek help. Depression is a condition that must be taken seriously.
- Depression is not caused by a virus or bacteria. Some people claim that depression is an entirely self-inflicted psychological condition. Others feel that life events, particularly those from early childhood, are to blame. Another theory is that depression is due entirely to a biochemical imbalance in the brain.
- Depression may stem from physical causes including hormonal imbalance, low thyroid function and low iron levels.
What To Do
Regardless of the cause of depression, there are dietary and other natural changes which may help.
- Keep blood sugars steady by eating small meals regularly, similar to the eating plan given in Hypoglycaemia. People who feel depressed tend to undereat or overeat and both cause unsettling ups and downs with sugar and insulin levels.
- Avoid coffee. Depression is associated with levels of caffeine above 700 mg daily (4-5 cups).
- Even though you might feel like a drink, avoid alcohol as it is a nervous system depressant. Beer particularly should be avoided as it contains hops which may have a depressive effect on the body.
- Eat plenty of whole grains, legumes, fresh fruit and vegetables to supply good amounts of B vitamins, zinc and chromium.
- Oats are good for depression. Eat them every morning as muesli or porridge.
- Avoid highly processed foods such as canned food, prefrozen and takeaways. Home cooking which is made with love is what you need.
- If you are taking MAO (mono-amine-oxidase) inhibitors for depression, avoid all food sources of tyramine including aged cheeses, avocado, ripe bananas, broad beans, chicken liver, pickled herrings, wine, beer, yeast extract (for example vegemite), or an excess of licorice.
Herbs and Supplements
- (See Bright Eyed & Bushy Tailed)
- A daily vitamin B complex is mandatory. Here are a few good reasons why:
- B1 deficiency symptoms include depression and irritability;
- B2 deficiency is strongly linked to depression;
- B3 deficiency begins with psychological symptoms;
- B5 is essential for brain function and to prevent depression;
- B6 is necessary for neurotransmitter synthesis (along with magnesium and zinc), especially for converting tryptophan to serotonin, the calming neurotransmitter.
- Folic acid (B9) and B12 are closely associated with the synthesis of a substance called S-adenosylmethionine (SAM). A popular biochemical theory of depression concerns SAM deficiency.
- Biotin, another of the B complex, deficiency symptoms include depression and lassitude.
- Potassium is the mineral for nerve health. Take a potassium supplement daily.
- Amino acids which may help include tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine and glutamine. If you are on antidepressants, check with your doctor before taking amino acids, as they may interfere with your medication.
- St John's wort is the ultimate herb for banishing the blues. Other herbs recommended for countering depression include Siberian ginseng, oats and damiana.
- Music and flowers bring joy to the world. Why not make them part of your day? Another type of flower, the Bach flower remedy mustard, helps unexplained depression that descends like a black cloud. Gentian, another Bach flower, helps depression which has an identified source.
- Royal jelly is an excellent tonic for the nervous system. Take one vial each morning. (Note: Do not take royal jelly if you are asthmatic or allergic to bees.)
- Lavender oil in the bath or in an oil vaporiser will help.
- The essential oil of basil is specifically used by aromatherapists in the treatment of depression.
- Exercise alone has a tremendous impact on improving mood. In the mid-1970s, scientists discovered that endorphins, chemicals produced in the brain that function to deaden pain, improve mood and have a tranquillising effect. Endorphins, our natural opiates, are released during vigorous exercise, and are probably behind the phenomenon of 'runners' high'.
- The pineal gland is a tiny pea-shaped organ sitting neatly near the base of the brain. It was described by Descartes as the 'seat of the soul'. The pineal behaves as a biological clock, keeping our bodies in sync with the rhythms of nature, the seasons, day and night, adjusting our physiology to the environment. It translates light signals into nerve impulses which in turn stimulate endocrine glands to produce hormones including melatonin. It is due to this mechanism that lack of sunlight may contribute to depression. Although we live in a sunlit land, many Australians work inside for much of the day. Artificial lights do not seem to have the same beneficial effect as daylight. Sunlight contains the full spectrum of colours including ultraviolet and infra red. Walking in the sunlight for 20 minutes a day is enough to activate the pineal gland. Early morning sunlight is said to have a particularly beneficial effect.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a particular variety of depression which starts in the autumn and disappears in the spring. The treatment for SAD is simply sunlight.
- The Greek philosopher Epictetus, who lived in the first century AD, wrote: 'men feel disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them'. There is nothing to be lost and much to be gained by seeking professional psychological guidance. A good psychiatrist or psychologist will gently help you to unravel and heal the hurt inside. Even if you have to kiss a few frogs before finding the right therapist, be courageous.
- Drinking morning urine (amaroli) has been used in certain cultures for depression and insomnia. Interestingly, melatonin is present in morning urine in significant quantities. Urine straight from the healthy bladder is free from germs.
- Tim Finn, the NZ musician, once said of his experience that 'depression can be a way of getting in touch with your soul or true self'.
At a glance
- Good food
- Small, frequent meals, whole grains particularly oats, legumes, fresh fruit and vegetables and home cooking.
- Food to avoid
- Coffee, alcohol (particularly beer), sugar, highly processed foods.
- Remedies to begin
- St John's wort, vitamin B complex, tryptophan, Bach flowers mustard and gentian.
- Exercise and sunshine.
- Some say that depression is suppressed anger.