Fighting Depression Naturally with Diet and Exercise
How you can reduce the symptoms of depression with a carefully constructed diet and exercise program.
Twenty percent of Americans suffer from depression each year and of that number six percent will suffer a Major Depressive Disorder. That is one-fifth of the population suffering this crippling disease and at least ten of that twenty percent will no doubt suffer in silence. As our day to day lives become more and more crammed with responsibilities both at work and at home, that number is only going to increase. So, is there something we can do now to prevent depression and anxiety from taking over our lives? The answer is yes and it can be found in the food we eat every day.
There are two types of depression. Situational Depression is influenced by external circumstances, bereavement, marriage breakdowns and financial loss. The other type of depression is Endogenous Depression, the cause of which is either biochemical, hormonal or due to nutritional deficiencies.
There are five neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood; serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. People suffering from Endogenous Depression may have depleted stores of these neurotransmitters and these will need to be replenished to reduce the symptoms of depression. The building blocks for this process can be found in vitamins, mineral and amino acids, all of which can be found in the food we eat every day.
Nutrients needed for proper brain function
Iron assists in carrying oxygen through the blood. A lack of oxygen in the blood causes lethargy and fatigue and increases the feeling of “not wanting to get out of bed”. Increasing your iron levels is as easy as including red meat, leafy green vegetables, (the greener the better), fish and poultry into your diet.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) deficiency occurs when there is an absence of anemia and this can cause disturbances in the brain. Vitamin B12 assists in DNA replication and the production of a mood-affecting substance called S-adenosyl methionine. To increase your levels of Vitamin B12, you can increase your intake of animal-based nutrients, dairy, eggs, meat, fish, and poultry.
B Vitamin Folic Acid as with Vitamin B12 is necessary to assist DNA to replicate normally. Foods that supply this vital nutrient are again, leafy green vegetables, beans, and citrus fruit.
Let’s take a minute to explain DNA and its role in the human body. Our individual DNA is stored in the nucleus, or “nerve centre” of our cells. During our lives, DNA replicates itself before the cells divide and are redistributed into the body. After a while, the ability for DNA to replicate slows down and this is commonly known as “aging”.
Amino Acid – Tyrosine converts into norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Studies have linked the lack of Tyrosine in the human body to other conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. This nutrient can be found in dairy, meat, fish and whole wheat and oats.
L-Phenylalanine is an amino acid that converts to mood affecting substances such as phenylethylamine that is a building block for various proteins and occurs naturally in the brain. In order to increase L-Phenylalanine levels in the body, you need to increase your protein intake.
Niacinamide is a form of Vitamin B3 (Niacin) and is essential for releasing energy from carbohydrates. Someone who is lacking in niacinamide should increase their intake of foods rich in Vitamin B3 such as peanuts, fish, meat and whole grains.
Other ways to fight depression
So, now that we have identified the nutrients the brain and its neurotransmitters need to function normally, what other lifestyle changes can we make to increase our ability to fight the symptoms of depression or, to increase our ability to prevent depression and anxiety?
We hear it all the time, exercise alters our mood and this is not a myth. As little as a half hour brisk walk each day increases the production of endorphins, a chemical substance that relieves the symptoms of depression. You don’t have to join a gym, or hire a personal trainer to achieve this; simple tasks such as mowing your lawn, walking your dogs or walking to the corner shop instead of driving is all it takes.
Resist the temptation to grab a sugary treat or a simple carbohydrate substance like white bread to increase your energy levels when you are feeling low. These will only flood your body with insulin which is quickly absorbed. Once this happens, you will feel worse than ever. Caffeine suppresses our serotonin levels and only serves to increase our depressed mood. Alcohol is in itself a depressant. It inhibits the neural pathways the same as depression does. If possible, avoid or lower your alcohol intake. A good tip is to only drink alcohol when your mood is high and the alcohol will increase this “great feeling”.
It is recommended that if you suffer the symptoms of depression to see your doctor and discuss the symptoms as depression can sometimes stem from an underlying cause such as low thyroid function, anemia, and multiple sclerosis. However, regardless of what the causes are, a consultation with your GP is always recommended as everyone reacts to depression in a different way. Improving your diet and exercise program will increase your feeling of well being; you don’t need science to tell you that but there may be a need initially to undergo drug or psychotherapy to get you on the road to recovery. Your ability to continue on that road is entirely up to you.