By Aleksander Strande, ND, Ph.D.
Your emotional state is affected by what you eat and drink, what you don’t eat and drink, and by everything that is going on inside and around you. Some people are sensitive to particular winds, pollutants, magnetic fields and other people.
What causes depression? Possible causes or triggers of depression include: Wheat and related grain allergies, dairy and other food sensitivities, chemical sensitivities, environmental toxins, genetic predisposition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hormone disturbances (including postnatal), disordered brain biochemistry, reduced blood flow to the brain, anemia, blood sugar problems, Candida, serious diseases and infections, fatigue, drugs (social and pharmaceutical), insufficient food intake or eating disorders, poor breathing pattern or oxygen insufficiency, nutrient excesses (i.e. sugars and fats), lowered immune function, insufficient exercise, boredom, pain and trauma, stress (acute and chronic), poor self-image, excessive living, unfulfilled expectations, loneliness or lack of support and social interaction, grieving, exposure to unhealthy company, excessive austerity, loss of libido, spiritual deficiency, concerns about aging and being old, marriage break-up, job loss, financial worries.
Some people are clearly depressed because they are overweight. They are overweight for various reasons — or they are feeling depressed and eating excessively for consolation. Aside from its effect on self-image, when people put on weight they tend to exercise less because they are sluggish or their feet hurt. As a consequence arthritic symptoms may worsen, causing pain and restricting movement even more. Each factor contributes to further impairment. In other cases, a mineral deficiency may cause depression; the mineral deficiency may be caused by chronic diarrhea brought on by an allergy. In addition, tests performed on people suffering from depression show that some of their immune cells are relatively low.
Depressive disorders are more common among cigarette smokers and those with a high caffeine intake (from coffee and soft drinks). However, it may be that people who are depressed, look for quick support in any form, for example, alcohol or chocolate. If you experience a marriage break-up, move, or lose your job or savings, you will understandably be feeling low and anxious. A number of these depression triggers may be beyond your control and you may need to seek a professional naturopathic approach.
How do you know if you are depressed? We all feel down sometimes because there are sad things happening to us, to those around us and in the world generally. Through no fault of your own you may find yourself in very distressing circumstances that cause depression. Others may feel depressed because of their particular brain biochemistry. Signs of depression may include: Feeling low and unworthy, weeping, withdrawal from other people, feeling sad all the time or gaining no pleasure from anything, inability to make simple decisions, loss of or increased appetite, irritability, fatigue, loss of libido, insomnia or oversleeping, no motivation. One of my patients was told by her doctor that she was depressed. Somewhat puzzled, she asked me “How do I know if I am depressed?” I suggested that if she was experiencing four of the above symptoms regularly for the duration of some weeks then she might be depressed. Of course, all of us show one or more of these symptoms from time to time and some of them may have nothing to do with depression. For example, loss of libido may be due to a hormonal problem. Sometimes even one symptom may indicate depression. For example, another patient came to me with a sore throat. I noticed that her eyes were red as well as her throat. After questioning, it turned out that she had been crying violently for hours over the past few weeks (which can cause a sore throat) because her immediate family members had habitually ‘put her down’ for decades and she had now reached the end of her emotional endurance. In that particular case, a single symptom indicated depression. Surveys indicate that some people don’t want to admit that they are depressed because this may be considered a sign of weakness or an inability to cope. In one British survey, the majority of those interviewed felt that pharmaceutical treatment for depression was potentially addictive and only dulled the symptoms rather than solving the problem. While I couldn’t agree more, if someone is suicidal they need immediate medical attention, then naturopathic healing.
There is some evidence that manic depression (bi-polar affective disorder) may be partly hereditary. Although we don’t choose our parents, we may choose to inherit dietary and lifestyle habits that may trigger depression in susceptible people.
Wheat gluten, dairy products and various other foods, as well as additives and toxic chemicals can trigger a range of mental dysfunctions. Finding and eliminating allergies is helpful for some people and often, when they are stronger, they can tolerate small quantities of the suspect foods. Avoiding processed foods, artificial additives and toxic chemicals as far as practicable is worthwhile for everyone.
Nutrient and energy intake
Vitamin deficiencies of thiamine, riboflavin, pyridoxine, folic acid, B-12 and vitamin C can all lead to depression. Depending on the level of deficiency, lack of these vitamins does not necessarily cause depression, however 16 studies of patients with depression showed a link between low levels of these vitamins and psychiatric disturbances. In a study where students were given a high dose of bio-available calcium and vitamin D for four weeks, their depression ratings were reduced by twice as much as those students who were given placebos. Some areas of the brain have high levels of the mineral iron, a deficiency of which may lead to depression. For patients with anemia it sometimes takes a few months to get over depression after the anemia is cured. In such cases I introduce herbal circulatory tonics. A small medical trial showed that high doses of choline gave a substantial reduction in effect for five out of six patients with severe manic-depressive symptoms who had failed to respond to lithium and other pharmaceuticals. Docosahexaenoic acid may reduce the development of depression. This and other essential fatty acids, may strengthen the blood brain barrier so that irritants do not enter the brain cells. Depressed people tend to have low levels of zinc. Zinc deficiency is also linked to anorexia, loss of libido and fatigue, all of which can lead to depression. Other minerals implicated in depression include magnesium, potassium and selenium. A diet that is insufficient in potassium is highly unlikely, however, minerals can be lost as a result of diuretic drugs, diarrhea or vomiting. Amino acids in right dosages such as tryptophaan, tyrosine, phenylalanine and glutamine may also help because they affect neurotransmitters (brain chemicals).
Surveys confirm that many people with serious diseases are depressed. In my experience, men commonly become depressed following heart surgery. There are various reasons for this including feeling vulnerable and making lifestyle changes. Having a major heart attack is obviously a traumatic experience. Some of the prescribed medications for heart patients may also contribute to depression. Australian MIMS Annual lists depression as a side-effect of some cholesterol-lowering and hypertensive drugs.
A survey of heavily medicated, elderly depressed people showed that 24 percent of them had depression because of the pharmaceuticals they were taking. A quality milk thistle extract and other natural therapies may help mitigate some of the adverse effects of pharmaceuticals. Taking a multivitamin/mineral complex may also be useful, as low levels of some nutrients are linked to various pharmaceutical drugs. Patients taking lithium (an antidepressant drug), for example, tend to have low levels of folate (a B vitamin).
Herbal and amino acid
Antidepressants Herbal remedies for the treatment of depression include a big variety of nerve system and adrenal nourishing botanicals. Capsules and pills are typically less bio-available. Liquid herbs in appropriate doses work really fast. In hard cases, I found it is difficult to beat liquid herbs and neurotransmitter amino acids if you want speedy recovery. I import my botanicals from Australia — the least polluted corner of the globe.
Other natural therapies
Reiki, Bach flowers, homeopathy, massage, music, outings, pets, helping others, relaxation therapy, good company, spiritual and religious contacts, meditation, exercise and aroma-therapy can all help lift the spirits. If you live with someone who is depressed it is difficult not to be affected by his or her emotional state. Antidotes to contagious depression include involvement in outside interests, physical activity, humor, meditation, outings, etc. You may need to seek support, counseling and advice from your local community health center. Another factor to consider is your personal environment. Are you trying to do too much? Do you need a break to re-assess what you are doing and how you are reacting? Maintain your hopes without being fanatical. Do something about any health problems so they do not develop into more serious disorders. I am saying don’t get drugged — get recovered!
Dr. Aleksander Strande is a microbiologist and naturopathic doctor. Now with new offices in Irvine, he can be reached at (949) 553-1882 for questions and appointments.
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