Over the past month or so, two of my articles really got me thinking about depression.
“Mental Health and Digestion” touched on depression, but specified its link to poor digestive processes. In “Health Solutions: Root Cause or Band-Aid?”, I discussed the importance of figuring out why individuals are experiencing specific symptoms, rather than just masking the symptoms with medication. These two thought processes came together as I’ve become more aware of the huge impact depression is having all around us. So why are people so depressed?
According to Chris Kresser, ND, there are three main causes of depression:
- Poor gut health
- Nutrient imbalances
Note that none of these causes are related to the brain directly and antidepressants don’t seem to be the logical solution to any of them. In fact, Chris Kresser goes on to state, “Antidepressants don’t work. If anything, they make things worse.” So if it’s not dysfunction of the brain, and antidepressants aren’t the answer, what do you do for depression? Let’s look at each of the potential causes for clues.
Inflammation is an essential part of the body’s healing process, but it must be balanced with anti-inflammatory processes. Unfortunately, it’s quite easy to push this system out of balance. Stress, lack of sleep, food intolerances, processed oils, and toxins, among others, can stimulate inflammation.
Poor Gut Health
Several specific internal situations qualify as “poor gut health”. One is leaky gut, a condition where the thin layer of cells that guard the entry of substances from the intestines into the blood and lymph systems is damaged. Another condition is dysbiosis, when the balance between “good” and “bad” organisms in the intestines is thrown off. This can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, known as, unsurprisingly, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, or SIBO. It can also lead to an overgrowth of the yeast Candida Albicans. These gut scenarios can all result from excess processed foods, irritating foods, toxins, NSAIDS, antibiotics, and excess sugar.
In today’s world of speed and convenience, it’s easy to fall into nutritional habits. A muffin for breakfast, a deli sandwich for lunch, and takeout for dinner. Every day. Every single day. When meals over the long term lack variety or contain a high percentage of processed ingredients or preservatives, nutritional issues quickly ensue. Imbalances can range from poor protein/fat/carbohydrate ratios, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, poor fiber choices, or high sugar. Without a balanced range of nutritional compounds, which are the building blocks of all that you are, normal function is nearly impossible.
Root Cause Solutions
Though these potential causes of depression often result from years of accumulated choices and habits, it’s possible to see results over a relatively short time when appropriate changes are made. While many of the changes may not be easy to implement, they are usually quite simple. There are a few essential changes that can alleviate depression symptoms without adverse side effects. Indeed, they typically have very positive side effects: better overall health.
Sugar consumption is a multi-faceted problem. Sugar contributes to blood sugar dysregulation, inflammation, and gut dysbiosis. Nutritionally, eating more sugary foods adds excess calories and reduces opportunities for nutrient-dense foods. All of these factors can trigger depressed feelings. Sugar, technically, is an addictive stimulant. It triggers the reward center of the brain, sending you back for more. A devastating downward spiral begins when people attempt to treat themselves with a sweet snack for feeling down. Getting off sugar can be one of your most powerful moves towards good physical and mental health. It can be tricky, but support is available. As a Certified 21-Day Sugar Detox Coach, I offer frequent group and individual programs that walk you through the sugar detox process with help and encouragement. You can find out when the next21-Day Sugar Detox is here.
Find food allergens, sensitivities, and intolerances
All three of the above causes of depression can be triggered by foods that are bad for you, as an individual. Discovering which foods those are is not the easiest process. Many foods that cause issues are present in daily foods, such as wheat, corn, soy, and dairy. People who are sensitive to foods they eat daily will have trouble pinpointing them since they feel bad from those foods continuously. An elimination diet is the gold standard for discovering those foods. Take two to three weeks to avoid all potentially aggravating foods and then reintroduce them one at a time and monitor for signs and symptoms of distress. The 21-Day Sugar Detox also serves as an elimination diet.
A pumpkin pie spice latte is not seasonal. When you start thinking about eating seasonally, that automatically refers to plant foods. While my nutrition practice emphasizes bioindividuality, eating more veggies is sound advice for everyone. What is in season now? Eat more of that. What must be shipped in from South America? Eat less of that. It’s easy to be out of touch with seasonality since grocery stores carry pretty much the same items all year. Head to the farmer’s market to get some ideas. Even in Alaska, there are year-round markets.
Get movement, nature, sunlight, and sleep
These lifestyle factors are essential for human health and well-being but often fall to the wayside with our busy lives. Are you spending a lot of time on Facebook? Go for a walk instead. Have a nightly TV ritual? Go watch TV at the gym while working out. Take a lot of calls for work? Use your cell and go outside. Sleep can be an extremely powerful weapon against depression, possibly even the most powerful. Prioritize eight or more hours to be in bed each night. Maximize your ability to get good quality sleep by finishing eating two hours before bed, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, taking a magnesium drink or epsom salt bath, and avoiding the stimulating effect of screen exposure before bed.
Modern life tends to emphasize factors which create an environment prime for depression to set in. By searching for the root causes, and implementing lifestyle changes to alleviate them, depression can be relieved and even cured without pharmaceuticals, and with only the side effect of overall better health.
This information is for educational purposes only and should not be used as medical advice.
Kresser, C. Treating Depression Without Drugs – Part I & Part III. 2008. chriskresser.com
Kresser, C. Clinician’s Guide to Anxiety, Depression, and Cognitive Disorders. 2016. Kresser Institute.
Weatherby, D. Signs and Symptoms Analysis from a Functional Perspective. 2004. Bear Mountain Publishing. Jacksonville.
Haas, E. Staying Healthy with Nutrition. 2006. Celestial Arts. Berkeley.