medicine tells us that depression is caused by an imbalance of a
neurotransmitter in the brain called serotonin. Most pharmaceutical
advertisements claims that drugs that flood the brain with serotonin
are the answer to depression. However, some studies found that
dramatically increasing serotonin levels in the brain failed to relieve
So why do doctors persist in prescribing medications with side effects ranging from mood swings to suicidal or homicidal behaviors when those drugs may not even work?
Many of the symptoms of depression can be directly linked to vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the standard American diet. Depression, mood swings and fatigue often have a common cause: poor nutrition.
Avoiding depression or recovering from a depressive episode is often as easy as changing your diet and boosting your consumption of key foods that deliver brain-boosting nutrients and help regulate brain chemistry.
So if you, or someone you know, are struggling with depression, here are key elements that must be added to the diet.
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Research has shown that depressed people often lack a fatty acid known as EPA. Participants in a 2002 study featured in the Archives of General Psychiatry took just a gram of Omega-3 fatty acid each day and noticed a 50-percent decrease in symptoms such as anxiety, sleep disorders, unexplained feelings of sadness, suicidal thoughts, and decreased sex drive. Omega-3 fatty acids can also lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health. Get omega-3s through walnuts, flaxseed oil, hemp oil, blue green algae, and chia seeds.
Called the "anti-stress mineral," it aids in relaxing nerves, relieving tension, assisting digestion, activating enzymes important for protein and carbohydrate metabolism, and modulating the electrical potential across all cell membranes.
Magnesium has a calming effect on the nervous system. With this, it is frequently used to promote good sleep. Nervous fatigue, tics and twitches, tremors, irritability, hypersensitivity, muscle spasms, restlessness, anxiety, confusion, disorientation and irregular heartbeat all respond to increased magnesium levels. A common phenomenon of magnesium deficiency is a sharp muscle reaction to an unexpected loud noise.
Without sufficient magnesium the nerve cells cannot give or receive messages and become excitable and highly reactive. This causes the person to become highly sensitive and highly nervous. Noises will seem excessively loud and person will jump at sudden sounds like a door slamming and will generally be nervous and on edge. Lights can appear to be too bright. Magnesium deficiency can cause insomnia (inability to sleep).
Great sources of magnesium are dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts (Brazil, walnuts, macadamia, and cashew), brown rice, bananas, and avocados.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) has been shown to elevate depression symptoms in the matters of days. Bill William, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, discovered that giving a patient 3000mg of Niacin (B3) was effective in treating depression and getting people off alcohol. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies pushed this research out and replaced it with prescription drugs.
Natural vegan sources of B3 are brewers yeast, brown rice, blue green algae, potatoes, peanuts.
Low levels of Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) have been found in clinically depressed patients. It has been shown to aid in serotonin production through enhancing convesion of an important amino acid, tryptophan, into serotonin.
Natural sources of B6 are avocados, bananas, hazelnuts, lentils, blue green algae, potatoes, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ.
Vitamin B1 (thiamin) aids our brain in converting glucose to energy. Oftentimes, clients who have boosted their B1 intake found that it was easier to cut out excess sugar and still have energy. Thiamin has been shown to reduce depression, fatigue, improve appetite and mental alertness.
Natural sources of Vitamin B1 are raisins, wheat germ, peas, brewers yeast, potatoes, garbanzo, kidney, and navy beans (cooked), oranges, peanuts, and algae.
Probiotics are defined as "living micro-organisms, which upon ingestion in certain numbers exert health benefits beyond general nutrition".
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, the author of "Gut and Psychology Syndrome", did an extensive study on how our mental condition is directly related to our gut and diet. Minerals aren't properly assimilated without a good gut balance of bacteria.
Below are highlights from a few other interesting studies that looked into the role that probiotics play in promoting mental health.
* In the December 2006 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a study was presented that found that a probiotic milk drink could improve mood in a group of depressed older adults. The results were apparent in as little as 10 days.
* A different healthy strain of bacteria, Bifidobacteria infantis, helped to lower inflammation and increased the levels of serotonin precursors in a group of rats. Both functions are known to be associated with an anti-depressant effect.
* Other research is beginning to illustrate a communication pathway between microbes residing in the gastrointestinal tract and various regions in the brain that control emotions.
The most ancient way of replenishing good bacteria in the body is through fermented foods. Fermented foods have been eaten in most cultures. Yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi (fermented cabbage) and kefir are all traditional foods that are naturally dense in healthy bacteria. The key is to ensure that these foods have not been pasteurized, as the process of pasteurization kills off the good beneficial goodness.
Things to avoid
If you feel you are depressed or at risk for depression, you also need to avoid certain foods and substances.
Some commonly prescribed drugs -- such as antibiotics, barbiturates, amphetamines, pain killers, ulcer drugs, anticonvulsants, beta-blockers, anti-Parkinson's drugs, birth control pills, high blood pressure drugs, heart medications and psychotropic drugs -- contribute to depression. If you are taking any of these, don't quit them without talking to your doctor; but be aware that they may be contributing to your condition by depleting your body of depression-fighting vitamins and minerals.
You should also avoid caffeine, smoking, alcohol, and foods high in fat and sugar.
Other non-food things to do
Although nutritional support is the first step to success, there are other things you can do to elevate depression symptoms:
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