Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What is Depression and Foods That Fight It

Have you ever been in a place in your life where things just are not as appealing as they once where?  Have you lost interested in things that wants brought you joy, like reading, writing, gardening, or even your daily walks?

Depression can come in many forms and you may not even know it’s creeping up on you until you’re fully into it.  So what can you do?  There are a few things I would like to suggest that you can try and see if they help you. 
First I want to say you are not alone, roughly 17 million Americans every year are affected by depression and seek to find a pill to help them feel better, making this one of the top medical problems in the US.  Worse, this is not just affecting adults but children and teens as well, woman and men alike. 
Depression affects the whole body.  When you are depressed or sad it affects your moods, the way we make decisions, the way we eat, our digestion, our health, and it’s a vicious cycle.  Say you are over whelmed at work or home, you start to skip meals, lose sleep, or maybe you start getting headaches.  Your body reacts to everything you experience every day.  If it feels threatened or anxiety it will store fat and slow down your metabolism.  Sometimes, digestion is thrown off causing pain and discomfort, which changes our eating habits.  This can last and continue for weeks, keeping your body in a stress state. 
This is why stress management is so important.  You don’t just wake up one day depressed, it is a reaction to your body being stressed for too long and the brain can no longer control its moods.  Most people can handle stress and get back to a relaxed state of mind, but if the stresses become too great, they may no longer be able to adjust responses and feeling from that part of the brain.  

While this is depressing, I have great news for you!  Food has a lot of influence on the brain’s behavior.  A poor diet; one with a lot of junk food, processed foods, GMO’s, chemicals, and other chemical additives, is a common cause of depression.  While I would like to say it’s easy to just cut these things out of your diet, I know it is not.  I think about my husband and his job.  He gets up goes to work, works on huge projects, has lots of responsibilities, and he has meetings where every day is a deadline or something due.  While he handles it all great, I make sure to pack him healthy lunches and breakfasts.  I know that he needs plenty of good foods to provide his body and brain with energy.  When you skip meals your brain is the very first organ to suffer.  This causes impulses and desires for sugary quick energy foods and drinks.  This is why I mention a vicious cycle.  You get stressed forget to eat, eat junk foods, the crash from that type of foods affects your moods, you reach for more quick energy comfort nonfoods, and affects your body and moods further.  It’s like a dog chasing after his own tail and once he gets it he just starts over again. 
Neurotransmitters and how they are affected by food choices
Neurotransmitters regulate our behaviors and are controlled by what we eat or don’t eat.   Dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, are most commonly associated with neurotransmitters.  I am sure you have heard or read about these and how they can affect your sleep, your moods, and anxiety.  When the brain produces serotonin we relax.  When it produces norepinephrine and dopamine we tend to think clearer and make quicker decisions.  These neurotransmitters are so important because they carry impulses between nerve cells.  With a decrease in serotonin you can experience a loss of sleep, appetite, and be more moody.  Studies have shown that low levels of serotonin leads to anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.  The great news is that certain foods can aid your serotonin.  Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps process serotonin, and can be found in complex carbohydrates.  When you eat complex carbohydrates you can raise your serotonin production which will give you a calm feeling, while foods high in protein promote norepinephrine and dopamine which will promote alertness.
What to Avoid and What to Increase
Simple carbohydrates should be avoided that contain fructose, lactose, sucrose, and other processed forms of sugar.  Complex carbohydrates include beans, legumes, whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, preferably raw.  Eat good sources of protein that contain necessary fatty acids, like fish and nuts, salmon and turkey are particularly high is tryptophan.  Avoid sodas and other beverages that have artificial sweetener aspartame.  On a Side Note, if you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep it may be caused by your soda intake.  Aspartame has been can be addictive and has been linked to blocking serotonin in your body.  This then affects areas above but especially can cause insomnia and headaches, best to reduce these beverages a.s.a.p.    Avoid saturated Fats that are found in fried foods.  Friend foods cause a blockage in the blood vessel which causes the blood cells to clump together and move slowly which can affect circulation, best to limit or avoid fried foods. 
Find a daily routine that moves your body!  This is so important to help combat stress and anxiety form building up.  You can start as small as getting outside and take a walk after your lunch.  Walking before or after dinner, have a fitness routine you schedule at least 3 times a week.  Try Yoga!  I love yoga because it helps me relax and take deep cleaning breaths while stretching and working my muscles.  When you are combating depression and stress you have to work the whole body and eat cleaner more nutritious foods.  Plus think more positively about yourself, your work, and you’re surrounding.  Things get stressful, we get behind, things break, and kids get sick, having a positive outlook and being able to roll with things helps you manage your mind and body.  One thing I started to do was claim three things to be Happy about today.  Studies have shown that happy people have better health.  Be happy about something no matter how small.  Happy you did not have a flat tire to work, happy your kids made it to the bus, happy you had no drama this morning in your morning family routines, you get the idea.  Find 3 things every day to be happy about and claim them.  You might find you change them throughout the day and that’s great.  Managing how you handle change, problems, and a daily routine will greatly help manage your stress as an early defense.

What are some ways you fight depression?


  1. I suffer and take meds for my anxiety and depression - I do notice on days I drink tons of water and get some sun I feel soo much better - it is short lived but a beautiful "natural" high per say :-)

  2. I'd never heard that about sodas and insomnia/headaches. I suffer from both! Nice to know, thanks!

  3. Great post, I'm another that has problems sleeping and I do find it to be related to soda...besides being I have cut it from my diet! :)

  4. Sunshine is the best cure for me when I have the blues but I know that others have bigger issues than the common 'blues'... Glad there are lifestyle changes that can help make a difference.