by Dr. Will Cole
Depression affects over 300 million people worldwide. A proper balance of chemicals in your brain, such as norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, are needed for proper mood stabilization. Norepinephrine is responsible for how well we deal with stress, serotonin is the biggest player in regulating our mood, and dopamine acts as our pleasure chemical allowing us to enjoy life.
Anti-depressants can be very helpful and in some cases, lifesaving, when it comes to treating depression. However, when used on a consistent basis it can become an issue. Medications end up treating symptoms rather than the underlying cause. It becomes a situation of disease management rather than healing. And what happens when the medication comes with a whole list of side effects all their own? Weight gain, lowered sex drive, fatigue, and suicidal thoughts are all potential problems can go along with taking an antidepressant.
The majority of antidepressants are designed to increase serotonin levels which are lower in cases of depression. Thankfully, there are many ways to naturally increase these neurotransmitters and start to heal the reasons behind why serotonin is low to begin with.
1. Heal your “second brain.”
Your brain health is directly correlated to the status of your gut health. These two systems form from the same fetal tissue and continue their connection through the gut-brain axis for the rest of your life. The two proteins occludin and zonulin control the permeability of both the blood-brain barrier and gut lining. When there is increased permeability your immune system has to work in overdrive to fight off invaders which leads to chronic inflammation.
Depression has been linked to imbalances in the beneficial bacteria Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. A daily probiotic with these two strains is a great way to boost your microbiome health. Including fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi in your diet will also up the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
2. Go keto.
The ketogenic diet is abuzz in the health world. The diet consists of high-fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrates. The whole goal is to turn your body into a fat burner instead of a sugar burner by relying on ketones produced from fat for energy rather than glucose. About 60% of your brain is made of fat and 25% of your body’s total cholesterol is found in the brain. It makes sense that in order to support optimal brain health you would want to feed your brain exactly what it is made of. It’s no surprise then that research shows ketogenic diets to have similar effects to antidepressants. Even just adding more healthy fats into your diet, such as wild-caught fish, can greatly improve symptoms of depression.
3. Intermittent fast.
Going without food for periods of time can help to reduce inflammation. This can be especially helpful since depression is considered a neuroinflammatory condition. If you want to learn more about the different ways to fast check out my article on the subject.
4. Boost your neurotransmitters.
There are certain activities that boost neurotransmitters. For example, ever heard of runners’ high? There’s a reason for that saying – physical activity releases endorphins to give you that elated feeling even if you just completed the hardest workout of your life. Listening to music you love, learning a new skill, or indulging in aromatherapy can all be fun ways to hack your way to happiness.
5. Hygge it up.
Stress can be implicated in almost every health problem and depression is no exception. As a functional medicine practitioner I often see a correlation between the onset of patients symptoms after a period of intense stress. When you are stressed, your brain tells your adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenaline. But if you aren’t able to calm down, your body doesn’t get a break and it can even change the structure of your brain and increase inflammation which leads to depression. So take a break from whatever is stressing you and set aside some Danish-inspired hygge to practice self-care and zen out.
6. Correct nutrient deficiencies.
The correct amount of specific nutrients is required for your body to run efficiently. A lack of B vitamins is the most common issue I see associated with depression. Methylation is your body’s biochemical superhighway and is responsible for making your feel-good neurotransmitters. In order to have properly functioning methylation you need B vitamins. In fact, it has been shown that antidepressants don’t always work as effectively if folate is low.
7. Engage in light therapy.
Have you ever experienced the winter blues? This is due to a lack of sunshine which increases serotonin and decreases vitamin D. While you can get vitamin D in through diet and supplementation, sunshine is the most bioavailable. Bundle up and take advantage of sunny days any sunny days and enjoy the different winter scenery on a walk! But, if the thought of even being out in the cold gives you goosbumps, light therapy boxes are another option. They have been shown to reduce depression symptoms by mimicking the sun.
8. Talk to someone.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) was originally developed to treat depression and is still considered one of the most effective types of therapy for depression. The whole idea is to improve negative emotions by changing destructive thoughts and behaviors through developing personal coping strategies for each person. In many cases, it can actually be just as effective as medication!
9. Supplement with St. John’s wort.
The power of St. John’s wort has caught on in Germany. This natural herb is used and recommended more often than Prozac and other antidepressants by doctors! Long-term studies have supported its ability to stabilize mood but more research needs to be done to better determine just how effective it is.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.