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Depression


Introduction

Depression is the most common adult psychiatric disorder, and it is on the rise worldwide. Mood disorders affect 19 million Americans and we spend over $20 billion on treatment. Depression is a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors. It is often closely tied to disease. Illnesses may precede the depression, cause it, and/or be a consequence of it.

A poor diet high in processed carbohydrates, simple sugars, alcohol and caffeine, has been found to contribute to biochemical imbalances that exacerbate and/or cause depression. Stimulants such as nicotine, caffeine, and sugar, trigger the release of epinephrine (adrenaline), cortisol and opiates, which ultimately leading to a desensitization of the brain to these chemicals. Over time, the body becomes accustomed to receiving its biochemical stimulation from foods and substances, thereby decreasing the system's natural ability to provide this function for energy, mood and stress management. The outcome often results in an "addiction" to the food and/or substance by the individual. Upon initial elimination of stimulants, a person will go through a brief "withdrawal" period in the form of sugar cravings, headache, fatigue and/or depression because the body has become so dependent on the substance that it is not longer able to achieve balance on its own. However, the effects of withdrawal can be significantly moderated through using specific therapeutic supplements to "reset" the body's natural function.

In addition, many of these stimulants will also leach nutrients such as B vitamins and chromium from the body which are responsible for energy, mood and blood sugar balance collectively.

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Underlying Origins of Depression

  • Genes. Predisposition to neurochemical imbalance.
  • Adrenal Insufficiency. Chronic stress and high levels of cortisol will cause the body to exhaust serotonin and dopamine reserves resulting in neurotransmitter imbalance and depression.
  • Female hormone imbalance. Estrogen dominance, low progesterone and/or progesterone excess will often result of cyclical depression.
  • Thyroid Function. The thyroid gland is the main metabolic gland, however if functioning suboptimal, the amount of brain chemicals available for mood regulation will be in low reserve.
  • Food Sensitivities. Adverse reactions to specific foods may allter brain chemistry and neurotransmitter function
  • Imbalanced Carbohydrate or Protein in Diet. Carbohydrate is essential for serotonin production and protein is essential for optimizing dopamine levels. Therefore, a diet too high in protein with very restricted carbohydrate intake or a diet too high in carbohydrate with little protein may trigger depression.
  • Poor Quality Diet. A high intake of processed carbohydrates, damaged fats and chemically laden foods.
  • Biochemical Imbalance. May result from amino acid, nutrient or vitamin/mineral deficiencies.
  • Insomnia. Lack of sleep will reduce the available amounts of brain chemicals that are necessary to promote a balanced mood. In addition, sleep loss will create a sluggish metabolism (hypothyroid) which will often lead to brain chemistry imbalances resulting in depression.
  • Trauma. History of emotional or physical trauma
  • Grief. Great loss of a loved one and the inability to express grief.
  • Drug-induced depression. Most illegal drugs will cause brain chemical alterations and depression. In addition, there are many prescription drugs that can create nutrient deficiencies and neurotransmitter imbalances.
  • Suppressed Emotions. Anger, negativity and/or bottled up emotions with no outlet for release
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Alterations in the brain chemical, serotonin, resulting from lack of sunlight during winter months may trigger depression. Low levels of vitamin D due to lack of sunlight are also a factor in brain chemical imbalance.

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Common Symptoms

Manic episodes alternating with deep depression; excessive self-reproach and guilt; fatigue; unusual drowsiness; sleeping too much or not enough; inability to think and disorientation; memory loss; wired feeling; paranoia attacks; headaches; sweating, palpitations; loss of interest in pleasure; poor food absorption and significant weight loss even if meals are good; recurrent thoughts of death or suicide; loss of appetite.

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Common Causes

Biochemical imbalance triggered by: underlying emotional distress, blood sugar imbalance, sugar or alcohol dependency; chemical or food allergies; glandular imbalance with high copper levels; drug abuse; insomnia; hypothyroidism; prescription drug addiction or intolerance; negative emotions; the inability to cope with prolonged and intense stress.

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Natural Treatment

The natural approach to treating depression is to address the underlying root cause and eliminate it (online or in person). Unlike medications which simply manage the symptoms, a natural approach has the potential to not only resolve the imbalance, but to prevent unwanted side effects as well. Natural treatment involves four main components: addressing the underlying emotional state of the individual, dietary intake, sleep quality and the state of biochemical/nutritional imbalance.

On an emotional level, the body may become "programmed" to react to the internalization of negatives emotions, self-talk or subconscious signaling. In fact, we may be so programmed that it becomes a habit to circulate negative emotions throughout our bodies. The end result of harboring these negative emotions is a physical and a biochemical shift that wreaks havoc on the brain, metabolism, adrenal glands and the immune system. Working on the emotional system can take time, as the body has become accustomed to being a certain state of mind and body. Therapies such as yoga, reiki, meditation, bodywork, exercise, acupuncture and counseling are wonderful outlets for working through these emotional blockages and "reprogramming" the way in which your body functions on a deep, core level.

Optimization of dietary intake involves determining the foods that are right for your body and promoting optimal blood sugar levels. Sleep function (insomnia) must be addressed through dietary intake, lifestyle and/or supplementation. The overall baseline biochemistry of the body can be seen once emotions, diet and sleep are addressed. If an imbalance is still present, additional amino acid supplementation and therapeutic vitamin/nutrient therapy will be recommended to support the body's natural function to achieve biochemical balance. For example, the neurotransmitter, dopamine, responsible for mood and mental focus is made from a network of reactions which start from the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids are known to be depleted in those suffering from depression.

It is important to note, however, that some supplements and amino acids may be contraindicated and cause negative reactions when taking certain medications. It is strongly advised that you work with a healthcare professional in determining the supplement plan that is right for you (online or in person)

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References

Ross, J. The Mood Cure New York: Viking: 2002

Rister S. Healing Without Medication. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications, Inc; 2003: 219-227.

What causes depression. National Institute of Mental Health. 2009. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/what-causes-depression.shtml. Accessed on October 22, 2009.

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