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Depression is a huge problem in the United States. The numbers are quite amazing. Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder. Depression is not just a disorder for adults, however. As many as one in 33 children and one in eight adolescents have clinical depression.
Depression is characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. Unipolar depression, the most common mood disorder in the U.S., was first described by Hippocrates in the 5th century B.C. He believed that depression was caused by an imbalance in the four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Excess black bile caused depression according to Hippocrates. In fact, the Greek term for depression, melancholia, means black bile.
This view may seem far fetched, but the fact that depression is a physical process is correct. Even Freud wrote of the various presentations of depression which range from mild and cognitive, to severe and somatic.
There are several ’causes’ of depression. I put ’causes’ in quotes because no one really knows for sure what ’causes’ depression. There are many theories. In my opinion, an imbalance in the neurotransmitter system is a scientifically sound explanation as to how a person could develop a mood disorder. I also like to consider that if a person is not in good general health, depression is more likely to take hold. This is a view that is also supported by the research.
So if these are two ’causes’ of depression, how can we effectively treat it? Good question. See my answers below.
First and foremost a person that is depressed must make every effort to get healthy. This includes exercise and dietary changes. Junk in equals junk out. Period. If all one eats is McDonald’s value meals they are very unlikely to be healthy and much more likely to develop depression in my opinion. Did you ever see the movie SuperSize Me? A documentarian decides to eat nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days to see what happens. Not only did he fall apart physically but he developed depression! Now, this is just one case and is a bit anecdotal, but the result confirmed the hypothesis I made before I even saw the movie.
You must eat a healthy diet in order for your body to work properly and be healthy. For some reason modern medicine has separated the health of our body from the health of our minds. It is widely understood that to have a healthy body we need to eat nutritious foods. It is far less accepted that to have a healthy mind we need to have a healthy diet. Why is this the case? The food that we eat provides fuel to our bodies and to our brains. The same food nourishes our entire system, not simply our physical bodies.
Exercise is unbelievably critical. In fact, research has shown that the #1 cure for depression lasting less than 7 years is exercise. Exercise does many things for the body. It improves blood flow, is a great stress reliever and changes the chemical balance in the brain to name just a few. If you feel as if you suffer from depression and you do one thing for yourself this should be the one. It has long lasting benefits in terms of depression and helps get the rest of your body healthy as well.
Supplements to take
There are several supplements that have been shown to reduce depression. I would not suggest trying them all at once. And I would suggest you consult a physician that is trained in functional medicine before you start a program.
If your problem is low serotonin this may help you. 5-HTP is short for 5-hydroxytryptophan. 5-HTP is the direct precursor in the body for serotonin. Taking it may increase your serotonin levels and improve your mood.
This is an herbal product that is used here in the U.S. to help with depression. It acts by affecting the serotonin system. I have found that it helps some, but not all depressed patients. It’s a popular depression treatment in Europe.
Short for the chemical name S-adenosylmethionine, it is pronounced “sammy.” This has worked well in my practice for many people. It is available over the counter in the U.S., but it’s used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Diets higher in omega-3 fatty acids are known to protect people from depression. It also appears that consuming more omega-3s reduces the symptoms of depression. Consuming more in one’s diet is not likely to be enough. Most people will have to supplement their diet with the oil or capsules to gain the most benefit.
This is just a small sample of the things that one can do to naturally ease depression. People are most successful when combine exercise, diet and supplements together. It will give you the best chance of improving your mood and feeling happier and more alive.