Life Herbs Blog

Depression: What Is It & How To Deal With It!

Man holding picture of sad face in fornt of his own

The psychological causes of depression

In the past if you were suffering from depressed and went to your doctor, you would probably have been told that you feel this way because your brain isn’t working right and it isn’t producing the necessary chemicals. You would have been told that you need to take drugs, and that they will fix your broken brain.

However, many leading scientists now believe that the whole idea that depression is caused by a “chemically imbalanced” brain is wrong. They now believe that there are in fact nine different major causes of depression. Two are biological, and seven are environmental, rather than internal.

For example, clinically obese patients who were encouraged to shed the pounds until they reached their ideal weight then felt very vulnerable to the point in some cases they were suicidal. They would then leave the programme and pile the pounds back on again.

Another possible cause is sexual abuse or suffering neglect or emotional abuse as a child. Traumatic events in childhood did in fact increase the chances of suicide by 3,000 times. Someone who had experienced a traumatic childhood was 4,000 times more likely to become a drug user who injected.

Children have very little power to change their environment. They can’t move away, or force somebody to stop hurting them. They can admit that they are powerless or tell themselves that it is their fault. If they accept the latter they appear to gain some power. If it’s their fault, then there’s something they can do to change things. In this way, just like obesity protected those women from the men they feared would rape them, self blame for childhood traumas protects the person from seeing how vulnerable they were and are.

However, accepting that the person involved is in fact responsible for being hurt implies they deserve it. Self expectations of such a wounded person, once adult will therefore be low.

If the ‘hurt’ child was reassured by the doctor that they were not to blame it was found that the shame was released and there was a 35% reduction in the need for medical care following this. This rose to 50% for severely traumatised children.

Other causes of depression

  1. If a person’s work is not satisfying and they feel they have no control over their lives.
  2. Anyone who is lonely and feels people around them are not supportive.
  3. Anyone relying on retail therapy to give them happiness or being a ‘high flyer’ at work.
  4. Insecurity about the future.

There are real biological factors, like ones genes which can make you significantly more sensitive to the causes above but they are not the main drivers.

Depression is a response to what is happening to you and to deal with depression, you need to deal with these underlying causes. So, when people start behaving in apparently self-destructive ways ‘it’s time to stop asking them what is wrong with them’. Instead the question should be ‘what has happened to them’.

Depression in men and Testosterone

About 100 million men around the world are thought to have depressive disorders, and almost 17% of men in the UK are thought to have symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Research has found a clear improvement in depressive symptoms among men who were given testosterone compared with those who did not have the treatment. However, it was not clear whether testosterone was affecting mood itself or other factors were involved. For example men might perceive that with extra testosterone they will have more energy.

Nutritional deficiency in depression

An unhealthy diet affects not just physical health but mental health. The brain needs constant nourishment which cannot be met with junk food. What we eat and drink directly affects the structure of the brain that, in turn, influences the brain’s function. This includes both the synthesis and function of neurotransmitters as well as the presence or absence of inflammation.

Serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are the three neurotransmitters that concern mental health. The building blocks for these are amino acids derived from protein; a nutrient that most of us easily get in adequate amounts (except for homeless, elderly, and those with addiction, for example).

Improving your diet and using targeted supplements helps improve your mood, with a possibility of reducing or eliminating medication use. Vitamins and minerals are critical in the synthesis and function of the neurotransmitters. For a steady neurotransmitter production and function, we need optimal amounts of nutrients on a daily basis. A lack of such a diet results in and aggravates mood disorders like depression.

Important nutrients

1. Omega-3 Fats

Food sources of omega-3 fats are fatty fish, omega-3 fortified eggs, and supplements. The omega-3 is critical for brain cells. If your diet doesn’t have enough of it, other fats will take its place, such as trans-fat, which spells trouble. Trans-fat increases inflammation, which in turn increases the risk of depression. Omega-3 helps not only with neuron function but also reduces inflammation, which is why research supports the role of omega-3 fats in reducing the symptoms of depression (and other mood disorders).

2. Iodine

Iodine is critical for a healthy thyroid, the master of metabolism. Most of us don’t get enough of iodine. If you go for supplements, choose a good-quality one that provides at least an RDA of 150 mcg.

  • Good food sources include seaweed, cod, and iodised salt.
  • Moderate food sources include milk, yogurt, and eggs.

3. Zinc

This trace mineral is involved in over 250 separate biochemical pathways that support just about every bodily function. It is critical for neurotransmitter production and function.

• Good food sources include oysters, crab, beef, lamb, pork, dark meat, chicken, legumes, cashews, and a good-quality multivitamin with minerals.

Zinc is also needed for healthy digestion and a strong immune system, most of which is found in the digestive tract. A healthy digestive tract equals optimal mental health since 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine is produced in the small intestines.

4. Magnesium

This mineral is required for over 300 separate biochemical pathways, or reactions. It is also needed for healthy bones and teeth. It reduces anxiety and lowers blood pressure and is associated with a reduced risk of diabetes. In fact, researchers have found that Magnesium is more effective than anti-depressants for treating depression. Most of us only get about half of the recommended magnesium amount.

  • Good food sources include nuts and seeds, dark green vegetables, whole grains, bran, and dark chocolate.

Magnesium helps activate enzymes needed for serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine production. The supplements can help people meet their minimum daily requirement on a consistent basis, thus helping reduce depression by avoiding magnesium deficiency.

5. Vitamin D

Most people don’t get enough of this vitamin. The brain loves vitamin D. The few natural food sources available include oil/fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, and trout and eggs to a lesser extent.

Vitamin D deficiency has not only been linked to depression but anxiety, SAD, and dementia as well. Supplementation is the only viable option to raise vitamin D levels enough to lower the risk of depression.

Herbal medicine and depression

There are many herbs which can help a depressed person. My personal favourites are Californian poppy, St. John’s Wort, Lemon balm, Lavender, Tulsi, Rose, Scullcap, Ashwahanga and Rosemary.

Exercise

Even half an hour of brisk walking or similar exercise twice a week or ten minutes daily will significantly reduce depression.

Light therapy

Exposure to full spectrum light has been found to be more effective than Prozac with individuals suffering from depression. We need 10 minutes of full sunlight or 30 minutes of shade. Alternatively, if this isn’t possible use a full spectrum light bulb indoors.

During the winter months, sufferers of SAD typically feel depressed; they generally slow down, oversleep, overeat, and crave carbohydrates. In the summer, these same people feel elated, active, and energetic.

The herb St. John’s Wort has been shown to be very effective in reducing depression in patients with SAD and can be used to enhance the effects of the bright light therapy instead of standard antidepressant drugs.

The problem with antidepressant drugs

Antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs deplete the brain of Co Q10 and B vitamins. Coenzyme Q10 is a molecule found in every cell of your body and plays a key role in the production of energy. It’s also an antioxidant and protects your body and brain from free radical damage. High levels of CoQ10 has been found to have a significant antidepressant effect on rats because of its antioxidant effect.

Low levels of Co Q10 can cause ‘brain fog’, mental fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, memory lapses as well as depression and irritability. Other deficiency symptoms include increased blood pressure, muscle cramps, high blood sugar and shortness of breath.

B Vitamins

A number of B vitamins are also depleted by psychiatric medication, including B2, B6, B12 and folate:

Vitamin B2

  • Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, plays a key role in energy metabolism throughout your entire body.
  • As a result, a deficiency can affect the entire body, leading to low energy, weight gain, and skin and thyroid problems.
  • Anti-psychotics, antidepressants, anticoagulants and mood stabilisers can inhibit the absorption of vitamin B2, increasing your need for supplementation.
  • Healthy food sources of riboflavin include pastured eggs, leafy vegetables, beef liver, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and almonds.

Vitamin B6

  • Vitamin B6 is another key nutrient that boosts mood, deepens sleep, and supports your entire nervous system. Antidepressants and benzodiazepines have been shown to deplete B6. Symptoms of deficiency include weakness, mental confusion, depression, insomnia and severe PMS symptoms. Some of the best food sources of B6 include potatoes, bananas and chicken.

Vitamin B12

  • Lastly, vitamin B12 and folate are essential B vitamins that play a key role in maintaining the sheath around nerves, essential for efficient functioning of the nervous system.
  • If you are depressed, you likely have low blood levels of B12 and folate. This means they are more likely to suffer from depression.
  • Yet, instead of looking at folate and B12 levels in the blood, doctors often prescribe antidepressants, benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, anticonvulsants and mood stabilizers that have been shown to deplete folate and B12.
  • Good dietary sources of natural folate include leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries. B12 is found primarily in animal foods, and beef liver is a good source.

Micro-dosing using psilocybin mushrooms and other hallucinogenic drugs

Scan results from research done on psilocybin mushrooms can ‘reset’ depressed brains of people with untreatable depression.

LSD and an ingredient in ecstasy have both been shown to stimulate the growth of new branches and connections between brain cells. These brain changes also appear in cases of anxiety, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Researchers compared the effects to Ketamine, another illicit drug which represents one of the most important new treatments for depression in a generation, and found many psychedelics have equal or greater effects. Clinical trials have demonstrated that Ketamine nasal spray was shown to rapidly relieve major depression and suicidal thoughts in people who cannot be helped by other treatments.