Stress Series: A Natural Approach to Dealing with Depression

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depressionIn this installment of our series on stress, we are going to look at how stress affects depression, and how a natural approach to dealing with depression can be beneficial.

Depression is very serious, and in no way is the following information meant to be diagnostic, or encourage self-medicating. If you think you are dealing with depression of any kind, please consult with a professional to discuss your options.  

Stress is a factor in many illnesses. In fact, it is estimated that 75-90% of visits to the doctor are related to stress – either acutely or because of chronic problems associated with stress. It is also believed that nearly 75% of the diseases prevalent in Western society are related to the stress mechanisms of the body.

Chronic exposure to stress results in chronic engagement of the fight-or-flight mechanism (increased blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, blood shunted away from the digestive system, increase in stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine). Studies show that physiological and psychological consequences of acute/chronic stress can persist well past the cessation of a stressful event.

The body is designed to adapt to stressors to help maintain equilibrium and healthy functioning. The stress response influences many biological and biochemical processes that begin in the brain and spread through nearly all body systems including the adrenals, thyroid, neurotransmitter systems, digestive system, and cardiovascular system. But everyone has an individual “load” that they can manage, which is why stress can express itself in a variety of symptoms throughout the body. 

What are Symptoms of Depression in Adults? 

  • Feelings of sadness or unhappiness
  • Irritability or frustration over small matters
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Changes in appetite causing decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Indecisiveness, distractibility and decreased concentration
  • Fatigue, tiredness and loss of energy
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
  • Crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (winter blues from shorter days and grayer skies)

What are Symptoms of Depression in Children and Teens?

  • Sadness, irritability, hopelessness and worry
  • Anxiety, anger and avoidance of social interaction
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Behavior problems
  • Changes in schoolwork patterns

What are Common Causes of Depression?

  • Low serotonin levels/neurotransmitter imbalance
  • Food allergies/sensitivities
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Toxins/heavy metals
  • Pre-existing physical conditions
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Stress/low adrenal function
  • Prescription drugs
  • Poor lifestyle habits (smoking, drinking, high caffeine use)
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • Isolation/lack of support network

Postpartum Depression in Women and Men

Research has shown that women are not the only ones affected by postpartum depression (PPD). A study out of Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, VA, showed that at least 10% of men also suffer from PPD. The difference is that it is situational, rather than hormonal.

Evidence of hormone theories and pre- and post-natal depression is pretty inconsistent, and it’s not as strong as the evidence of psychosocial factors – things like changes in the relationship, financial stress, social support and social stress, which are reasonable things to expect to affect fathers. The research has found that men suffer from PPD most between 3 and 6 months, and it seems sleep deprivation may be one of the causes.

Healthy Habits and Coping Skills to Manage Depression

  • Regular exercise
  • Yoga and meditation practices
  • Healthy diet choices
  • Correct nutritional deficiencies via supplementation
  • Get restful sleep
  • Create “me” time
  • Declutter your living space and work space
  • Resolve or end unhealthy relationships
  • Seek the support of loved ones and/or health professionals
  • Consider specialized testing to assess stress levels, neurotransmitters, micronutrient status, genetic susceptibilities, thyroid health, and food sensitivities

Diet Tips to Manage Stress and Depression Symptoms

  • Promote healthy blood sugar balance by eating every 3-4 hours. Meals that contain protein and fat, as well as complex carbohydrates and soluble fiber will help maintain steady glucose levels, lower insulin production and prevent the need for cortisol production for glucose management.
  • Eliminate all potential food allergens, including dairy, wheat (gluten), soy, corn, preservatives, and food additives.
  • Eat antioxidant-rich foods (such as green leafy vegetables) and fruits (such as blueberries, pomegranates, and cherries).
  • Avoid refined foods, such as white breads, pastas, and sugar.
  • Eat high quality protein sources including lean meats, cold water fish, and beans. Eat healthy fats, such as olive oil, coconut oil, walnuts and avocadoes.
  • Eliminate unhealthy fats found in commercially baked goods such as cookies, crackers, cakes, French fries, onion rings, donuts, processed foods, and margarine.
  • Avoid coffee and other stimulants, alcohol, and tobacco.

Holistic Support for Depression

There are many approaches to dealing with depression. Consulting with a professional will help you figure what approach will be best for you.

Supplements can be very helpful. 5-HTP has been shown to be beneficial. Pathway L-5HTP provides mood support by naturally boosting serotonin and other neurotransmitter levels. This nutrient compares favorably to antidepressant medications, and has fewer side effects. It easily crosses the blood brain barrier and has been found to be supportive for depression, fibromyalgia, insomnia, binge eating associated with obesity, and chronic headaches.

At Village Green Apothecary, our nutritionists and doctors work with patients to create optimal health by using natural remedies, such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, and homeopathic treatments. They also reccomend tailored diet plans, exercise routines, lifestyle tips, and specialized testing to address the root cause(s) of depression symptoms and other health issues.

Schedule a consultation with one of Village Green’s naturopathic doctors or certified nutritionists for a personal assessment of your unique situation.

Photo from here, with thanks.

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January 2023