October is National Depression Education & Awareness Month–a nonprofit campaign to educate patients, consumers, and professionals about depression disorders. If you or someone you love frequently feels down, it’s important to determine where a case of the blues leaves off and clinical depression begins.
Major depression is a serious medical illness affecting 15 million American adults. Unlike occasional feelings of sadness, loss or despair, serious depression is a persistent foe that can significantly interfere with your thoughts, behavior, mood–even your physical health. Would it surprise you to learn that among all medical illnesses, major depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States?
In most cases, depression is associated with imbalances in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. It can also show up as a side effect of prescription drugs, including beta blockers, steroids and tranquilizers. While anyone facing major depression should seek professional help, there are natural ways to reduce your risk, as well as minimizing the impact once depression gains a foot hold. For example:
Power up the protein
Multiple studies have found that low levels of the amino acid tryptophan–which is found in high protein foods like eggs, turkey, soy/dairy products, and nuts–are associated with depression.1,2 An energizing morning shake with 20-40 grams of high–quality whey protein is an ideal "anti–blues" start to your day.
Protect with key nutrients
Taking your daily multi–vitamin/mineral formula on a consistent, daily basis offers a powerful defense against depression, according to a growing body of research. While a wide range of nutrients can help, magnesium, B–complex vitamins, antioxidants, and folic acid are especially important.3,4
Fortify with Fish Oil
Omega-3s in fish oil combat depression by influencing serotonin activity in the brain. Low plasma DHA levels seem to equate to low concentrations of serotonin, which in turn is strongly associated with depression and suicide.5 The majority of studies on mood disorders support a protective effect of omega–3 intake–particularly EPA and DHA.6,7
Delete Junk Food
It may not surprise you to learn that along with promoting a host of other health problems, a diet comprised of fast/junk foods like hamburgers, sausages, pizza, and commercial baked goods such as processed pastries, muffins, and doughnuts are linked to a higher risk of depression.8
Factor in fitness
Exercise may be the single most effective mood elevator. Even modest levels can help alleviate symptoms of depression by boosting the production of endorphins, creating a natural sense of well–being. Many researchers believe that the American tendency toward a sedentary lifestyle may be one of the major reasons for the increasing levels of depression in our culture today.
1 Proc Nutr Soc. 2001 Feb;60(1):135-43
2 Br J Psychiatry. 2001 May;178:399-405
3 Biological Psychiatry, 20(2): 163-71
4 The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 60(1): 135-43
5 Lancet. 1998 Jul 4;352(9121):71-2
6 Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1999;56:407-412
7 J Clin Psychiatry. 2007 Feb;68(2):
8 Public Health Nutr. 2011 Aug 11:1-9. [Epub ahead of print]