Depression affects nearly 19 million American adults, but it is not a weakness, in fact, it is a very normal and common emotional experience that can be caused by a variety of triggers. Determining what triggers an individual’s depression requires the help of a mental health care provider or a medical professional.
The symptoms of depression are usually a combination of:
- Lowered mood
- Loss of enjoyment in the things that used to bring pleasure
- Eating too much or not enough
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate excessive guilt
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate
- Being easily overwhelmed
- Thoughts of death and suicide
There are many reasons why a person might be suffering from depression, including:
- Faulty mood regulation by the brain
- A genetic vulnerability
- Stressful life events
- Medical problems
- A lack of or overabundance of certain brain chemicals
- A hormonal imbalance
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Environmental factors
Recent brain imaging studies have revealed specific parts of the brain that regulate mood and memory, including the amygdala, the thalamus and the hippocampus. The brain relies on neurotransmitters to communicate to its various regions but when a person’s system is out of a whack, the message might not get through or gets misinterpreted. This can affect mood.
Scientists have identified many different neurotransmitters. A few that are believed to play a role in depression include:
- Acetylcholine, which enhances memory and is involved in learning and recall
- Serotonin, which helps regulate sleep, appetite and mood
- Norepinephrine, which constricts blood vessels and may trigger anxiety
- Dopamine, which affects motivation how we perceive reality
- Glutamate, a neurotransmitter that’s been linked to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid, an amino acid that is thought to help quell anxiety
An imbalance in neurotransmitters and hormones could be attributed to a number of causes, including, for women, pregnancy and menopause. Postpartum depression can also be a result of a hormonal imbalance.
People who have a family history of mood disorders are also at an increased risk of suffering from depression. And those who have suffered a traumatic experience or witnessed traumatic events are also susceptible to depression. Others might suffer from seasonal affective disorder, which appears to be triggered by limited exposure to sunlight.
Certain medical problems are linked to mood disorders, as well. The thyroid’s role in mood has been well documented. An excess of thyroid hormones, known as hyperthyroidism, can trigger mania, whereas with hypothyroidism, which is when your body produces too little thyroid hormone, can often lead to exhaustion and depression.
Cortisol, also known as the stress or “fight or flight” hormone, can also affect how our bodies react to and process information. In people who are suffering from depression, doctors find higher cortisol levels, which means their bodies are “on alert” even in non-stressful times.
Common symptoms of elevated cortisol levels include:
- Increased belly fat
- Sugar cravings
And common symptoms of low cortisol levels can include:
- Inability to handle stress
- Extreme fatigue
- Mood instability
The “sex hormones,” estrogen and testosterone, also interact with other hormones and neurotransmitters in our bodies. When estrogen and testosterone are out of balance, it can cause a cascading effect, sometimes leading to depression.
Depression can also be a side effect of certain drugs, such as steroids or blood pressure medication.
Are there treatments for depression?
A Mental health professional or a medical care provider might prescribe antidepressants such as an SSRI, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor for the treatment of minor or moderate depression as well as major depression and anxiety. Normally, once serotonin has served its purpose in our brain, it is reabsorbed into the body. SSRIs prevent the serotonin from being reabsorbed, leading to higher levels of serotonin in the synapses.
However, it’s not quite understood how SSRIs, by boosting serotonin levels in the body, actually work, and these antidepressants don’t work for everyone.
In addition to consulting with a therapist, those suffering from depression should also consider consulting with the bioidentical hormone doctors affiliated with BodyLogicMD. The doctors in the BodyLogicMD network will check for a hormonal imbalance and review your vitamin-intake diet and daily activity level. Your depression, low mood or depressive symptoms might be addressed by the use of dietary supplements and natural remedies that have been proven to raise mood and ameliorate the symptoms of depression.
What are the best natural supplements for depression?
Vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are necessary ingredients in any treatment plan include:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin B-12
- SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine)
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
- Amino acids
- GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid)
Omega-3 fatty acids can help to improve brain health. Fatty acids, like those found in fish oil, have been scientifically proven to possess various health benefits. The advantages of fatty acids include:
- Maintaining cardiovascular health
- Improving mental health
- Aiding in weight loss
- Improving cognitive health
- Facilitating healthy fetal development
Probiotics, which can be found in yogurt and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kefir, are live organisms that produce biologically active compounds, such as neurotransmitters, in your gut. Those compounds include gamma-aminobutyric acid and serotonin. Probiotic supplements are also a great way to enhance moods and increase energy levels.
Low levels of Vitamin B12 have been detected in some people suffering from depression. This might be because Vitamin B12 aids in the production of Sam-e. Abnormal levels of SAM-e in the body have been reported in people suffering from liver diseases, depression and osteoarthritis. Taking vitamin B-complex can improve your mood and can also improve your metabolism and energy levels.
Turmeric, the seasoning used in curry dishes, is thought to activate the production of antioxidants, which then protect mitochondria, the tiny organelles in our cells that generate chemical energy. It also reduces inflammation, which is a marker for depression.
Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients for the proper functioning of the body and mind because it helps your body sustain normal levels of calcium and phosphorus. It also helps keep your muscles, nerves and immune system healthy. A Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the United States.
Recent studies suggest that a deficiency in Vitamin C can cause neurological damage, which may be linked to depression.
Without the right balance of amino acids, you may feel unfocused, depressed, sluggish or even foggy because amino acids are the building blocks of protein that help your body function.
Magnesium, which is an essential nutrient that the body needs to function and stay healthy, helps regulate blood sugar and muscle and nerve function in addition to helping the body make protein, bone and DNA.
Commonly known as GABA, Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid is a chemical that is naturally produced in the brain. It can help reduce anxiety and premenstrual symptoms as well as promote overall relaxation and improve mood, when taken in supplement form. Suboptimal brain function may be a cause of a GABA deficiency.
A calcium deficiency has been linked to mood disorders, including depression. Those who don’t get enough calcium often suffer symptoms such as extreme fatigue, lethargy, an overall feeling of sluggishness and a lack of energy.
Melatonin promotes calmness and relaxation and helps you get restful sleep.
There are also a number of other foods and natural supplements and that can alleviate stress and anxiety, increase energy and support a good mood.
They include supplements containing chrysin, such as passiflora, chamomile and bee propolis, which helps relieve anxiety.
Rhodiola rosea offers temporary relief for symptoms such as fatigue, exhaustion and mild anxiety. Research links rhodiola rosea to stabilizing the stress hormones noradrenaline and cortisol and tweaks the metabolism to boost energy levels.
St John’s wort is a well-established treatment for mild anxiety and low mood. It contains hypericin and hyperforin, which have been shown to increase serotonin levels and noradrenaline in the brain.
Avena sativa, better known as the oat plant, oat straw or oat extract, can be made into a tincture, which contains gramine. Gramine slows the reuptake of noradrenaline, an effect that is believed to enhance brain chemistry and facilitate communication between brain nerve cells, thereby helping to regulate mood.
5-hydroxytryptophan, more commonly known as 5-HTP, is an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter, and melatonin. 5-HTP itself is derived from the amino acid L-tryptophan, a supplement that is readily available.
Valium is a durative of the Valerian root herb. Valerian root supplements help relieve stress and insomnia.
Ginkgo biloba, a tree native to China, can help decrease anxiety and stabilize moods.
Theanine, which is found in green and black tea, help us deal with anxiety and rage.
Essential oils can be used in the practice of aromatherapy to treat your stress. Essential oils and plant extracts can be used massages, baths and diffusers and can relieve stress and the symptoms that come with it.
Lavender is one of the most effective essential oils and has been shown to reduce stress and depression and can also help you sleep.
Bergamot, another essential oil, can reduce stress levels, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Nootropics, supplements that can help to improve enhance cognition and prevent age-related memory loss, work symbiotically with brain chemicals.
Lemon balm contains mood regulators such as rosmarinic acid and 3,4-dihydroxyphenyllactic.
Lion’s mane mushroom has been used for hundreds of years to improve the function of the brain and to help someone who might be considered absent minded to focus on a task. Lion’s mane mushroom stimulates nerve growth factor, a neuropeptide, that can improve the way your brain processes and transmits information.
Creatine can be found in almost every weight lifter’s cabinet because it has been used to increase strength and muscle mass. But it’s also been shown to help your brain operate and to help reduce brain fatigue.
Bacopa monneri has played a role in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years. It can stimulate the growth of nervous system receptors and also can help the body to adapt to stress.
Citicoline, another substance that occurs naturally in the brain, is effective in improving how we learn and how the brain functions. It has is also used to help slow age-related memory loss.
Ginseng is a popular supplement that many people use to ameliorate stress and fatigue and help them relax.
What does all this mean?
With the help of a mental health professional and the doctors at BodyLogicMD, you can find relief from depressive symptoms and learn to live a happy, creative life filled with physical activity and joy. But don’t do it alone. A vitamin or supplement mentioned above may have a place in a formal treatment plan, with or without support from antidepressants, but not all of them might be right for you. This is why it’s imperative you talk with a professional to design a treatment plan that is right for you, unique to your unique circumstances.