For those of us who have experienced symptoms of depression in the past, or are experiencing it currently - below are simple & effective ways to help subside a dark or clouded mental state.
Our diet plays a key role in mental health. The ideal is to eat organic whole foods which have been locally grown for maximum freshness.
Avoid highly processed foods as they tend to contain large amounts of sugar and unhealthy fats which are both inflammatory, and are devoid of nutrients needed for our brains & overall wellbeing.
Try limiting your caffeine intake. Some forms of depression are associated with caffeine intake (greater than 4 shots of espresso per day).
Avoid or limit alcohol consumption as it is a nervous system depressant. In particular, beer should be avoided as it contains hops which have been linked to have a depressive effect on the body.
Avoid sugar. We wrote an entire article on sugar and it’s alternatives here. In addition to causing erratic spikes & dips in blood sugar which effects mood, sugar is one of the most inflammatory ingredients in our diet. Depression has been linked to inflammation in the body. A low Glycemic Index (GI) diet can also help stabilise blood sugar levels.
Eat plenty of prebiotic foods. These promote good gut bacteria, called probiotics, which in turn produce mood enhancing neurochemicals. Prebiotics are found in asparagus, jerusalem artichokes, leeks, onions, beans, chickpeas, lentils and supplementary fibres such as psyllium husk, pectin, guar gum and slippery elm.
Also include plenty of traditionally cultured and fermented foods, which will help nourish beneficial bacteria in your gut (probiotics). Good examples include fermented vegetables of all kinds, including sauerkraut and kimchi, kombucha (a fermented beverage).
Eat plenty of whole grains, legumes, fresh fruit and vegetables. These supply essential micronutrients and B vitamins for optimal nervous system function.
Oats are a herbal remedy used for depression but you can use them as a staple food for mood elevation. Eat them for breakfast in winter as warming porridge or as bircher muesli in the warmer months!
St John’s Wort is probably one of the better known herbal remedies. It is well researched for its use in depression and compares well with pharmaceutical antidepressants. Make sure you talk to your health care practitioner before taking St John’s Wort, as it can have adverse interactions with pharmaceutical drugs.
All B Vitamins are good for depression in various ways. Take a good quality multi B each day, as prescribed by your naturopath or health care practitioner.
Optimising your vitamin D level by getting appropriate sun exposure (or taking a vitamin D3 supplement with vitamin K2) is another key strategy not to be overlooked.
Essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA) are essential for healthy nervous system and brain function. Take a good quality supplement equivalent to 1 g of EPA daily.
L-tryptophan is an amino acid that can convert to serotonin in the body. B3, B6 and magnesium are also necessary for this conversion.
Exercise has a huge impact on mood. Endorphins that are released during vigorous exercise not only dull pain but improve mood and have a tranquillising effect. Although some won’t feel like exercising, if you make a contract with yourself to exercise 10 days in a row. You are almost guaranteed to see some improvement.
Make sure you get sun each day, especially in the winter months. Walking in the sunlight for 20 min each day is enough to activate the pineal gland which in turn stimulates endocrine glands to produce mood enhancing hormones.
Psychotherapy based on cognitive behavioural therapy can be beneficial in changing the way we consciously think about failure, defeat, loss and helplessness.
Stop (or heavily reduce) cigarette smoking and illicit drug use as these deplete serotonin levels, as well as having well-known adverse affects on the entire body system.
Avoid environmental toxins (heavy metals & solvents) as they have an affinity for nervous tissue and have been linked to mood disorders.
It might be worthwhile to get a blood test to check thyroid and iron levels as these can have an impact on mood and mental wellbeing.