Causes of Depression and Natural Treatment Options
Depression is a widespread mental health disorder that impacts hundreds of millions of people around the globe1. People suffering from depression have difficulty leading a normal day-to-day life and in extreme cases can have strong suicidal tendencies.
To combat depression, first, we need to understand its symptoms and mechanisms. Then, we can take a look at the available treatments and determine which would be the most suitable for the sufferer.
What is depression?
The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, describes depression as follows: “A mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems1.”
Let’s look into some alarming statistics provided by the World Health Organization (WHO)2:
- Depression is a common mental disorder. Worldwide, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from this mental disorder.
- Women are more often affected by depression when compared to men.
- It is a leading cause of disability worldwide. In the most extreme cases, depression may lead to suicide.
Now let’s look at the primary causes of depression:
There is no one individual cause of depression. Hormones, genetics, brain chemistry, faulty mood regulation patterns, stressful lifestyles, sad events, medication, and chronic medical problems are all major causes of depression. There are also other factors that can be responsible such as alcohol or drug abuse, physical or sexual abuse, low self-esteem, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety disorders can be responsible for depression1.
How to identify if someone is suffering from depression1:
You may notice the following symptoms if someone is suffering from depression:
- If a person feels sadness or emptiness throughout the day and these feelings last for more than 2 weeks
- Inability to control anger
- Restless or being constantly anxious
- Loss of interest in activities
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Thinking of past events that have gone wrong
- Disturbance in sleep, insomnia, or sleeping too much
- Tiredness or lack of energy
- Even a small task appears huge
- Reduced appetite or weight loss or increased craving for food
- Trouble with concentration, making decisions, and remembering things
- Recurring physical problems such as back pain and headache
- Frustration and irritability even in small matters
Natural ways of combating depression:
The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved various medications for treating depression. Many people try to avoid these medicines and look for alternative options to manage their symptoms. In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in alternative methods to manage depressive symptoms. Besides medication, making lifestyle changes can have a beneficial effect on the quality of life. There are several ways to treat depression naturally, and a few of them are discussed below.
Exercise regularly: Regular exercise makes a person fit and releases endorphins that stimulate happy feelings and act as natural antidepressants. Exercise also boosts energy levels, regulates the sleep cycle, and enhances confidence.3,4
In 2019 a study published in the JAMA Psychiatry assessed the relationship between physical activity and depression among adults. Authors conducted a two-sample mendelian randomized study using genetic instruments. The research outcome suggests that regular exercise can be a powerful and effective method to avoid depression5.
Another meta-analysis study published in the JAMA Psychiatry established the fact that resistance exercise training (RET) reduced the symptoms of depression among adults regardless of health status6.
Never skip a meal: The food choices we make create a major impact on our neurotransmitters, which control mood and energy levels. Fluctuations in blood sugar instigate mood swings.
A research study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry studied the relationship between dietary patterns and depression. The study was conducted on two population groups with 3,486 participants and continued for five years. One group was provided with a whole-food diet, loaded with vegetables, fruits, and fish. The second group consumed processed food that included sweetened desserts, fried foods, high-fat dairy products, refined grains, and processed meat. At the end of the study, researchers concluded that the group that was consuming processed food had an increased risk of developing depression compared with the group on the whole-food diet7.
Consumption of healthy foods and natural supplements can play a vital role in the prevention and management of depression. Below is a list of food and natural supplements that may help to manage and improve depressive symptoms.
Probiotic foods: Scientific studies revealed the existence of probiotic-induced brain changes in areas associated with depression8. Gut microorganism composition and activity are linked to the development and functioning of the central nervous system. Research studies also state that the gut microbiome composition of depressed patients differs from that of other human subjects9. Probiotics are advantageous as they may treat inflammatory disorders of depressed patients. There are many varieties of probiotic foods. Some popular options are kefir, yogurt, raw cheese, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and fermented vegetables.
Omega-3-rich food: Researchers at the Mayo Clinic suggest that people with low levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) have an increased risk of depression10.These chemicals are naturally found in fish oil and are abundantly found in natural omega-3 supplements. Foods with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids include sardines, canned tuna, freshwater trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, natto (fermented soybeans), and egg yolks. Brain lipids are composed of fatty acids, and 33% of the fatty acids belong to the omega-3 group. These fatty acids promote communication processes and reduce inflammation11.
Vitamin D3: Vitamin D3 acts like a hormone inside our bodies and regulates brain function. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of vitamin D3 supplementation on depression reported that it is effective in the management of depression. After ingestion, the biochemical composition of vitamin D3 was found to be similar to that of antidepressant medications12. Sun exposure for 10 to 20 minutes daily can also increase vitamin D levels.
B-group vitamins: Research shows that low levels of folate and B-12 are linked with depression symptoms, especially in patients treated with lithium and those consuming alcohol13. Folate helps in nutrient absorption, reducing fatigue and irritability. Taking vitamin B supplements helps to naturally release serotonin and reduce depression symptoms.
Zinc: Zinc is an essential micronutrient that helps in regulating immune, endocrine, and neural functions. A study published in Biological Psychiatry concluded that depression is associated with lower levels of zinc in peripheral blood14. Zinc supplements also increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the body15.
Magnesium: Dietary magnesium plays a vital role in mood disorders, in major metabolism, oxidation-reduction reactions, and ionic reactions16. Researchers found a significant relationship between very low magnesium intake and depression17. In a scientific article, it was found that 248 mg of magnesium chloride improved depressive symptoms in patients suffering from mild to moderate depression18.
St. John's Wort: It is a wild plant, native to Europe and Asia. The botanical name of St. John's Wort is Hypericum perforatum. Various studies find that St. John’s Wort acts as a proven antidepressant. A review article published in the Journal of Systematic Review in 2016 concluded the following: 1) St. John’s Wort is able to reduce the symptoms of mild and moderate depression; 2) It reduced the symptoms to the same extent as prescribed antidepressants; 3) St. John’s Wort has reduced side effects compared with prescribed antidepressants; and 4) This herb does not affect sex drive which is a common side effect of antidepressants19. Another randomized double-blind controlled study was conducted on 251 adult patients suffering from acute major depression. Patients who consumed 900-1800 mg of St. John's Wort a day for six weeks experienced a 56.6% decrease in their depression score compared to 44.8% in patients taking an antidepressant prescription drug20.
Build relationships and support: Lifestyle changes can also help in overcoming depression. Depressed people often suffer from low self-esteem and lack of purpose. Building relationships with peers and friends can decrease the symptoms of depression that are mostly caused by emotional issues.
Practicing Mindfulness/Meditation: In recent studies, Mindfulness Meditation was found to be an effective natural relief for depression21. Research also emphasized the fact that mindfulness practitioners are less anxious, less depressed, happier and more satisfied. These people have a reduced chance of getting depressed and are healthier than non-mindfulness practitioners21. A review of clinical trials focusing on patients suffering from severe depression found that Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) reduced the chances of relapsing by up to 60 weeks22.
If you are suffering from depression and want to learn more about using natural remedies to manage your symptoms, be sure to discuss this with a healthcare professional for any possible interactions with your current regimen. If these natural remedies give you any adverse reactions, discontinue them immediately and seek help from your professional healthcare provider.
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