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Depression takes on many disguises and can be the result of many underlying causes, but the good news is that there are more diagnostic tools, research and better treatments available today than ever before.
The conventional theory of depression is that it is primarily caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. Though this chemical imbalance can be a possible cause, it is not the only one.
It is time to re-frame our approach to the typical conventional approach and recognise depression as a symptom, which requires us to look further upstream to investigate what’s possibly causing it physiologically.
We are not born depressed so the symptom could be viewed as a neurological dysfunction that could be caused by a magnitude of issues including; Inflammation, oxidative stress, toxicity, methylation issues, trauma, poor gut health, HPA Maladaptation, structural imbalances, hormones and malnutrition. We need a deep respect for the law of bio-individuality and should address each patient as unique. Medicating the symptom of depression without investigating the underlying course can potentially be a harmful and an unsuccessful approach.
Depression could be triggered by Psychological trauma such as bereavement, divorce, burnout etc. which could require powerful interventions using therapeutic protocols or techniques focused around stress management, life coaching, meditation, NLP, counselling etc. It can also be triggered by Physiological stress such as menopause, illness, pregnancy or metabolic stresses such as gut malfunctions or gastrointestinal issues.
Over the past decade, Amity Wellness has helped thousands of clients to optimise their gut health and improve their detox capacity using effective detox protocols, which I wholeheartedly believe has a profoundly positive effect on both Psychological and physiological health and fortunately, now, there is an increasing body of evidence that supports this theory that depression is heavily influenced by gut health.
There is a concrete bidirectional connection both chemically and structurally that connects the brain and the gut. The enteric nervous system consists of some 100 million neurons that are embedded in the walls of the gut, which is also known as our second brain. The 100 trillion bacteria and other microbes located in the gut are collectively known as our microbiome. The gut-brain axis highlights the important association between microbial imbalances within the gut, gastrointestinal inflammation, intestinal permeability, dysbiosis and brain disorders.
Most people are aware that anxiety or nervousness can impact our guts – most of us have had butterflies when we fall in love, nausea when we receive bad news or even diarrhea or abdominal cramps with performance anxiety but we need to acknowledge that this relationship is bidirectional, which means that the gut can also communicate its state or condition directly to the nervous system which effects our brain.
The vagus nerve that connects the brain and gut is a primary conduit of information and the inflammatory markers are the vehicles that travel along this highway. These inflammatory cytokines can travel throughout the body causing oxidative stress to the tissues and in the brain, they can shunt the use of tryptophan toward production of anxiety-provoking chemicals like quinolinate, instead of toward melatonin and serotonin. Once inflammation is active, it is highly self-perpetuating and there is an increased body of evidence to suggest that inflammation maybe the underlying cause of depression.
If you were delivered by C-section or have taken substantial amounts of antibiotics as an adolescent without appropriately re-inoculating the gut with ‘friendly flora’ then Dysbiosis could certainly be a contributing factor to your depression. New studies show that bacteria, including commensal, pathogenic and probiotic can activateneural pathways and central nervous system (CNS) signalling systems.
The gut bacteria is so important because there are more bacteria located in the gut than there are Eukaryotic cells in the entire body. Dysfucntions in GABA signalling has been recognised for its link to anxiety and depression but interestingly, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria are actually capable of metabolizing Glutamate to produce GABA culture that is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the Central nervous system.
To treat depression, we need a holistic approach that addresses Gastrointestinal function, detoxification, digestion, oxidative stress, lifestyle choices, nutritional strategies, stress management, inflammation, structural imbalances, hormones and immunity. Basically, the aim is to eliminate things that cause imbalances in the body or mind and provide your body with the things it needs to heal.
The mediators that happen regularly are a good starting place for assessment. This includes; lack of sleep, late nights, food sensitivities, allergies, travelling, excess sugar, alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, over exercising, too much sitting etc.
Heal your Gut and Boost your mood
- Probiotics and Fermented Foods – Brain health is dependent upon a healthy microbiome. Incorporating more fermented foods gradually into the diet such as; Kim chi, Sauerkraut, Kefir, Miso, Kombucha etc. can be beneficial in additional to using a soil based multi-strain probiotic to re-populate the gut and build some diversity.
- Eat whole, nutrient dense real food at every possible opportunity. The amount of stress that you demand from the body has to be met by the amount of nutrition that you put into the body. Feed your brain and body with a nutrient-dense, whole, fresh diet that includes plenty of protein and healthy fats.
- Increasing Protein consumption – Amino acids are the precursors of neurotransmitters (epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA and much more). Eat more protein, especially Bone broths, eggs yolks and organic fatty meats that are rich in Glycine.
- Increase Omega 3 consumption – “The human brain is 60% fat, and omega-3 fatty acids are the fatty acid of choice for the structure of certain parts of brain cell membranes and brain intercellular nerve connections,” Douglas London, MD, Research Associate at Harvard Medical School.
- Seafood is the richest source of long-chain omega-3. Oily fish such as Atlantic Salmon Sardines, Anchovies, Mackerel, Herring,Trout and Swordfish provide greater concentrations of omega-3. Aim to eat one pound of cold-water fish per week. Vegetarian sources include; Flaxseed, hemp and walnut oils are all rich in ALA, the ‘parent’ omega-3 molecule.
- Choose a LOW FODMAPS diet – Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharide’s and Polyols (FODMAPS) are a type of carbohydrate that is not well absorbed and can easily contribute to bacterial overgrowth in the gastrointestinal tract. The fermentation of thee undigested sugars can causes inflammation, IBS and dysbiosis
- Do an elimination diet – Food sensitivities and intolerances can cause chronic inflammation and initiate mood disorders, brain fog, depression, attention problems, memory deficits and a whole cascade of symptoms. To check your body’s response to suspect foods, eliminate them for thirty days and re-introduce individually for two consecutive days while looking for any adverse reactions. If the food is a problem, avoid it for a further 6 months and focus ona gut healing protocol. Start with gluten, dairy and sugar as these are the most inflammatory foods.
- Kavinace supplementation –Kavinace by Neoroscience contains a GABA derivative that can cross the blood-brain barrier and work as a GABA agonist to calm anxiety. Many people with depression and anxiety have lower levels of this major inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA is like the off switch for restlessness, overthinking, worry, nervousness and anxiety. Recommended dosage is 2 capsules twice per day with meals.(Always check for contraindication specific to you before proceeding with any supplementation protocol)
- Increase Turmeric consumption – Curcumin, found in Turmeric is known to decrease inflammation, reduce oxidative stress and improve memory. Try to increase consumption of Turmeric by adding it to meals and smoothies or try supplementing using ProHealth Optimized Curcumin as it was designed to survive the HCL in the stomach and increase absorption rate. Suggested dosage is 400-600 milligrams per day.
- Check hormone levels – Out-of-balance hormones like cortisol and insulin can detrimentally impact depression. I suggest reading the hormone Cure by Sara Gottfried and completing hormone testing through a functional medicine practitioner.
- Consider 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) if you are not currently taking anti-depressants – This amino acid is the precursor to serotonin production.Supplementing with 5-HTP has been known to not only alleviate depression but it boosts melatonin levels, which can promote a restful nights sleep. Recommended dosage is 50 to 200 milligrams per day.
- Move more and sit less – We are designed to move, exercise improves circulation, keeps our heart healthy, increases neurotransmitters that influence mood and releases feel good chemicals called endorphins that alleviate depression.
- Make sleep a priority – There is nothing more restorative than a restful nights sleep. Make sure your bedroom is a dark sanctuary for rest and avoid the use of electronic media for at least one hour before you go to bed. Sleep deprivation is associated with anxiety, fatigue, low mood, poor memory, reduced learning capacity and poor performance.