Depression is a widespread mood disorder that ruins the lives of at least ten percent of the U.S. population or more than 20 million people! I suspect that this percentage is much higher, since only those that submit to lifelong pharmaceutical treatment are included in these sad statistics. Depression is, indeed, a torment. It sucks out energy, happiness, the desire to socialize, create, love and give. It is a slow, cruel killer that transforms living into a bland and incomprehensible desert. It is known that women suffer from depressive episodes twice as often as do men – another injustice imposed by the natural forces which shape our cyclic hormonal realities.
Women are more prone to:
- bipolar depression, when feelings of elation and euphoria suddenly give way to episodes of profound sadness and hopelessness;
- chronic depression with recurring episodes;
- seasonal mood disorder, when depression hits us during the cold, dark fall and winter months; and,
- simply clinical depression, when darkness seems all-consuming and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel unless we get help.
Additionally, many women may also suffer from:
- postpartum depression, which captures us after giving birth and sometimes stays with us for a long period of time thereafter;
- premenstrual dysphoric disorder, when the sadness of depression is a regular caller, occurring about a week prior to each monthly period; and,
- menopause-induced depression, that hits us during the mid-life hormonal transition.
When a woman is depressed, she may constantly feel:
- sad and withdrawn;
- anxious and nervous;
- isolated and lonely;
- overly critical towards herself and others;
- lost; or
- she may not feel anything in particular at all besides existing bodily in a gloomy, dark place, depleted of any light or hope…
Depressed women weep frequently and may gain weight because they tend to binge on junk food ‘treats’. It is a sad and negative circle. They begin to stay away from friends and the activities they used to enjoy. In cases of severe clinical depression, a woman might even end her precious life, because she is incapable of making her way out of the grinding distress. In these unfortunate circumstances, she feels overwhelmed by life, the reality that has become wholly unbearable.
Ironically, depression is one of the “markers of civilization” – one of the most typical mental disorders in our “advantaged” industrialized world. Statistics also show that people born after the Second World War suffer from depression much more often than those of previous generations.
Medical literature tells us that a typical depressive episode usually lasts about half a year, and tends to recur in a cyclic pattern during various stages of our lives. This is especially when we experience high levels of stress or go through significant “life changes,” such as:
- divorce or entering a new relationship;
- change of country, culture, home, job, or status;
- death of a friend or relative;
- “mid-life crisis”; or even,
- loss of a pet.
Despite numerous studies and theories that attempt to ascribe the causes of depression and explain why “civilized” populations frequently suffer from it, the true roots of the disease have not been pinpointed for sure. Some scientists suggest that the modern epidemic of depression is caused mainly by unnaturally stressful lifestyles and typical supermarket diets consisting of “plastic,” devitalized foods that do not nourish us properly. Overpopulation and high levels of chemical, informational, and technological pollution, as well as our heavy reliance on pharmaceutical “pills”, are also part of the picture.
My own research makes me think that nutritional factors play a much bigger role in the development of depression than is currently believed. When I browse through popular “women’s magazines” and a plethora of web sites purporting to give advice to women suffering from depression, I am often shocked by their appalling dietary recommendations. Depressed women are told to avoid butter and eggs, beef and cream, liver and cheese, and to embrace a “politically correct,” low-fat, semi-vegetarian dietary regimen. This emphasizes “whole grains, fresh fruit, vegetables, greens, nuts, and small amounts of canola oil,” which will supposedly “provide the brain with the essential vitamins and nutrients needed to regulate function.” Although I have nothing against properly prepared plant foods in moderate quantities, their nutrients are hard to absorb, particularly if a woman does not eat enough quality animal fats. In fact, the above nutritional advice may only make depressive symptoms worse.
After analyzing a number of scientific findings concerning causes that may predispose us to contracting depression, I arrived at the following list:
- Low-fat diets. This may be surprising, but, in fact, Nathan Pritikin, one of the “fathers” of the current “politically correct,” low-fat hypothesis – that says a “healthy diet” should be based on plant foods and devoid of animal fats – discovered firsthand that low-fat diets caused a variety of health problems including fatigue, mineral deficiencies, weight gain, AND depression. Nathan Pritikin was following a Spartan, low-fat dietary regimen when, in the prime of his life, he committed suicide after contracting cancer and severe clinical depression.
- Vitamin D deficiency. Naturally-occurring vitamin D not only protects the health and strength of our bones, it can also be very helpful in fighting depression which could be triggered by low-fat diets and a lack of sun exposure during cold and sunless winter months.
- Low cholesterol. Low cholesterol levels are not actually as healthy as the manufacturers of statin drugs and most MDs are trying to persuade us. In fact, cholesterol is an antioxidant and natural healing compound that protects arteries from damage, supports cell membranes and intestinal walls, and acts as a precursor to various hormones, bile salts, and vitamin D. Cholesterol is also needed for adequate production of the “feel-good” brain receptor, serotonin. People with low levels of cholesterol tend to succumb to depression, anxiety, violence, and suicide much more often than those with “normal” or “elevated” cholesterol readings.
- Lack of Vitamin B12. This is a very important vitamin that can ONLY be found in animal products and which plays a number of crucial roles in the body. Some of the most noticeable symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are depression, irritability, anxiety, and panic attacks. A vast body of evidence shows that vitamin B12 enhances production of the anti-depressive receptors serotonin and dopamine, and that both depression and migraine headaches quickly improve with a sufficient intake of vitamin B12.
- Hyperinsulinemia and hypoglycemia. Wide fluctuations of blood sugar, mainly caused by overconsumption of dietary carbohydrates, are at the roots of elevated productions of cortisone and adrenalin, the hormones of stress. Repeated over-stimulation of these hormones eventually leads to adrenal exhaustion and full-blown depression. A warning: chronic hypoglycemia is very typical for nervous, “Type A” women eating carbohydrate-loaded, supposedly “healthy” diets, and drinking a lot of caffeinated beverages.
- Underactive thyroid. Some typical indications of an underactive thyroid include weight gain, edema, mood swings, and depression. Specific foods can directly influence the health of the thyroid gland. Soy products (e.g. soy milk and veggie burgers), cruciferous vegetables (e.g. cabbage and broccoli), and a lack of dietary iodine are known to inhibit thyroid function. Middle-aged women are particularly susceptible to developing thyroid deficiencies.
- Lack of sunlight. Depressive episodes tend to be exacerbated during dark winter months.
- Celiac disease, or a widespread allergy to gluten-containing grains, such as wheat, rye, and oats. Celiac disease can manifest itself in a number of symptoms, including chronic fatigue and depression, as well as intestinal disorders and skin rashes.
- Lack of essential Omega-3 fatty acids. Already a decade ago, studies conducted by Dr. Joseph Hibbeln made it known that the Japanese, who eat substantial amounts of oily fish that are rich in Omega-3 fats, suffer lower rates of depression than Americans, who rarely eat fish. Supplementation with Omega-3 fatty acids has been proven to quickly reverse many cases of post-natal, bipolar, and seasonal types of depression.
In view of the causes of depression above, the following dietary and lifestyle changes appear to be the most effective ways to fight depression:
- Do not follow low-fat diets. Make sure that your daily menu includes plenty of natural butter, full-fat dairy products as well as extra-virgin coconut and olive oils. Always eat meats with the fat attached. If you are striving to lose weight, try cutting down on carbs instead of animal fats. Also, beware of processed vegetable oils and artificial trans-fats typically contained in margarines and many other commercial products, since they can aggravate the symptoms of depression.
- Supplement your diet with adequate amounts of essential Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, even more so during dark winter months. The best sources are cod liver oil, shrimps, oily fish, lard from pastured pigs, and egg yolks from free range hens. In the summer, get a healthy dose of daily sunlight, just like our ancestors did, to ensure that your body produces adequate vitamin D.
- Do not be scared to eat some cholesterol-rich foods. Cholesterol is a vital substance and our grandmothers ate plenty of it without suffering the rates of depression or cardiovascular diseases that we have now. Goose liver, traditional pâtés, egg yolks, and different organ meats are most valuable foods in helping your body overcome depression.
- Be sure that you ingest adequate amounts of Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 can only be obtained from raw or lightly cooked animal foods, with raw beef liver being the richest source. It is therefore not easy to get enough of it, especially if you typically eat the Standard American Diet (ironically, also known as SAD). Vitamins B6 and B12 are almost completely destroyed by prolonged cooking and pasteurization. If you do not have access to raw milk, or do not like eating sashimi or raw meat appetizers, be sure to take vitamin B12 supplements. Sublingual supplements are the most effective.
- Limit amounts of coffee, tea, and simple and complex carbohydrates (e.g. grains, starches, sugar, honey, and fruits) you eat, especially if prone to frequent “sugar drops”, weight gain, or adrenal exhaustion. A carbohydrate and coffee restriction is one of the most effective dietary measures against mood swings and depression.
- Check your thyroid gland, particularly if your depression is accompanied by muscle pains, severe fatigue, and edema. Eliminate all thyroid-depressing soy products from your menu, with the exception of small amounts of traditional, naturally-fermented soy condiments, such as tamari or miso. Season food with unrefined sea salt to get enough thyroid-supporting iodine. Do not eat proportionally big amounts of cruciferous vegetables.
- Get tested for celiac disease, especially if, in addition to depression, you suffer from intestinal disorders and skin rashes. If you test positive, eliminate all sources of gluten from your diet – for life.
- Walk in nature, express your emotions and meditate. Stored anger, sadness, grief, and other negative emotions need to be expressed and worked through. Do not suppress your emotions, cry if you feel like crying and do not be afraid of asking for support from friends or family when you need to. Connect with nature – go out for long walks in parks or forests, watch the flows of streams and rivers, observe the seasons and the wildlife. At the end of every day, try engaging in a relaxing yoga session with quiet meditation. Simple lifestyle changes can help to pacify, balance, and harmonize your mind and soul and successfully bolster your defences against depression.
As the last piece of advice – beware of antidepressants. Although these laboratory produced drugs can temporarily “manage” some symptoms of depression, they have a long list of unpleasant side effects including drowsiness, gastrointestinal problems, nausea, fatigue, and sexual dysfunction. Antidepressants do not cure depression, they just suppress its manifestations as long as you take them. Doctors often use a combination of medications to inhibit depressive symptoms: serotonin-enhancing drugs (Prozac, Zoloft), tricyclic antidepressants (Elavil), lithium carbonate, anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety pills, etc., most of which are extremely toxic. In some cases, antidepressants can even increase the desire, especially in children and women, to commit suicide.
As an alternative to synthetic antidepressants, a traditional herbal remedy that some studies have proven effective in reducing various symptoms of clinical depression.
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