[Clinical depression affects millions a year and can be quite debilitating. Severe forms of depression require immediate medical attention and should be taken seriously. Consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.]
Mild depression (or as Jane Austen would call it “melancholy”) is quite normal and is part in parcel with being a human being. It is okay to be down for a little while when a loved one dies (or your favorite show ends, Mad Men). But if mild depression persists, where it affects your sleep, eating, mood, work-habits and alike, it might be time to take some measures.
Problems with prescription drugs.
In America we are so wired to go to the “pop a pill” mentality which is so embraced by the allopathic (standard) view of medicine. In short, go to a doctor and get a pill. The statistics are daunting. The vast majority of antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs are prescribed by a primary care or OB/GYN instead of psychiatrists. Now, these doctors are great, but their specialty is not mental health. Moreover, a large majority of people who take these drugs are not monitored by a healthcare profession, like a psychiatrist or therapist. This is problematic, for if the patient begins experiencing horrible side-effects or thoughts of hurting oneself or others, no one specialized in the field is there to help.
The most common antidepressants are the SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), such as Prozac, Paxil, Effexor, and alike. They fundamentally work by maintaining the level of serotonin, the mood neurotransmitter, in the brain. The efficacy of these drugs has been put into question. Study came out in 2008 stating that SSRIs were no more effective in treating mild depression than a placebo. Nevertheless, the adverse effects are well-known: weight gain, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and suicidal and homicidal ideation. Unfortunately, not many people are aware of the aforementioned so they continue to struggle with depression and the ancillary side-effects of the medications.
Biohacking for Depression
When someone has severe depression one might feel there is no other option than to pop the pills. But for those with mild/moderate depression there are some naturopathic biohacks for depression you should try. Here are a few.
Numerous studies show the correlation between inadequate sleep and depression. Please read sleep article. This study makes sense since sleep time is when our hormones are re-calibrated. Moreover, insomnia exacerbates depression and anxiety by the sheer fact that if one is severely sleep-deprived one becomes more anxious that one will not ever return to normal sleep patterns ever again…thus reinforcing the anxiety. This is called sleep catastrophe. Read this article if you are dealing with crippling insomnia.
Avoid the Standard American Diet (SAD)
The typical American diet is high in inflammatory foods, such as refined sugar and industrial-grade vegetable oils. The body metabolizes most carbohydrates into simple sugar which then spike your insulin levels. We all know how we feel when we eat sugary foods: a high followed by a crash. Avoid this by eating a diet high in satiating fatty foods and ideally only get your carbohydrates from complex carbs (which lessen the spike/crash cycle) seen in fruits and vegetables. Also, eating foods high in tryptophan (known better for causing the somnolescent post-Turkey binge on Thanksgiving) may increase serotonin. Eat foods high in it (eggs, lentils, oats, beans, meat) or take a supplement.
Lessen your coffee drinking
Coffee has quite a few overall benefits (speeds metabolism, improves cognition) but when it comes to depression lay off of it. Coffee may make you jittery and it affects the uptake of happy neurotransmitter, serotonin, in the body.
Improve your microbiome
Numerous studies show the correlation between gut health and depression. Serotonin, the mood neurotransmitter of the body, is produced in the gut. Your gut is home to both harmful (pathogenic) and beneficial (probiotic) bacteria. Ideally you want the latter to be preponderant, for many benefits result from this adjustment. (Please read article). When the former is in preponderance the dysbiosis may result, like leaky gut syndrome, Crohn’s disease, Colitis, and IBS).
Two methods predominate as to how to improve your gut health. Eat more prebiotic foods. (Read prebiotic Article.) Fruits/vegetables, legumes, and resistant starch foods help the probiotic foods grow naturally. The other is increase your intake of fermented probiotic foods (e.g. Greek yogurt, kombucha, kefir) or supplement with a refrigerated probiotic pill. (Read probiotic Article.)
Numerous scientific studies show the connection between adequate sunlight and depression. Adequate sunlight increases the production of serotonin. This is one of the reasons why we feel so good lying at the pool. During the winter or on cloudy days, take a good quality high-dose Vitamin D supplement instead or consider purchasing a light therapy lamp.
We are naturally social creatures. Evolutionary-speaking we are meant to interact with small clans of people. When depressed we tend to do the opposite: isolate ourselves. Make an effort to meet with people to laugh, cook, play, and or talk about your struggles. Even engage in laughter therapy. In connection to this, reach out to a therapist, pastor, priest, or anyone to which you feel comfortable speaking.
Avoid social media
2016 featured many studies showing the link between excessive use of social media and depression. Anecdotal this makes sense. The more one spends on social media you see other people happy taking pictures with their family frolicking on the beach or laughing at a party. (Of course they never post their down moments.) You see these images and think “everyone is happier than I” which is not the case. Moreover, social media makes you hyper-vigilant and anxious. Lay off the phone and enjoy the simple pleasures of conversing while taking a stroll, listening to relaxing
music, or the sounds of nature.
Studies abound as to the efficacy of exercise in alleviating depression. In one 2005 study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five-days-a-week reduced symptoms of depression by nearly half after 12 weeks. Heavy lifting has been shown to be just as effective in mitigating mild depression as well. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain as well as releases dopamine and endorphin. Ideally, exercise outside to get the benefit of sunlight. A double-dip in depression biohacking!
Herbs, like St. John’s Wort, have been used since ancient times to treat “melancholy.” It has a chemical in it called Hypercin, which helps keep high levels of serotonin in the brain. Some people report having side-effects with St. John’s Wort so monitor your symptoms.
Honorable Mentions for Biohacks for Depression
- Increasing your intake of turmeric (spice commonly found in curries.)
- Heat Therapy- (Steamroom/sauna) & Hydrotherapy (cold showers/cryotherapy)- both mechanisms cause blood to be shunted to the core of the body increasing blood supply to the brain.
- Yoga, Meditation/Mindfulness exercises
Anyone with severe depression who is taking an antidepressant should not stop taking their drugs. Talk to your health care provider. I am just offering tips that might complement the usage of these drugs. These are all rather easy to implement. Give them a shot!
Reach out to me…let me achieve your goals!
A. Gregory Luna, double-certified health consultant.
(I would appreciate your insight below.)