Depression is the most common emotional disorder among Americans today. It is estimated that 25% of Americans suffer from mild to severe depression during their lifetime. At any given time, as much as 13% of the population or 20 million Americans suffer from serious depression. While many people may believe depression is simply a case of “the blues,” or “a phase,” medical research indicates otherwise. Depression is a serious medical illness that should be taken seriously. It is the leading cause of hospitalization for mental illness, and unfortunately has been viewed in the past as a sign of weakness, or a made-up condition. However, new technologies such as neurotransmitter testing are shedding new light on this very serious and measurable condition.
Different Forms of Depression
Major Depressive Disorder - also called major depression or Endogenous depression, characterized by a combination of symptoms that inhibit a person’s ability to carry out daily activities, such as working, eating, and sleeping. This type of depression seems to occur without any obvious event that triggers the depression, and instead seems to come from within the person. Activities that were once pleasurable may gradually or suddenly become un-enjoyable. An episode of major depression may occur only once in a person's lifetime, but more often, it is reoccurring.
Dysthymic Disorder - also called Dysthymia, characterized by long–term depression (two years or more) with less severe symptoms that may not disable a person but can prevent one from functioning normally or feeling well. This type of depression may stem from a variety of triggers such as ongoing stress, or may even be drug-induced (birth control pills or high blood pressure medications for example). People with dysthymia may also experience one or more episodes of major depression during their lifetimes.
Symptoms of Depression
• Carbohydrate & Sugar Cravings
• Muscle pain/ weakness
• Loss of appetite
• Life is ‘colorless’
• Weight loss/gain
• Lack of focus
• Unexplained sadness
• Poor memory
• Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
• Lack of motivation/ procrastination tendencies
Depression and Neurotransmitters
Most forms of depression can be traced to imbalances in Serotonin levels. Serotonin is one of the primary inhibitory (or calming) neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. Serotonin plays a role in so many areas of the body, and is one of the first neurotransmitters to become depleted. Serotonin is involved in balancing mood, appetite, sugar and carbohydrate cravings (due to low Serotonin levels), sleep cycle regulation, pain receptors (including headaches and muscle pain), and many more. In addition, many medications can trigger nutrient deficiencies (such as Magnesium and vitamin B6) that decrease Serotonin production. Because Serotonin is one of the hardest neurotransmitters for the body to make, it is important to take a good pharmaceutical grade multivitamin/mineral supplement to provide the necessary cofactors for healthy neurotransmitter production.
Diet & Lifestyle
Proper nutrient intake is vital for individuals dealing with depression. Neurotransmitters, such as Serotonin, are composed of tiny building blocks called amino acids. Amino acids are obtained from the diet, specifically protein. One of the main symptoms of depression has to with appetite - either craving too much or eating too little. The majority of our Serotonin receptors are located in the GI tract. So if we are low in Serotonin, the brain is getting messages from the gut that things are out of balance- this can manifest as cravings, or a loss of appetite. Poor nutrient intake is two-fold in regards to depression: 1) foods are not as nutrient dense as they once were due to variables such as mass production of processed foods, chemical additives and preservatives for convenience items (frozen dinners, etc.), and genetic modifications of foods. 2- Serotonin is the hardest neurotransmitter to make from the diet (amino acids obtained from food). So even if high quality, organic, pesticide-free foods were part of our daily intake, we may still have difficulty producing adequate Serotonin levels, which over time may lead to depression. Therefore, it is critical to focus on eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables along with quality proteins. Proteins such as turkey, chicken, red meats, legumes, and fish are all great sources of the amino acids needed to support healthy brain chemistry.
Stress is one of the leading factors that contribute to depression. The body’s reaction to a stressful stimulus is referred to as ‘the stress response.’ The stimulus may be something emotional such as worry over a sick relative, financial worries, etc. or it may be a physical stress due to trauma such as a fender bender. Regardless of the trigger point, the body responds biochemically in the same way to physical or emotional stress. This stress response affects a multitude of pathways in the body, including the pathways responsible for neurotransmitter production. Stress causes the body to eat up neurotransmitters (such as Serotonin) faster than we can make them from diet alone. Therefore, it is very important to incorporate some form of stress management into your daily life to keep the brain healthy. These activities include yoga, prayer, meditation, belly breathing techniques, reading, working out, or anything you enjoy doing that allows you to decompress.