Depression, food, & psychological assets

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Do you feel sad, hopeless, weak, tired, and less interested in getting out and about to do things you once found pleasurable? If the answer is yes, you might be depressed. It is an insidious problem. It can make you so weak, sad, despondent, and disinterested that you lose all motivation to do anything which, of course, compounds the problem.

Three hundred and forty million people—5% of the world’s population—suffer from clinical depression. It’s closer to 10% in developed countries. One in four women suffer from situational depression which, if it lasts longer than 4 months and grows disproportionate to the precipitating event, becomes clinical depression complete with its own diagnosis and probably a prescription for Zoloft or some other SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor). One in ten men and one in twenty teenagers suffer from depression.

The American Psychological Association defines depression as: A mood or mental state that can vary in severity from a fluctuation in normal mood to an extreme feeling of sadness, pessimism, and despondency.  It is a continuum; some days you can feel very depressed and other days it is mild.

Sad events such as the loss of a loved one, a job, status, or mobility due to sickness, age, or disability are some of the seeds of depression. The seed bed for these depression-triggering events is made more fertile when we do two things: ingest the wrong stuff and reduce meaningful activity. These two things are more critical than the triggering events themselves. Let’s look first at ingesting the wrong stuff.

The neurotransmitter, serotonin, is the chemical linked most often to depression. Sugar, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, diet pills, and antihistamines deplete the availability of serotonin causing inefficient transmission of messages throughout our nervous system resulting in depression.

The problem is our body either produces too little serotonin or what it does produce is re-absorbed too quickly and it is unable to fulfill its role as an efficient transmitter of messages from one nerve cell to the next. The re-absorption problem can sometimes be successfully treated with a prescription for an SSRI. If the problem is a shortage of serotonin, taking the supplement 5HTP, its natural precursor, may help (Schimelpfening, 2011). 

The link between a healthy diet and freedom from depression is well established. Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables along with essential vitamins (B3, B6, D), minerals (zinc and magnesium) and fatty acid (omega 3) will help send depression packing. As far back as Hippocrates in the 5th century we’ve known that until we develop nutrient-rich eating habits we will continue to experience mental and physical problems.  

The key is to eat for fuel and health and not for taste. Maintaining a life style free of sugar and refined and processed food greatly reduces the risk factors for poor mental and physical health. It is hard to go wrong if you get your groceries from the produce section and stay away from sugar and all the food that comes in a cardboard box.

The second factor causing a fertile seed bed for depression is the reduction of meaningful activity. It leads to psychological bankruptcy. Think of all the skills, activities, creative abilities, hobbies, sports, social interactions, special talents, special relationships, and group memberships you have ever had. Each of those is a psychological asset. They shape who you are; your sense of identity or self-concept. We can lose them due to inactivity, age, disability, accidents, or simple neglect. As these assets are allowed to decline we become a smaller, weaker, less robust version of ourselves. As we lose these psychological assets, just like depleting assets in the bank, we become psychologically bankrupt. We notice the decline, notice the difference, and experience it as depression.

To fight depression, don’t worry about the events that trigger it. They are part of normal life. Instead resolve to ingest only healthy stuff, rebuild your psychological assets: set goals, visit more, develop skills, get active, be creative, get involved, and live well between your ears.

Copyright © 2012 by Doug Spencer

Your comments are welcome. Thanks. Doug