According to the World Health Organization, depression affects approximately 350 million people worldwide. You’ve probably heard traditional psychologists use the word chemical imbalance when speaking of depression; the chemicals they are referring to are neurotransmitters in the brain which are not functioning properly. A chemical imbalance may involve depletion or excess.
Among other things, neurotransmitters modulate our emotions, thoughts, behaviors, cognitive functions, and energy levels. People who suffer with depression typically have lower than normal levels of two crucial neurotransmitters called serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine are responsible for enabling us to feel pleasure, happiness, joy, relaxation, confidence, alert, and provide a comforting overall sense of well-being and much more. When they are not present in our brains in adequate numbers we feel empty, flat, lifeless and depressed. A deficiency in endorphins/enkephalins, our built-in natural pain relievers may be involved as well or we may have too much norepinephrine or acetylcholine.
Pharmaceutical drugs are designed to target these neurotransmitters, however the problem is that taking drugs does not fix this problem. They only do more harm in the long run, because they actually deplete the neurotransmitters even more or cause more impairment. Artificial stimulation of neurotransmitters prompts the brain to reduce production of or responsiveness to the respective neurotransmitter. In addition to that, they are accompanied by a variety of negative side effects that may include dry mouth, dizziness, headaches, thoughts of suicide, diarrhea, insomnia, loss of libido, sedation, constipation, addiction and much more
The goal in relieving depression is to restore balance to those neurotransmitters and that can be achieved most effectively with a variety of natural remedies that get to the root of the problem like the following:
Eat a diet that is rich in animal protein and fat and low in carbohydrates like that found in the Paleolithic diet. First and foremost, neurotransmitters are formed from the nutrients in our food. If you are deficient in any of these nutrients, then production will be impaired. Animal protein provides the body with amino acids, which are the building blocks for neurotransmitters, and other nutrients needed for production, and fat is needed for proper neurotransmission. Foods that are high in carbohydrates lead to more depletion.
No smoking, caffeine, sugar, chocolate, alcohol, marijuana or other psychotropic drugs, as all these substances deplete neurotransmitters even more and some may impair absorption of the nutrients needed to form neurotransmitters.
Reduce exposure to environmental toxins and identify any toxins that may be in your body, because they too deplete neurotransmitters and in some cases interfere in production or transmission. Pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, and even common every day chemicals in your cosmetics, personal care products, household cleaning products can all affect production and function of neurotransmitters and lead to depression and many other mental health disorders.
Identify and address microbes. Toxins from Candida, SIBO, parasites, mold and other fungi, can all disrupt normal production or function of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and GABA.
Keep your blood sugar stable. When blood sugar levels drop, so do neurotransmitters. It is protein and fat that will prevent dips in blood sugar that lead to depression, anxiety and cravings for sugar and carbs.
Support your adrenal glands. Adrenal fatigue can lead to lower than normal levels of dopamine, serotonin, GABA and endorphins, and an elevation in glutamate and norepinephrine. The adrenal glands downregulate the thyroid when they are not functioning properly, which can lead to hypothyroidism that can contribute to depression as well.
Remain physically active. Physical activity boosts serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and GABA levels. However, its important that you don’t exercise too much, as that can deplete neurotransmitters.
Practice mindfulness based meditation. More than one study has found mindfulness meditation to be as effective as anti-depressants. Not only that, mindfulness is also an exceptional tool for reducing stress, alleviating chronic pain and anxiety as well.
Identify hidden food sensitivities. Food sensitivities can impair neurotransmitter function and be a primary cause of depression and other mental health symptoms.
Spend time outdoors. Studies have found that a little time with Mother Nature can significantly improve depression, as well as enhance feelings of well-being, reduce stress and boost your immune system. This is a great way to get your exercise and engage in mindfulness all at the same time, and thus reap the benefits of each of these strategies simultaneously.
You can learn more about the natural remedies for depression that we have discussed on this page and much more in my book, What Your Psychologist Hasn’t Told You About Anxiety & Depression.
Other steps you can take to improve neurotransmitter function and alleviate depression naturally is to engage in deep breathing exercises, prayer, yoga, dance, art, writing, music, smiling frequently, massage, loving relationships, hugs, spending time with your dog, or any activity you find to feel nurturing.
It’s important to be aware that many herbal remedies for depression like saffron, St. John’s Wort and others actually affect the brain in the same manner as a pharmaceutical drug, so they will lead to more depletion and perpetuate the condition. Although, some herbs can be beneficial for other conditions, those that manipulate neurotransmitters should be avoided. The underlying problem will not be addressed. Furthermore, St John’s Wort can also increase norepinephrine, which will increase symptoms like anxiety and insomnia.
Depression is a serious condition and usually has more than one factor involved. It’s important to address it with a comprehensive plan that incorporates a variety of different natural remedies rather than just one. Before starting any treatment, natural or otherwise, consult a physician and be sure to disclose any and all pharmaceuticals, herbs or other approaches you may be utilizing.
World Health Organization – Depression Fact Sheet http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/
Mindfulness Proven as Effective at Treating Depression as Medication. http://www.naturalnews.com/040527_depression_mindfulness_anti-depressants.html#
New Study Finds Mindfulness Can be as Effective as Antidepressants. http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2015/apr/21/could-mindfulness-therapy-be-an-alternative-to-antidepressants?
Marselle M, Irvine K, Warber Sara. Examining Group Walks in Nature and Multiple Aspects of Well-Being: A Large-Scale Study. Ecopsychology. 2014.
Dr. Charles Gant and Dr. Greg Lewis. End Your Addiction Now. Square One Publishers. 2009.