Sadness is not depression. We grieve when something wonderful ends. It is normal to miss the love and companionship of a friend or pet. But our life force may eventually overcome grief. That is healthy. However, depression is chronic, not easily overcome and causes physical as well as emotional illness. Depression is often a combination of sadness, anger, fear and anxiety that are held in place with imbalance stemming from medicines, poor lifestyle choices and/or diet.
Some people are depressed without naming it. Their poverty, the pain of prejudice, illness or abuse–are so pressing that they are struggling to survive. As terrible as that struggle is, their motivation to change can be healing or it can push a person to destructive extremes. An adrenal rush for survival, over the long term, is exhausting and often leads to addictions that keep depression in place. To break the cycle, we need to create health where there is none.
This year of COVID19 has upset most households. Kids and adults at home, sharing computer time and space, and suffering from anxiety, boredom and less than optimal nutrition, need to regain a sense of physical and emotional security. For curbing symptoms and lung damage see: “Good News of China.”
How do we create a feeling of normalcy in the body?
We are hard wired for routine. The heart, nerves and digestive organs prefer regular meals and sleep habits.
- Turn on bright lights in morning and dim lights after dusk
- Eat and sleep at regular times and be consistent
- Avoid dietary extremes such as irritating foods, alcohol, smoking
- Eat small meals separated by 4 hours throughout the day
- Communicate with friends or care for a pet or plants
- Exercise daily. It improves breathing and circulation.
Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural pain killer chemicals, and helps to balance blood sugar. Exercise, which can be stretching, qigong, yoga, or walking, improves digestion, energy, heart health and mood. That enhances longevity.
Alcoholism and depression are significant in countries where weeks of darkness are normal. We benefit from the change of light and darkness, the flow of seasons, our movement of energy and rest: Our natural rhythms mirror Earth’s cycles.
A Look and Touch
There is no substitute for kindness. A gentle look, a kind word, a smile are healing from someone we trust. A friendly wink changes the flavor of a day. People who live alone may need to use massage, a warming bath scented with essential oils and music to ease tensions. Reaching out to friends and prayers for the health and happiness of all beings may also bring peace.
Academy of Healing Nutrition’s Longevity Diet naturally combines foods that fight depression: They increase Happiness Hormones.
What are Happiness Hormones and How Do They Work?
The hormone dopamine is increased by motivation and reward. We feel it when excited by a challenge and are happy after the reward. If we have low dopamine, which experts say can occur with depression, we lose interest in things and people around us. Practicing a hobby can boost dopamine. Becoming a perfect player is not the point. It is the planning and carrying through a pleasurable activity that strengthens this mood hormone.
During a work/study program in a Shanghai hospital, I enjoyed learning acupuncture from a doctor who had treated his patients for over 40 years. He was a very good-natured gentleman who returned home for lunch with his wife every day. He said that he kept his Qi strong and his mood positive everyday by choosing an activity that he could complete that day and not leave any part of it for the following day. The simple accomplishment gave him satisfaction. Reward, even expectation of reward, or imagined reward makes us feel good.
How to boost Dopamine:
Stimulants including caffeine in coffee, tea and chocolate, sugar and some street drugs can boost this brain chemical. However there are healthy ways to boost dopamine.
Foods, drinks, and spices known to increase dopamine directly:
- Animal proteins—meats, fish, eggs
- bee pollen, a great source of amino acids
- almonds soaked overnight
- fava beans
- green leafy vegetables
- green tea
- lima beans
- olive oil
- sesame and pumpkin seeds
- soy products
- wheat germ
- foods high in natural probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, and raw sauerkraut
Bean Salad Recipe
Cooked lima beans, roasted peanuts, chopped bitter greens, a yogurt herbal dressing, boiled egg. If you use dried beans soak them overnight to remove irritating acids that hamper digestion. See “No Problem Beans.”
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood, but it also helps regulate digestion, sleep and improves bone health. When it comes to how we feel every day, serotonin is important for reducing depression and anxiety.
How to boost Serotonin:
Neuroscientists say that confidence triggers serotonin. Confidence is difficult if we are trapped in a cycle of low self-esteem, loss or if others undermine our sense of autonomy. Don’t ignore our very human need for respect and status. Children and sick or vulnerable people are especially dependent. If we focus on past traumas and losses, we depress serotonin. It also harms our self-respect.
Many people who seek love and approval from others never find it because looking outside themselves is unfulfilling. We all need love. That need can be turned into a life of helping others. Become a loving person instead of searching for love. It can be translated into daily activities. The service professions—nursing, giving advice or directions, working in a store or a clerical profession, practicing an art or science—we are successful if we can help others. When you write an email or a book, imagine the person reading it. When playing an instrument or practicing a sport, imagine a friend who is watching.
Foods to Avoid
Foods that cause belly fat and indigestion encourage depression. Avoid processed sweet, fat, gooey foods, ice cream and baked items that weaken digestion, especially “spleen” vitality. A spare tire and muddled thinking from blood sugar spikes are disorienting for body and mind. Whole grains burn calories gradually and therefore avoid sugar spikes and energy drops. Sugars, refined wheat products and candy maintain poor digestion bloating and inflammation. Caffeine and harsh stimulants make us nervous. Organic coffee has helpful antioxidants when used in moderation. We can’t directly get serotonin from food, but tryptophan, an amino acid, is converted to serotonin in the brain.
Serotonin Boosting Foods:
- Eggs. Protein in eggs can significantly boost tryptophan
- Cheese, Milk. Goat and sheep milk and ghee are suitable for cow dairy intolerance
- Tofu and tempeh
- Nuts and seeds.
When possible, avoid mixing fish with dairy or eggs in the same meal since the combination includes fat and “slimy” foods which slow digestion, increase phlegmy congestion, increase belly fat and hamper breathing. That may increase depression.
Quick Salmon Recipe
Salmon steak, red onion, red bell pepper, pineapple juice.
Salmon, a source of health omega 3 oil and the vegetable ingredients help to reduce harmful cholesterol. Notice: no fat is added. Pineapple is delicious and a healthy way to cook fish in stead of a fat. Slice red onion and red bell pepper into a pot. Place the fish on top and add a little pineapple juice. Bring it to a simmer and turn it off. Cover the pot to allow the fish to steam for 5 minutes. It will be tender, moist and tasty. Garnish with lemon juice and parsley.
Oxytocin has been called the “love” hormone and is associated with how people bond and trust each other. Kissing, hugging and having sex can trigger the release of oxytocin in the brain. Maybe even loving words can have that effect.
How to boost Oxytocin:
The release of oxytocin can be stimulated by hormones such as estrogen. For men, oxytocin plays a role in moving sperm. It also appears to affect the production of testosterone in the testes.
Maca and sexual hormone balance
Maca is a yam that naturally enhances (male and/or female) sexual hormones as they are needed in the body. It acts as a hormone regulator. It is also a food and nutritional supplement. Finely powdered maca is creamy and mild tasting and can be added to teas.
Foods to Add
Oxytocin is released by foods containing Vitamin D, Vitamin C, magnesium and healthy dietary fats:
- Japanese eel a high source of vitamin D
- Fatty fish
- Avocados and many more!
Vitamin D the “Happy Vitamin”
Low vitamin D levels are seen in people who have depression. Sunshine is Nature’s greatest source of vitamin D which increases happiness! But light even on cloudy days is a source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a pro-hormone that activates other hormones–oxytocin, serotonin and vasopressin that affect social behavior. Vitamin D is needed to produce enough of these hormones in our body. There are many ways to increase our dietary vitamin D by increasing intake of fatty fish, cod liver oil stored in the refrigerator, mushrooms, eggs or fortified foods. For example, sit in a sunny spot on a porch, by a window or outside in sunshine while enjoying a meal of fish, or tomato, herb and mushroom pasta and a pleasant digestive bitter. It’s a European tradition.
Depression and the Gut
Depression is frequently the result of processes that involve the gut and its accessory organs (particularly the liver). Gut function declines with age. A significant percentage of people over 50 have abnormally low levels of gastric acidity. Our digestion is linked to food allergies and to depression and anxiety. Lack of sufficient saliva, inadequate bile production, and less acidic gastric pH can lead to abnormal bowel flora and poor nutrient absorption.
Medicines, Digestion and Depression
Some illnesses and medicines, notably for diabetes, reduce sexual capacity which leads to depression. Anti-depressant drugs are also known to increase obesity which leads to depression. Many people who use various allopathic medications that adversely affect salivation and digestion (e.g., anti-cholinergics; acid-blocker medicines) suffer emotional imbalance as well as indigestion.
Hypo-chlorhydria is a deficiency of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Symptoms may include:
- upset stomach.
- nausea when taking vitamins and supplements.
- desire to eat when not hungry.
Stomach secretions are made up of hydrochloric acid, several enzymes, and a mucus coating that protects the lining of your stomach. Hydrochloric acid helps your body to break down, digest, and absorb nutrients such as protein. To help increase stomach acid levels:
- Chew your food. A simple but overlooked tip to improve stomach acid levels and digestion is to thoroughly chew food.
- Limit processed foods.
- Eat fermented vegetables.
- Drink apple cider vinegar, dilute up to 1 tsp. in a glass of water as needed
- Eat ginger. Cut a small piece of fresh ginger, peel and chew it in order to swallow the spicy juice.
Vitamins and Depression
Numerous nutrient deficiencies, even if marginal, have been linked to depression. Low vitamin B12 and folic acid levels contribute to depression, a particular concern for Vegans and the elderly where age-related hypo-chlorhydria can decrease vitamin B12 absorption.
Take water soluble vitamins with fresh ginger or ginger tea for better absorption.
The water-soluble vitamins, i.e., which dissolve in water, include ascorbic acid (vitamin C), thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 folic acid, vitamin B12, biotin, and pantothenic acid.
Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed along with fats in the diet and are stored in the body’s fatty tissue and in the liver. They are found in many plant and animal foods and in dietary supplements. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble.
Take oil soluble vitamins and fish oils with fat foods. For example:
- beef liver.
- cheese, milk, and other dairy
- Sources of beta carotene include: sweet potato, kale, spinach, and other green, leafy vegetables. carrots. or olive oil.
Traditional Digestives: Bitters are Better
Bitter herbs are central to optimal gastrointestinal function. Historically, an atonic gastrointestinal tract was associated with depression, and bitters were used to stimulate the immune system in patients who were pale, lethargic, or prone to infection. Rudolf Fritz Weiss, MD, stressed that tonic effects of bitters became stronger with prolonged use, and claimed that bitters would neutralize the negative influence of chronic stress on digestion. We also use bitters to stimulate hepatic function and general digestion as a key component to addressing depression in some people.
A Simple Bitters Recipe
A liter of vodka or gin; bitter digestive herbs which may include sliced raw ginger, gentian root, dandelion root, Artemisia (wormwood) mint leaves, and/or citrus peel.
Steep the digestive herbs in liquor for 2 weeks in a sealed bottle in a dark, cool place. The dosage is 10 – 20 drops in water. Liquor of higher than 40 proof is used because bacteria cannot grow in that high alcohol environment. The liquor seeps the bitter quality of the herbs which in turn increase the flow of our bile and digestive juices. Bitters can be added to other juices or enjoyed as an aperitif.
A Healthy Brain and Gut
Researchers continue to prove the old adage that you are what you eat, most recently by exploring the strong connection between our intestines and brain. Our gut and brain are physically linked via the vagus nerve, and the two are able to send messages to one another. While the gut is able to influence emotional behavior in the brain, the brain can also alter the type of bacteria living in the gut. It’s believed 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, the mood stabilizer, is produced by gut bacteria. Emotional stress can suppress beneficial gut bacteria. Depression can especially take hold when the gut is inflamed by processed foods such as sugar and flours, even some refined grain flours. Therefore, reducing flour and sugar helps to create a new microbiome of healthy bacteria. Adding fresh fruits, fiber, fish and fermented foods also help our gut bacteria to truly thrive.
The “Longevity Diet”
Nutritional Consultants at Academy of Healing Nutrition use a wide variety of foods from the basic food groups which support health and longevity. Importantly, they learn how to prepare those foods to their best advantage, according to seasonal and individual needs of their clients.
Top Food Groups for a Healthy Mental Health Diet:
- Complex carbohydrates — such as brown rice and starchy vegetables can give us energy. Quinoa, millet, beets and sweet potatoes have more nutritional value and will keep us satisfied longer than the simple carbohydrates found in sugar and candy.
- Lean proteins — also lend energy that allows the body to think and react quickly. High sources of protein include chicken, meat, fatty fish, eggs, soybeans, nuts and seeds. Don’t forget lentils and chia seeds which provide more protein than meat.
- Fatty acids — and cholesterol are crucial for the proper function of the brain and nervous system. They are in fish, meat, eggs, nuts and flaxseeds.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Researchers have narrowed down the top 10 raw fruits and vegetables they found to be associated with better mental health and fewer symptoms of depression. These include:
- dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale,
- lettuce, cucumber,
- apples, bananas, grapefruit
- other citrus fruits, fresh berries, and kiwifruit.
- Fermented Foods that support healthy gut bacteria. These are usually consumed as pre-biotic and probiotic foods. Probiotic fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, miso or kombucha, “feed on” pre-biotic foods that are hard to digest. Pre-biotic foods, as the name suggests, go directly to the colon and begin to ferment.
Three Traditional Asian Remedies for Depression
Asian natural doctors have long used foods and herbs to heal body, mind and consciousness. Here are three everyday simple remedies that are often found in households.
Hingvastak (India, Ayurvedic Powder Remedy)
This is a spicy powder that can be added to cook with hard to digest foods such as beans, meats or other.
Hingvastak contains herbs that are heating, grounding, and oily. They effectively counter the opposing vata qualities creating balance for people who have weak digestion, chronic aches, who tend to be thin, fragile, hyper and arthritic. Hingvastak’s heating quality enkindles the digestive fire (agni,) stimulates a healthy appetite, and helps ensure nutrients are properly absorbed and assimilated. Its grounding quality helps calm the nervous anxiety that is common for people who are undernourished and depressed or anxious. The oil quality of the herbs supports the natural lubrication of the intestines assisting in thorough and healthy elimination. Building digestive fire (agni) is thought to support immunity to illness and exhaustion. Use ¼ to ½ teaspoon with warm water, once or twice daily, or as directed by your health practitioner. Avoid with ulcers. Use with the guidance of a health professional during pregnancy and lactation.
Cumin seed (Cuminum cyminum), Ajamoda seed (Apium graveolens), Black Cumin seed (Nigella sativa), Black Pepper fruit (Piper nigrum), Ginger root (Zingiber officinale), Pippali fruit (Piper longum), Mineral Salt, Asafoetida (Ferula asafoetida), Fenugreek (Triognella foenum-graecum).
Xiao Yao Wan (China, Traditional Chinese Patent Remedy pill)
The digestive herbs and blood enhancing herbs in Xiao Yao Wan regulate digestive comfort to reduce bloating, burping, cramps, chest pains, irregular menstrual periods, PMS, anxiety and depression. Chinese herbalists understand that our digestive center (liver, stomach, spleen) is also our emotional center. When digestion is easy and smooth-flowing, our blood sugar balance, circulation and mental clarity also improve.
Ginger, Mint, Bupleurum, Dong Quai, Atractylodes, Peonia root, Fuling (Poria cocus)
When brewed, small red rose buds yield a wonderful fragrance and a light, floral, and naturally sweet taste. Rosebud tea can be enjoyed when brewed by itself or lightly sprinkled over light-flavored teas. Warm rosebud tea is a delightful way to prevent and treat nervous headaches, chest discomforts and depression. The most obvious effect is to regulate qi (energy) and relieve depression, promote blood circulation and relieve blood circulation stasis in the chest, regulate menstruation and relieve pain. In addition, the medicinal properties of roses are very mild, which can nourish people’s heart, liver and blood vessels, relax the body’s energy stagnation, and have a calming, soothing and anti-depressant effect. What better way to reclaim the pleasant memories of a lovely garden?
For professional training and certification as Natural Holistic Health and Diet Coach, see www.academyhealingnutrition.com