Zip, zest, and zeal are signs of health. If you feel that you are lacking these on a regular basis, you may be depressed. Many people do not believe in depression; however, it is one of the most common health problems in the United States affecting an estimated 17 million Americans each year.
Depression is a whole-body condition that affects the body, nervous system, moods, thoughts and behavior. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself and the way you react to and think about the people and things around you.
Symptoms of depression include chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, headaches, backaches, digestive disorders, restlessness, irritability, quickness to anger, loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies, work or social life, and feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy.
The brain and nervous system are run by chemicals known as neurotransmitters. These regulate our behavior. The neurotransmitters most commonly associated with mood are dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Serotonin eases tension while dopamine and norepinephrine aid in alertness and quick thinking.
Foods greatly influence our brain. Poor diet is a common cause of depression. Foods that impair formation of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine include wheat (both white flour and whole grain), diet sodas and other products containing aspartame, foods high in saturated fats, all forms of sugar, alcohol, caffeine and highly processed foods.
To get the zip, zest and zeal back into your life, avoid the foods mentioned above and eat a diet with plenty of lean protein, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains. Nutrients necessary for making neurotransmitters include B vitamins, essential fatty acids, vitamin D, and minerals such as zinc, selenium and magnesium. These nutrients actually help to restore balance to the brain and nervous system and are a good basic supplement program for mild depression.
Exercise is very beneficial in increasing utilization of serotonin by the brain. Research has shown significant benefits from brisk walking for 20 minutes per day. While more exercise will help with weight loss, specific research on brain chemicals found that the best form of exercise was brisk walking and the 20 minute time frame was sufficient.
Hormonal imbalances can have much to do with brain function. Women and men of all ages can experience depression as a result of changing hormones. The dietary recommendations above help to restore balance not only to the brain, but to the endocrine system as well.
While there are many causes of depression, these recommendations will help restore balance to the body such that the physiological reasons are not as apt to come into play.
If you still find yourself stressed or need a little more zip and zing, there are also many good supplements specific to the symptoms of mild depression. These include St. John’s Wort, GABA, SAM-e, 5-HTP, Siberian Ginseng, Gotu Kola and various stress formulations.
Margaret Durst is a naturopathic doctor who owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.