Helping Depression with Exercise, Diet, and Mindset – Part 2

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

Read Part 1 | Part 3

Depression and Diet

A healthy diet is good for helping depressionA more recent research avenue considered for helping depression suggests that a person’s diet is the lynchpin of healthy stress response. There are seemingly endless diet methods for promoting healthy brain and body function, but a few directly relate to depression.

Smart Carbohydrates

There are carbohydrates, sometimes known as “smart carbs”, which can have a calming effect. This is the case because there is a link between serotonin and carbohydrates. It is sometimes speculated that carb cravings are indicative of low serotonin activity. This doesn’t include just any carbs though. There are healthy ways to boost your carbohydrate intake through fruits, vegetables, and legumes that also benefit the rest of the body.

Protein Relates To Depression

Protein intake is another important aspect of a healthy diet that can aid in helping depression. Clinical dietary professionals have recently suggested that the amino acid tryptophan can help serotonin production. Many of us are familiar with tryptophan, prevalent in the thanksgiving dinner favorite, turkey. Tryptophan is present in tuna and chicken also. Other good sources of protein that should be present in a healthy diet include lean beef, yogurt, and beans.

As with any change that we make to our bodies, it is best to take a long term approach to health. It’s also important to set achievable goals for our diets. Setting unrealistic expectations that may work for some, but not the majority of people, creates an opportunity for a simple slip up to be the end of the entire push for progress.

The Importance of Vitamin D

A national study in the United States in 2010 found a strong correlation between low levels of vitamin D and depression. There are many ways to get vitamin D through diet. One of the easiest ways is through dairy products. Supplementation is also a good way to help you meet your needs. If you have the time, and your lifestyle permits it, you should take some time to go out into the sun and soak up some rays. Being outside in the sun not only gives you direct exposure to UV rays which cause your body to produce vitamin D, but it also has many other calming effects that can assist in helping depression.

Helping depression with vitamin DThere is also some evidence that those who are obese or diabetic also tend to have vitamin D deficiency. Obesity is a worldwide epidemic that also plays a role in depression. Not only does it cause negative health effects on joints, heart, and other internal organs, it causes changes in hormonal output and immunological responses that affect how you feel on a daily basis. When your body isn’t feeling well, it makes it harder to be cheerful and respond positively to the ups and downs of life. This creates a two way street. People who are overweight suffer from increased likelihood of depression, and people with depression have a higher likelihood of gaining weight. This creates a cyclical problem that can make the situation worse. However, increasing vitamin D and trying to take a more positive outlook on how you view your body can start helping depression by addressing some of its underlying contributors.

Negative Effects of Substance Abuse

Consuming alcohol and drugs is commonly associated with depression. When people feel hopeless, there is often a desire to make the feeling go away, even by using unhealthy methods. However, these methods aren’t helping depression There are increased health risks associated with drugs and alcohol, and using them to cope with depression does not create much relief.

Alcohol in particular has many negative effects on the body. It can interfere with sleep, mood, and motivation. When your body metabolizes alcohol, it cannot properly enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This phase of sleep is where the majority of the rest takes place for our brains, allowing us to reset for the next day. This lack of proper sleep can lead to irritability, lethargy, and overall discomfort. Other issues occur with internal organs and brain function.

While it is not necessarily bad to consume alcohol in responsible quantities, it’s important not to medicate with alcohol in excess. There are other, more effective ways to cope with and help depression.

Methods for Helping Depression

A study done by the Medical Science Monitor discussed several methods for helping depression. The conclusion of the study was that “depression may be an important factor in the negative assessment of one’s own ability to cope with difficult situations and can aggravate a tendency to perceive stressful events as overwhelming”. In other words, depression may make you feel unable to handle situations that you are actually capable of managing. It can make events that you could otherwise brush off seem too much to handle. This is a great insight into the approach that one should take to managing depression.

Stress is an important aspect of life. It helps to prepare us to adapt to changing environmental variables so that we can overcome unforeseen or difficult events. The problems begin to arise when people become so stressed that it has the opposite effect; they shut down because the situation is so overwhelming. Most people experience this effect at one point or another in their lives. Although there may always be stressful things in life, there are a few key tips for creating a more stable foundation.

Active coping for helping depressionActive coping is when you try your best to confront the issue that is causing stress and minimize the impact that it has. Active coping is assisted strongly by planning. When you take a careful approach to tackling a difficult situations, you can often find ways to solve the issue at hand.

There are several ways to engage in helping depression, one of which is to seek social support in the form of asking for advice or information from someone who has more experience in dealing with the sort of problems that you’re facing. We can always go to people we know for advice and information, but there is another aspect that makes humans quite interesting and that is the need for emotional support. It is imperative that we use all of the tools at our disposal to confront our problems and sometimes that is as simple as asking a friend to lend you their ear for a bit. Talking through your problems and difficulties is a great way to engage your mind and synchronize your emotional state to the reality of your situation. As a part of active coping, not ignoring your problems is necessary.

This next point touches on maintaining a positive mindset. There are always going to be many different opinions on methods for helping depression, but studies seem to show that people who overcome depression tend to possess or adopt a mindset of growth, that sees stressors and setbacks as an opportunity to grow. It is about perspective. Maintaining a perspective of growth continually helps the person involved in the situation, while a perspective of loss and limitation only drains their energy and ability to see ways to improve things.

When we focus on how bad the problem is instead of how it can help us grow, we are coming from an angle of negativity. This negativity can make things seem more difficult than they really are. From the other side, if we choose to look at the positives of the issues and how they can help us grow, we can overcome them with more ease. There will be more focus put into ways in which we can succeed than into ways in which we can fail, thus promoting an attitude of looking forward towards positive experiences.

This may not work for everyone, and there are also times when people suffer traumatic stress, which is a different problem than normal depression. It is strongly encouraged that those who have undergone traumatic and very serious experiences, or who are experiencing severe and long lasting depression, seek professional help. There are times when everyone needs to reach out for assistance.

Stress Response: A Clinical Perspective

There is a system within all of our bodies which we use to help combat stressful situations on a physical level. This is known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response. Hormone balance plays a big part in the NEM stress response. The hypothalamus is the first piece of the puzzle. Once the hypothalamus signals that there is danger, the pituitary gland is triggered to act by producing hormones and further signaling the adrenal glands.

A clinical perspective on helping depressionThe adrenal glands are responsible for producing cortisol, a very powerful hormone that is so directly related to the stress response that it is sometimes referred to as the “stress hormone”. Cortisol has many jobs in the body, and while it can be very helpful in difficult times, it also has the ability to inflict great damage on the body. There are a few things that take place when cortisol levels remain high for a prolonged period of time. A few of these include sleep disruption, decreased muscle mass, high blood pressure, and increased wound healing timelines. This is just one aspect of the NEM stress response.

Because of all of the negative things associated with a poorly regulated NEM stress response, it is very important to mitigate stress. It is easy to fall into a cycle of high stress, which causes many long term issues. However, if these issues are addressed, they can be lessened over time. This overview of how the endocrine circuit of the NEM stress response works is especially important if it becomes dysfunctional and you develop adrenal fatigue.

Read Part 1 | Part 3

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Helping depression