Depression is triggered by many different factors, and many people in medical therapy for their condition are not treated for the actual cause. In prevention as well as in treatment, it is vital that the brain has a sufficient supply of energy and nutrients to help the nervous system function optimally.
The modern way of living and lack of certain essential nutrients increase the risk of depression, a problem that has grown with endemic proportions, even among children. In the following, you can read more about some of the most common causes of depression. Also, you will find information about how to deal with the following problems:
- Low blood sugar and lack of chromium
- Slow metabolism and lack of selenium
- Inflammation and lack of omega-3 fatty acids
- Winter depression and lack of vitamin D
- Lack of exercise and daylight
Under normal conditions, the brain is able to convert carbohydrate (glucose). That is why the brain depends on stable blood sugar, which is a precondition for its ability to produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins - our own "feel-good" hormones. Many people who suffer from depression have unstable blood sugar and an overwhelming craving for sweets, chips, white bread, coffee, alcohol, and other quick "energy fixes". These things provides temporary relief, but the blood sugar plummets shortly after, and the oscillating blood sugar levels impair the brain's ability to take up glucose and produce the above mentioned neurotransmitters. This is why it is vital to stabilize blood sugar levels by consuming three protein-rich meals a day and to make sure that these mails also include vegetables and healthy fats. Chromium supplements also contribute to maintaining stable blood sugar levels. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), supplements based on organic chromium yeast are absorbed up to 10 times better in the body than supplements with chromium picolinate and chromium chloride.
Did you know that the brain consists of 60% fat - including cholesterol, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids? It is important not to shun away from fat.
Surprisingly many people suffer from slow metabolism (hypothyroidism), and the majority of them have not been diagnosed properly or don't receive the proper treatment for their condition. Slow metabolism often results in depression. Unfortunately, many people are treated with anti-depressive medication but do not receive therapy for their metabolic disorder. Another problem is that around 20 per cent of those who receive synthetic T4 hormone (levothyroxine) for their metabolic disorder feel increasingly worse, despite their blood samples being normal. There is increasing evidence pointing to low selenium as part of the explanation to why metabolic disorders and failing treatment results are so common. Selenium is needed to activate the thyroid hormones via enzymatic processes.
In Europe, the agricultural soil generally contains very little selenium. The selenium intake of the average European is lower than the RDA level (recommended daily allowance). In contrast, the selenium intake in other countries such as the United States and Japan is substantially higher. Several international studies have shown that daily supplementation with 200 micrograms of selenium positively influences metabolic disorders. Supplements with selenium yeast that contains more than 30 organic selenium compounds is the closest we humans can come to emulating the variety of selenium compounds found naturally in a selenium-rich diet.
Danish study of selenium and metabolism
Slow metabolism may lead to depression. Two large, Danish studies, conducted at hospitals in Copenhagen, Odense, and Esbjerg, are going to investigate if 200 micrograms of selenium given as a daily supplement may influence the treatment. The question is - does the general population get enough selenium through the diet to prevent slow metabolism, altogether?
Depression may also be related to infection-like changes (or inflammation, to be more specific) in the brain. According to a Canadian study where scientists PET-scanned the brains of 20 patients with depression and compared with the results with scans of 20 healthy controls, it turned out that levels of inflammation were greatest in those patients who had the most severe depression. The study is published in JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers from Harvard University took this research one step further by looking at 155 patients with severe depression. The participants were randomly assigned to either a placebo or omega-3 fatty acids in the form of EPA (1,060 mg) or DHA (900 mg) for an eight-week period. Upon study completion, the scientists concluded that the EPA supplement showed the greatest anti-inflammatory effect.
When supplementing with fish oil, it is vital to read the label carefully to make sure to get around 1,000 mg of EPA per day. Fish oil supplements based on free fatty acids have the best absorption. It is important that fish oil supplements comply with government regulations for peroxide and environmental toxin content.
Many people and women in particular tend to feel depressed during winter. Researchers have actually demonstrated a link between low levels of vitamin D in the blood and clinical signs of depression in otherwise healthy individuals. This was seen in an American study that is published in Psychiatry Research. Dr. Kerr, who headed the study, underlines that blood levels of vitamin D are closely related to the time of year, as we produce the highest amounts of vitamin D when our skin gets exposed to sunlight. In order for this to happen, however, the sun must sit sufficiently high in the sky. In our parts of the world, this is only possible during the summer. Therefore, it is advisable to take a high-dosed vitamin D supplement all winter. This rule also applies when people have a tendency towards infections and aching joints, something which is more common in the cold period. Vitamin D dissolved in oil in gelatin capsules provides superior absorption.
It is important to include physical activity and exercise in the prevention and treatment of depression, as both contribute to an effective absorption of blood sugar and the production of feel-good hormones such as serotonin and endorphins. We humans also need daylight, which helps us produce the neurotransmitter melatonin during our sleep. Lack of melatonin impairs the quality of our sleep and increases the risk of fatigue and depression. Certain types of light lamps may, to some extent, compensate for the lack of daylight.
NB! Alarming increase in depressions and inadequate treatments
Approximately 10% of Europeans use anti-depressive medicine
The consumption of anti-depressive medicine has increased by almost 60% in 10 years
According to an international study of 10 European and four non-European countries, the consumption of anti-depressive medicine in Denmark ranks second (right after the US)
Anti-depressive medicine causes side effects like headache, apathy, lowered libido, weight gain, increased depression, and withdrawal symptoms that may lead to additional problems
Many people in medical therapy for their depression really suffer from low blood sugar, slow metabolism, lack of essential nutrients, stress and exhaustion. None of these problems are properly addressed.
Pernille Lund. Sådan får du styr på dit blodsukker og din vægt. Ny Videnskab 2013
Pernille Lund. Har du problemer med dit stofskifte? Ny Videnskab 2015
Drutel, A et al: Selenium and the thyroid gland: more good news for clinicians. Clinical Endocrinology . 2013
Rapaport MH et al. Inflammation as a predictive biomarker for response to omega-3 fatty acids in major depressive disorder: a proof-of-concept study. Molecular Psychiatry 2015
Liam Davenport: Vitamin D Levels Predict Depression. Medscape Medical News 2015