What is depression really?
Some say that depression is an illness involving the mind and the body and that because it affects how one feels, thinks, and behaves, depression can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems such as sadness, irritability or frustration, ED, insomnia, or excessive sleeping, changes in appetite, agitation or restlessness, slowed thinking, indecisiveness, distractibility, fatigue, and weight gain. So many symptoms for a single illness.
Depression affects 26.2 % of all Americans, which means that when you board a bus to work in the morning, one in every four passengers is clinically depressed. It is a hidden illness that often goes undiagnosed and untreated because we can easily blame its symptoms on something else. Thus, we spend a lifetime convincing ourselves that when we say day after day, “I am so tired, I don’t feel like going out. I’m not hungry, sexually motivated, or interested enough to participate,” it is just a defect in our personality.
Depression changes people close to us. Loved ones can feel a loss of emotional connection with someone who is depressed. Friends at work may have to put in extra hours to make up for the loss of productivity when their co-workers’ depression interferes with their job.
Western medicine has created drugs, which successfully treat many types of depression and anxiety. Because these drugs are so powerful, however, suddenly starting, stopping, or changing dosage can lead to unpredictable outcomes. Children and young adults, especially, may react to these medications in ways not predicted by FDA trials. On the other hand, Chinese medicine, which uses the body and mind’s own mechanisms to combat depression and anxiety, maybe a safer first approach to less severe cases since innate systems are tweaked rather than radically altered.
The following chapter explores depression chiefly as an imbalance of hormones such as GABA, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, endorphin, serotonin, and progesterone.
What causes depression?
Irregular sleep: Cortisol levels should go up in the morning while melatonin goes down. If your melatonin level is high at the wrong time, however, you may feel groggy and depressed. For example, if you take a long nap in the middle of the day, you may wake up feeling tired and unhappy for the next two hours. Moreover, this nap may further offset your sleep rhythm because when bedtime comes, you are still not sleepy.
Unhealthy diet: If your body does not have enough raw materials to produce what I call the “feel-good hormones,” serotonin, progesterone, GABA, and dopamine, to relax your mind and body, you will not feel well no matter how rich or loved you are.
Alcohol: Alcohol can cause sudden increases of your dopamine level. When you are hungover the next morning, however, your body experiences a sudden drop in dopamine, and therefore you feel depressed. It’s like having bipolar disorder: one moment you feel high due to a higher level of feel-good hormones but the next moment the hormones are depleted so you just as suddenly become depressed.
Lack of exercise: Not exercising can lead to insufficient β-endorphin and serotonin production. Without exercise, there would not be sufficient blood flow to nourish your internal organs. When these organs do not function well, you have less feel-good hormones.
Anti-acids: Anti-acids can cause a deficiency of vitamins and mal-absorption of proteins, leading to an abnormally functioning nervous system, which becomes supersensitive to the physical and mental stress. Therefore, you cannot relax and enjoy life. In my experience, I have noticed that people who already have problems with anxiety and depression tend to have more panic attacks after they take anti-acids for a period of time.
Caffeine: Drinking too much caffeine stimulates your “fight or flight” system constantly, causing you to always rush around from one thing to another. When you attempt to multitask, you tend to become more anxious.
Indigestion: Even if you eat a healthy diet, if your stomach cannot digest it well, ultimately, you will not get enough nutrients to produce balanced levels of hormones. Instead, undigested food can become toxic to your body.
Aging: When people become older, their digestive system also goes downhill. Thus, if they do not eat a very balanced diet, their bodies may not absorb the nutrients necessary to produce enough feel-good hormones. Cakes, cookies, and ice cream can only make them happy for a short period of time. These junk foods not only impede their digestion but also deplete their supply of feel-good hormones.
Stress: Stress makes people produce too much cortisol and adrenaline, the “fight or flight” hormones, causing a chemical imbalance and thus depression and anxiety.
Lack of sunshine: Daytime sunlight can reset the circadian cycle of melatonin, which influences our mood.
Adrenal fatigue: After exposure to long-term stress, the adrenal gland can no longer provide enough of the stress-coping hormones cortisol and progesterone so that the slightest environmental change can make you feel anxious and depressed. Trauma, such as car accidents, can trigger a sudden release of adrenaline and cortisol, depleting adrenal gland function and your reserve of relaxing hormones such as serotonin, GABA, progesterone, and dopamine.
How to prevent or eliminate depression
1. Avoid multitasking: Shut your cell phone off when driving or spending time with a family member. You will feel calmer if you do one thing after another. In the long run, by making fewer mistakes, you will save time and feel happier and more productive.
2. Optimize your sleep time: Serotonin levels fluctuate rhythmically on a circadian 24- hour cycle. Thus, if you go to bed and wake up at the wrong times, your normal chemical balance will be disturbed. Clinically, most depressed people tend to sleep very late at night and rise very late in the morning. When they make an effort to go to bed early and get up with the sun, their depression decreases dramatically. Therefore, if you do not feel tired at bedtime, try doing yoga or meditation or reading a boring book in order to induce sleep at the right time. You can also practice Qigong or Taichi or simply stretch an hour before bed. In my experience, morning birds that get sufficient sleep during their prime sleeping hours are less likely to get depressed than night owls.
3. Sleep enough: Get enough sleep to rejuvenate your endocrine, nervous, and digestive functions so that your relaxing and stimulating hormones are in balance.
4. Reduce caffeine intake: Try to find the perfect amount of coffee that is just enough to wake you up in the morning but not so much to make you anxious. Never drink coffee in the evening because it will profoundly influence your nervous system and make you unhappy the next day.
5. Improve your digestion: Add apple cedar vinegar to your salad or put daikon or wheat bran into your soup. Do not skip meals or eat too late or too much. Avoid consuming too many sweets, which may slow down digestion. Eat one banana in the afternoon every day to provide your body with enough tryptophan, the precursor of serotonin. You will sleep better because serotonin makes our sleep deep and sound.
6. Have regular sex: Sex improves the production of progesterone and testosterone, both of which help us stay happy and healthy.
7. Step outside: Get enough sunshine every day to boost your endorphin production and to reset your internal biological clock.
8. Singing: Singing enhances your lung capacity and improves the oxygen saturation of your internal organs. A 94-year-old MIT professor started singing only 3 days after 1/3 of his lung was removed due to tuberculosis. He recovered much faster than other patients who did not share his passion for singing.
9. Try something new: Join different social activities such as volunteering at a hospital and you will find how fulfilling your life is when you interact with others. When you talk to people, you produce more oxytocin, the love, and bonding hormones according to the recent research in Nature.
How to improve your serotonin level naturally to fight depression
Nutrition for depression and anxiety
Serotonin is sensitive to dietary intake. If you increase your consumption of tryptophan, the chemical from which serotonin is made, your body can produce more serotonin. Tryptophan can be found in a variety of foods such as turkey, bananas, milk, yogurt, eggs, meat, nuts, beans, fish, cheddar, and Gruyere and Swiss cheeses. Because this substance also acts as a mild sedative on the human body, it is no wonder that after a big Thanksgiving dinner, everybody feels so sleepy and hopefully happy.
Deferent kind of exercise for depression and anxiety:
As shown in an article published in Endocrinology 2007 by French physician, Dr. Z.S. Malek, enhanced voluntary locomotion during a 6-week period increased serotonin production level in normal rats without a concomitant increase in plasma cortisol levels. Because serotonin levels increase in the blood during exercise, mild depression may be relieved by moderate physical exercise. Mild exercises are beneficial for anxiety, while intense exercise is more efficient for depression without anxiety.
Food Therapy for depression and anxiety
Happy Porridge (for people with depression, indigestion, and low sexual drive)
Put half gallon of water, ¼ cup of lotus seed, ¼ cup of walnuts, ½ cup of brown rice, and ¼ cup of black bean together in a slow cooker and let cook for six hours.
If you suffer from depression with anxiety, add 30g of Suan Zao Ren (Ziziphus) and 30g of Yi Yi Ren (Job’s tears) to the Happy Porridge.
Acupressure Point for depression and anxiety: