Depression can be paralyzing. You want to be happy, but you just can’t shake that heavy feeling of sadness. You might also feel empty or hopeless and cry a lot. You might get annoyed and angry at every little thing or spend your days sleeping. While there are many sides to depression, these are a few common signs.
If you are struggling with overwhelming sadness and/or anxiety that never seems to go away, consider the following suggestions and natural therapies. These are not meant to replace prescription antidepressants, but they can help enhance your mood, and ease anxiety and stress naturally.
How Vitamin D Beats the Blues
Vitamin D plays a critical role in our health — and it’s particularly important for elevating and stabilizing your mood. In fact, depression and/or feelings of sadness are common signs of vitamin D deficiency (other symptoms include fatigue, getting sick more easily, pale skin, muscle weakness, hair loss, bone pain, and not sleeping well).
Numerous studies link low levels of vitamin D with depression and other mental health issues. For example, researchers found that people deficient in vitamin D have a “significantly higher risk of depression” than those with normal levels of the nutrient.
Our ancestors spent considerably more time outside in sunny environments than we do — and even when we are outside today, we often use sunscreen. As a result, the body synthesizes less vitamin D, contributing to high levels of vitamin D deficiency in this country.
You can boost your vitamin D levels by spending 15–20 minutes in the sun daily. Make sure to expose an area of your skin that has no sunscreen (e.g., your arms). Unfortunately, sitting by a sunny window will not count as sun exposure — most glass cuts off exposure to UVB rays, which produce vitamin D.
Getting vitamin D from food alone can be tough, as the top sources — fish liver and organ meats — are not popular foods in this country. You can get smaller amounts of vitamin D from oysters, eggs, salmon, sardines, dairy products, and soy milk. But this generally isn’t enough to correct a deficiency.
Mushrooms are a good source of vitamin D, particularly shiitake mushrooms. Reishi, ganoderma, and lentinus, are also good sources, particularly when they’re exposed to sunlight. Taking vitamin D3 supplements or medicinal mushrooms every day can be an effective way to ease mood imbalances, while also supporting immune and overall health.
Also, it may be worthwhile to see if you have one or both vitamin D mutations through a DNA test (such as The DNA Company) — mutations in the CYP2R1 and CYP27B1 genes reduce your body’s ability to convert vitamin D to its active form. In these cases, you may need higher doses of vitamin D to achieve optimal levels.
Healthy Fat Is Your Brain’s Best Friend
Healthy omega-3 fatty acids from cold-water fatty fish such as salmon and sardines have been shown time over time to support mood and ease symptoms of depression, including seasonal depression. Marine-based omega-3 fats can help reduce inflammation, improve neurotransmitter communication, and support healthy serotonin levels — a key neurotransmitter that influences mood and mental health.
Exercise, If Even for a Few Minutes
You know regular exercise is good for your physical health, but did you realize it can also be enormously effective at alleviating depression and anxiety
Physical activity releases endorphins (neurotransmitters that generate feelings of happiness and satisfaction) and helps generate new neurons in the brain, enhancing memory and brain function.
You don’t have to commit to hours in the gym either. According to a new study from the University of Limerick, Ireland, just 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (e.g., brisk walking) five days per week helps slash the risk of depression symptoms and odds of major depression.
The Role of Inflammation in Mood and Depression
Chronic inflammation in the gut and throughout your body can fuel depression and mood imbalances (and vice versa), creating a cycle with stress, anxiety, and depression. This cycle is made worse by inflammatory foods, toxin exposure, infections, and other drivers of inflammation in the body.
Not surprisingly, strategies focused on taming inflammation in the gut and body can significantly help improve mood, anxiety, mental health, cognitive function, and overall neurological wellness. For example, regular meditation practice is a clinically proven method to boost mood and help reduce chronic stress and anxiety, allowing us to break free from stress-filled “survival mode.” It’s also shown to reduce numerous markers of inflammation in the body, in addition to other measurable health benefits.
The Happiness Diet
A study in the British Journal of Health Psychology, looked at the relationships between diet and mental health, and showed that participants who consumed more vegetables and fruits significant improvements in mental health and mood compared to those who ate fewer servings.
A larger study in the journal, Social Indicators Research, looked at dietary trends for tens of thousands of people in the UK. Data showed that happiness and mood varied among subjects according to the amount of vegetables and fruits they consumed each day. From this data, researchers concluded that for optimal happiness, reduced depression, and overall mental health, the ideal servings of fruit and vegetables per day is seven.
Your gastrointestinal system is the most abundant source of regulatory neurotransmitters and neuropeptides outside of the brain. For example, the highest concentration of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that influences mood, is in the gut. This is why enhancing your digestion helps boost your mood. And studies have shown that higher levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut can reduce anxiety, depression and neurotic behavior, and even combat the effects of stress. Probiotics have also been shown to reduce inflammation, which influences mood. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, olives, apple cider vinegar, fermented cheeses, and sourdough bread.
Did you know that heavy metals like mercury can cause depression and other mental health problems? According to a study in New Zealand, people with high levels of mercury suffered fatigue, memory loss, depression, and hair loss. Other signs of mercury poisoning are
- Tingling in extremities
- Problems with speech, hearing, vision, and balance
- Cognitive impairment
Needless to say, if you are experiencing any combination of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately. A variety of tests are available to help determine your mercury levels.
While mercury is one of the worst, it’s important to recognize that there are a huge number of other toxins present in our environment, including:
- Pesticides like glyphosate (aka Roundup)
- Radioactive particles
- Other heavy metals like lead, arsenic, and cadmium
- Estrogen-mimicking compounds from plastics and fertilizers
- Mycotoxins from mold and fungi
Certain natural compounds, nutrients, botanicals and foods help remove mercury and other heavy metals from the body in a gentler way, without causing “die-off” symptoms. These natural solutions support the body’s innate detoxification systems, while binding to the heavy metals and toxins directly for safe elimination.
One of my top recommendations for advanced, safe chelation and detoxification is a clinically proven blend of Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP) and alginates from seaweed. This toxic metal cleanse formula is clinically proven to remove heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic from the body without affecting essential minerals. MCP is a special form of citrus pectin that has been modified to a smaller size molecule, allowing it to get absorbed into the bloodstream, bind to heavy metals and toxins, and gently remove them. MCP and alginates from seaweed, another excellent detoxifier, make a powerful yet gentle duo for removing toxic metals and preventing their reabsorption in the body — a big problem in many other detox programs.
Vitamins and Supplements for Mental Health
A study from the Indian Journal of Psychiatry demonstrated the benefits of antioxidant vitamins in treating patients with depression stemming from anxiety. The data showed that antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E were significantly reduced among patients with mood disorders. Supplementing with these nutrients was shown to reduce anxiety and depression.
In my practice, one of the most powerful botanical extracts I recommend for mental health and neurological function is pure honokiol, a botanical extract from magnolia bark. Honokiol has been shown in research to support the neurotransmitter GABA, which plays important roles in relaxation, mood, and other key areas of mental health. Honokiol also supports other neurotransmitter activity and can defend against cognitive decline and depression. Because of its ability to cross the blood brain barrier, honokiol shows benefits for numerous conditions related to neuroinflammation, as well as other key areas of health.
Depression and other mood imbalances can have multiple causes and contributing factors, from hormonal imbalances that impact your nervous system, stressful circumstances, infections that lower our antioxidant reserves, neuro-inflammation from toxins like heavy metals and pesticides, microbiome imbalances, and much more. Supporting your mental health with a multilayered strategy can help bring your mind and body into balance, while also reducing aggravating factors that contribute to depression and anxiety.
By supporting mental and emotional health from numerous angles, we can do a lot to build up our inner health reserves and enhance our energy and vitality naturally — creating positive, rather than negative, feedback loops.