In last week’s post, I told you about my past struggles with depression and anti-depressants. Today I want to dig deeper and discuss some of the reasons we not only get depression during the holidays, but any time — and some of the things we can do about it.
As with all my health-related posts, this is not intended to diagnose or treat your depression, or anything else. The things that I did to help myself were just that — what I did that helped me. If you or a loved one are suffering from depression or any other illness, whether mental or physical, please get help from a qualified medical professional.
Many Years Ago…
I sat in my therapist’s office, thoroughly dejected and mystified.
“Why do people even get depression, anyway?” I asked rather irritably.
“From a lack of serotonin in the brain,” my therapist brightly answered before explaining what serotonin is and what it does.
“How do they know that?” I asked, ever the anylitical one. “Is there a test they can do, to be sure?”
“No!” she laughed, as if that was the funniest question ever. “To do that, you’d have to be dead, and they’d have to open up your head and do an autopsy on your brain!”
“Then how do they know?” I prodded.
She never had a good answer for that. Hm…perhaps the “lack of serotonin” was due to Mom not feeding me antidepressants as a child?
There are many complex answers to the “how” and “why” questions, but first, let’s start with the simple ones. Some of the causes of depression are:
- Trauma – either physical or emotional
- Hormonal imbalance
- Lack of sunlight (SAD, or seasonal affective disorder)
- Consistent negative thinking patterns
- During the holidays: too-high expectations
Then there are factors that you may not have considered, such as diet. In Part I of this series, I mentioned how, when a new doctor put me on an extremely low-calorie diet (which resulted in it also being very low in fat), I was thrown into a miserable bout with depression. Although the individual foods I was eating were healthy, the diet overall was an unhealthy one due to lack of healthy fats. I became so despondent I could barely force myself to swallow a few morsels of food, further contributing to the problem.
Thankfully, the reason for this particular depressive episode wasn’t too difficult to figure out, since I was fine before starting the diet (that I lost zero pounds on, even with exercise). Once I added healthy fats back into my diet, I was fine.
In fact, it wasn’t many months later when I decided to follow a low-carb, high-fat diet – sort of a keto way of eating. The results were amazing. I had more energy than I knew what to do with, and my happiness level matched my energy. I know now that this helped put my Lyme disease, which I didn’t know at the time I had, into remission.
Unfortunately, I was in an auto accident and had to stop exercising for some time, and the resulting inactivity and giving up on the new diet (because without the workouts, I wasn’t losing weight, so I thought, why bother?), and the trauma to my body brought the Lyme disease out of hiding and I had to start all over again. Yet I still didn’t get into a terrible depressive state.
But research has shown an even more fascinating reason people get depressed.
Your Second Brain
That’s right, you have two brains. The “second brain” is your gut. This is not the same as saying that what’s going on in your brain influences your gut, although it most certainly does. For instance, some unpleasant situations may make you feel nauseous, nervousness may give you “butterflies” in your stomach, and just thinking of food can start the stomach’s gastric juices flowing. So yes, the brains in our heads have a definite impact on our guts, and on all of our physical health as well as our emotional – something I’ll get into a bit later.
But by the “second brain,” I mean that in some ways, the gut literally functions as a brain. I know. Weird. But hear me out, because I’m not about to try and convince you that your gut can compose a symphony or come up with the blueprints for a spaceship.
The gut and the brain (the one in our noggins) communicate with each other via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), helping to control digestion through hormones. They also chat with each other through the sympathetic and parasympathetic pathways of the autonomic nervous system – that part that controls breathing, heart rate, and digestion.
And let us not forget microbes. Our brains are aware of the billions of critters who make their homes in our guts, so having large populations of beneficial bacteria set up housekeeping inside us literally benefits our brains. These little guys even influence that happy chemical, the neurotransmitter serotonin.
So, it goes both ways: not only does our thinking affect our guts, but our guts can affect our thinking. Scientists have found that roughly 90 percent of the fibers in the vagus nerve (the nerve running from the abdomen to the brain) bring information to the brain, but the brain does not reciprocate by sending info back to gut.
And for those of us who have ever taken antidepressants, here’s a shocker: 95 percent of our body’s serotonin is in the gut. So, is it any wonder that SSRI’s often provoke GI troubles? Too much of anything is not good, and that includes serotonin. It has been found that these antidepressants can cause IBS – thanks, doc.
A Bacterial Hall of Fame
Ever hear of Bifidobacterium infantis? It is a friendly bacteria that is found mostly in the intestinal tracts of newborn babies. It is so friendly, in fact, that it is referred by scientists as a psychobiotic bacteria, due to its ability to alleviate depression.
How about Lactobacillus helveticus? Bifidobacterium longum? In a a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized parallel group study, researchers gave volunteers both of these probiotics or a placebo for 30 days. They were then evaluated using several different symptom, anxiety, depression, stress, and coping checklists.
When the results were in, researchers found that psychological stress and free cortisol levels in the urine of the subjects given the probiotics had decreased.
In other tests done with rats, researchers found that Lactobacillus rhamnosus reduced both anxiety and depression scores. Another test showed Lactobacillus helveticus prevented the anxiety-like behavior that apparently always happens to rats fed a high-fat diet (I wonder if they’re given healthy fats?). Yet another showed that Lactobacillus farciminis reduced the HPA axis response to stress.
In a study done on fermented milk products and their effect on depression (said products were helpful, by the way), the researchers used MRI’s to look at the relationship between probiotics and brain functions. In another study, it was reported that low-level, yet chronic inflammation was present in those with depression, which they believed to be due to gut permeability. Leaky gut in other words, which I wrote about in this post. The scientists said that the microbiota was likely the biggest factor in the link between unhealthy diets and depression.
And here’s a fun fact: the first treatment for depression using probiotics was actually way back in 1910! What does that tell you? I don’t know what it tells you, but it tells me that as the years went by and more and more so-called “wonder drugs” were created, doctors moved away from natural therapies to the point where they began to demonize the doctors who were still using ghastly things like diet, herbs, vitamins, minerals, and yes, friendly bacteria, to help their patients get better.
Show Some (Gut) Love
So, is that all we need to do to kick depression to the curb? Simply show some love to our to our poor, stressed-out, overworked (and probably leaky) guts? Heal leaky gut? Eat healthy food? Load up on a large variety of probiotics, resistant starch, and fermented food and drinks?
That’s not what I’m saying, although it would certainly be a fantastic start — for some people.
The reason for this is two-fold: one, some people have healthy guts and depression at the same time. Their depression may be due to SAD, trauma, loneliness, or something else. And two, there are a lot of folks running around out there with SIBO, aka small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
As I mentioned in this post on resistant starch, people with SIBO may (or may not) want to avoid RS until their SIBO has been eliminated, as according to some medical professionals, prebiotics, as well as probiotics may make SIBO worse.
Other researchers and health care professionals insist that prebiotics are a must (since friendly bacteria must eat, too) and only certain probiotics must be avoided while others, such as soil-based probiotics, must be added. Confusing, I know! I may deal with this in a future post, but for now, please do your homework before doing anything else!
Use Your Noodle
It has been shown repeatedly that how we think affects not only our gut health, but our overall physical and mental health. I won’t get into all of that here because I’ve already detailed in several other posts how I got rid of SAD and other chronic depression and conquered dreadful phobias, without the use of drugs.
And what about mental health therapy? Obviously, I’m not against it, as I’ve done it myself. And if you don’t have anyone in your life who is a wise, practical person and a great listener (and a bonus would be if they’d been in your shoes), then counseling might help. Thank God, I have a few of these wise, wonderful people in my life now, so I can go to them when I need help.
There’s nothing wrong with talking it out with someone, so don’t let anyone shame you into believing that you’re a wimp or a moron for needing to unload (and then, hopefully listening to good and wise advice). Sometimes, this is all that’s needed.
And don’t feel like the wimp or moron mentioned above if you take antidepressants, either! While it’s true that I have an intense dislike for them due to their potential side effects (some deadly), I also realize that often, people are at their wit’s end and realize they have to do something, and do it now. That was the sinking boat I found myself in.
Besides, if you’re not armed with any other information and someone who is supposed to be an expert, hands you a sample of pills and writes you a prescription, you tend to just do what you’re told, as I did. And why not? In those situations, you don’t know what else to do. I sure didn’t.
I want to insert an urgent warning here: If you are taking antidepressants but wish you weren’t DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT simply stop taking them!!! NEVER, NEVER, NEVER DO THAT! There is a right way and a wrong way to get off of antidepressants, and that would most definitely be the wrong way!
Let your doctor know that you want to stop taking them, and follow his or her instructions on how to slowly wean yourself off of them. Please don’t try it on your own!
In fact, please don’t do any of this on your own! Get help. If your allopathic doctor has been unable to help much, as in my case, you could always find a holistic doctor. Either way, get professional help.
I hope this series has been at least somewhat encouraging to you. As I said before, I’ve been there and done that, off and on for years, and I know what the hell of depression feels like. And there is a healthy way out for everyone, and that includes you.
As for me, I know I would still be swinging swords at the depression monster and losing, if it weren’t for my faith in God. That, more than anything has given me the strength to fight (and win!) and to stand firm no matter what life throws my way. In the book of Philippians chapter four, verse 13 in the Bible, it says, “I can do all things because of Christ who strengthens me” (MEV version), and it’s true.
Yes, the Prozac helped my depression — at first. But eventually, it failed me. Yes, counseling helped somewhat — but people fail, too. And I failed myself back then, because that was before I knew the love of God and asked Jesus to save my sorry life.
And it’s true that the method I used to wipe out my depression was the greatest help of all — but that’s because it’s not only based on science (which God invented, by the way) and the miraculous way God designed our brains and bodies, but also because I had His help. God is the only one who will never, ever fail us.
“And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20, MEV) and “I will never leave you nor forsake you” “…the Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, MEV) (words of Jesus in red)