Doctor’s Tip: Lifestyle and depression
At any given time, an estimated 7 percent of American adults suffer from major depression. Fifteen percent of Americans suffer from major depression at least once during their life. This emotional disorder is associated with many symptoms, but the bottom line is that depressed people lose their “zest for life.” This not only adversely affects the person who has it, but it can affect job performance and relationships with co-workers, friends and family members. And it can be fatal.
Depressed people often wrongly think they would feel better if they just had a different job, had a different spouse or moved to a different location. It’s therefore unwise for a person who is suffering from major depression to make any major decisions until they are better.
Eventually, depression runs its course and mood returns to normal, although some people have chronic, low-grade depression and in other people severe depression is recurrent. Talk therapy and anti-depressants are helpful and in many cases curative — a combination of the two is most effective. Fortunately, we have many trained psychologists and counselors in the valley, as well as psychiatrists. Mind Springs is a great local resource.
Lifestyle changes can also help — diet and exercise. Like so many diseases, inflammation plays a role in depression. An animal-based diet is pro-inflammatory (causes inflammation). A plant-based diet with no salt, sugar or added oil is anti-inflammatory. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen don’t help depression, but an anti-inflammatory diet does: vegetables, herbs and spices, fruit, whole (unprocessed) grains, nuts and seeds. Some psychiatrists have found that antidepressants work better for patients once they get on an anti-inflammatory, plant-based diet. Intensely colored fruit, veggies and whole grains as well as a half-teaspoon of raw turmeric a day have special anti-inflammatory properties. Rosemary and saffron have been shown to work as well as anti-depressants in some studies (search on nutritionfacts.org).
Many studies show that regular exercise — both strength training and aerobic exercise — helps prevent and treat depression. This is related to the higher endorphin levels associated with exercise — chemicals our bodies produce when we exercise, that attach to pleasure receptors in our brain. Also, when people become more fit and stronger, their confidence and mental outlook improve.
Being outside in the sun also helps, especially for those who to tend to get depressed during the shorter, darker days of winter. Although it’s important to protect your eyes from the sun, try protecting them by wearing a hat with a visor rather than strong dark glasses. And don’t sleep in in the morning, because you miss hours of sunlight.
Often people with depression try to self-medicate with alcohol — especially if anxiety is one of their symptoms. This is a mistake, because alcohol is a depressant.
Bottom line: If you suffer from depression, try these lifestyle changes, which help most people. However, if your depression is severe, or if lifestyle changes aren’t enough, by all means see your primary care provider or a mental health professional. Depression is a treatable disease.
Retired physician Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is author of new book “Enjoy Optimal Health, 98 Health Tips From a Family Doctor,” available on Amazon and in local bookstores. Profits go towards an endowment to the University of Colorado School of Medicine to add prevention and nutrition to the curriculum. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention, diabetes reversal, nutrition, and other health issues. Call 379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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