Depression is a bit like baking - you need all of the right ingredients, all brought together and mixed for it to happen - and it's a horrible cake. One that you could easily leave alone, yet if you have depression you keep coming back for another slice.
But what are the chemical ingredients, is there a way we can change them and what other things can we do to help relieve depression?
For someone to have depression certain things will have had to have happened within the body to develop the symptoms of depression.
Here I'm going to explain what hormones and neurotransmitters are involved in depression and a few simple ways to help combat them - I warn you, they are simple, effective and are totally free.
What Hormones and Neurotransmitters are involved in Depression?
First off we need to know what a Neurotransmitter and a Hormone is and what the difference is.
A Neurotransmitter is a chemical signal within the brain/nervous system, it has a specific shape and frequency (vibration) that the other cells read as an electrical stimulation. The next cell understands this vibration and shape and acts accordingly passing the message on to the next cell. These communications happen almost instantaneously and a bit like a switch - they can be on or off.
A bit like a radio - you need to tune in to the right frequency to get the right radio station. If you are on the wrong frequency then you get unwanted noise or Radio 1!!
A hormone is essentially the same thing except it occurs in the body, hormones are produced by endocrine organs such as the pancreas/spleen/adrenal glands and are transported around in blood and other fluids of the body. These tend to be less instantaneous however, can still be a fast reaction (your body produces Insulin at the mere thought of food, let alone it touching your tongue and being digested!!) and tend to linger around for a while after production. The body takes time to remove/recycle any excess.
Both Neurotransmitters and Hormones are affected by what we eat, think, do and our environment (people, weather, job, etc).
Therefore, we have the power to change them!! This is Important!
Hormones and Neurotransmitters involved in Depression
Acetylcholine is primarily involved in muscle contraction. When we are stressed and depressed we may have high tension in muscles around the body and therefore we have high levels of Acetylcoline.
Acetylcholine is also partly responsible for the production of stomach acid. If too much is being used by the muscles, this could lead to low stomach acid and therefore heartburn and indigestion.
notice how when your stressed is when you're most likely to have heartburn and reflux?
Ways to relax tension in muscles
Serotonin is primarily found in the Gastrointestinal tract (Small Intestine/Large Intestine) and is involved in mood regulation, sleep and appetite. You may recognise from depression that people often have poor sleep, loss of appetite and drastic mood swings or regular low moods. (Many anti-depressant drugs are based around Serotonin - Either monamine oxidase (MAO) inhhibitors or Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors)
Monamine Oxidase removes serotonin from our system so a MAO inhibitor will prevent the build up of Monamine Oxidase and therfore your body will keep more Serotonin.
Norepinephrine/ Noradrenaline- the neurotransmitter version of adrenaline (a hormone produced in the Adrenal Glands) - involved in our fight or flight response - it prepares us for battle or fleeing from a life threatening situation. Modern lives leave a lot of us commonly in a state of "fear" whether it be through stress, high levels of exercise, poor rest/sleep, excessive caffine consumption etc.
Often linked with Anxiety
Dopamine - the reward Neurotransmitter - whenever you feel great and a task well done we get a dose of dopamine from our Brain as a reward for a job well done, "you should do that again" type feeling. However, if this system becomes depleted by overstimulation (drugs usually) can make you feel low and unable to get out of that low state.
The "normal" level becomes high and to get the same high you need a higher high - the same as insulin sensitivity in Diabetes type 2
Links for a fuller description of each of the main neurotransmitters involved in depression can be found by clicking the name of each NT
If we have the power to change them through thought, food or something else wouldn't you do it?
What you can do to change your Mood.
There are many ways in which we can encourage our body to relax - Vegetating on the sofa with your phone in your eyes does NOT count!!
Exercise - This doesn't have to be hard training but evidence shows that you can decrease cortisol production through a combination of low intensity exercise like walking or slow running AND with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) - aim for 30 - 45 minutes 4 - 5 times per week
Do some low level exercise around the house - vacuuming, light gardening, mopping.
Meditation - it's not all "0hm" and "Ahhh", lycra yoga pants and cymbals although they may help to get you into the right frame of mind. Simply sitting and focussing on breathing and what's going on inside your body for 10 - 20 minutes daily is usually enough to help get you into a more relaxed state.
Many Apps for your phone exist, I'll let you pick one that helps you best.
EFT - Emotional Freedom Technique - a method of tapping your body and head in certain places whilst thinking and talking about a worry/stress/problem. A way of helping you to let go using a simple tapping technique based on the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Meridian System.
Foods to avoid for improved Neurotransmitter Balance when considering Depression
strong and well aged Cheeses
cured or smoked meats
some overripe fruits - such as brown bananas
certain beans, such as fava or broad beans
some sauces or gravies like soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, or bouillon-based sauces
No doubt the most important of all things that we do as a species. Sleep is where our Brains detoxify. We need deep, meaningful, long and undisturbed sleep for it to be fully effective. Length does vary from person to person, your disposition as to whether you're a lark or night owl will also play into it too.
If you do suffer poor sleep there are many things that you can do to help to improve matters.
Eat early - at least 3 - 4 hours before your normal bedtime
Set a bedtime - preferably about 8 hours before you must get up
Avoid caffeine - especially after Lunchtime
Avoid blue light - do NOT look at your phone within the 2 hours before bed. Ideally not a TV, Laptop or tablet either. Any electronic screen has a predominance of Blue light and this signifies to our eyes (and therefore Brain) that it is morning time.
Aim for foods that are high in magnesium an hour or so before bed (a small snack of 1 strawberry and a piece of dark chocolate)
Earthing - being outside, barefoot, links our body and eyes with the natural rhythm of the earth letting our cells know when it's light and dark.
Alternatively earthing bedsheets (below) are a good option - especially when it's cold and wet outside and this way you get 7 - 10 hours of earthing while you sleep.
There are a huge array of other benefits associated with Earthing including improved blood quality, reduced inflammation, better hormone balances, improved sleep and more!!
References for all of this lovely information.