The Link Between Depression and Brain Health
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Many researches are now believing that traditional methods for treating depression are not, in fact, the best approach to be taking. Methods that involve pharmaceutical drugs may not be the best answer to restoring happiness, in fact, they argue that brain health and inflammation might be the key to banishing chronic depression for good.
Antidepressants are the most popular psychiatric medication out there, with anti-anxiety drugs, sedatives, and hypnotics coming in second. So, what? Is this a problem? Can you upgrade your brain and kick depression naturally?
If you don’t know much about depression and how it is linked to brain health then keep reading to find out how you can optimize your brain to keep on track with feeling at your best every day.
What is depression?
Depression is when feelings of sadness, emptiness and irritability (crankiness) last longer than two weeks, affect most parts of a person’s daily life, and stop them from doing things that they used to enjoy.
There is no simple answer to why depression happens. For some, a mix of events or issues can end up affecting how they feel, think and act. For others, there is no clear reason, however, five (or more) of the following symptoms have to be present for a consecutive 2-week period will determine by a physician, if you have depression or not. At least one of these has to be “depressed mood” or “loss of interest or pleasure”:
- Depressed mood (i.e., sad, empty, hopeless)
- Diminished of pleasure in all (or almost all) activities
- Change in weight more than 5% in one month when not dieting
- Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
- Psychomotor changes (slowed down or sped up) – must be observed by others
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day
- Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, or suicidal attempts
Types of depressions
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are different types of depression, and several disorders include depression symptoms. It’s super important to understand this so we can know what type of depression is what and we don’t get into the ‘labelling’ game or just diagnosing ourselves with a so-called disease when really, we may just be sad.
Bipolar I and II disorders Bipolar I and bipolar II disorders include mood swings that range from highs (hypomania or mania) to lows (major depression). It’s hard to differentiate between bipolar disorder and depression because most people don’t see their doctor when they have high or elated moods; they only seek medical treatment for the low, depressive moods.
Cyclothymic disorder Cyclothymic disorder involves slightly milder highs and lows than those of bipolar I or bipolar II disorders.
Persistent depressive disorder Often referred to as dysthymia, persistent depressive disorder is a long-term but less-severe type of depression. This milder depressive disorder can be chronic and keep you from living your life normally.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder This type of depression is triggered by hormonal changes about seven days prior to and three days after the onset of your period. After your period, the depressive feelings go away.
Other depression disorders Other types of depression are caused by using recreational drugs, some prescribed medications, or another medical condition.
Inflammation at a glance
By now, you may be thinking ‘what does inflammation have to do with depression’? The process of inflammation normally shuts down after healing occurs. But trouble can arise when the inflammation process gets stuck “on” and doesn’t know when to stop. Then inflammation can turn on your body, attacking healthy cells, blood vessels, and tissues instead of protecting them. This is called chronic or systemic inflammation.
You can develop chronic inflammation anywhere in the body — including the brain. Unlike the inflammation of an injury or arthritis, brain inflammation doesn’t cause pain since the brain has no pain receptors. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there, causing hidden damage to your most vital organ.
For decades, the answer for why people get chronically depressed was simple: an imbalance in brain chemistry. Doctors and researchers thought if they could just balance your neurotransmitters, then you’d be cured. But there are a couple of problems with this theory. First of all, it’s impossible to accurately measure serotonin levels in a live human brain. Second, the drugs that pharmaceutical companies are making to alter serotonin levels in depressed people aren’t really working.
So if serotonin levels aren’t to blame for depression, what is?
So we did some research and found that depressed people show signs of extreme oxidative stress and lower overall antioxidant levels. A number of doctors are now looking at a new theory of depression – that high levels of inflammation are to blame for depression.
Oxidative stress (often called OS) is what happens when your body does not have enough antioxidants to neutralize free radicals.
When you have less antioxidant activity, you end up with more oxidative stress, and your brain is especially vulnerable to it. Ongoing oxidative stress leads to chronic inflammation, which is bad for your brain.
Antioxidants are your key to reducing oxidative stress. Vitamin E, polyphenols, beta-carotene and other vitamins are all potent antioxidants that protect you from free radical damage and reduce brain and body inflammation. Inflammation is your body’s first line of defense against infection and injury.
Ever woken up with brain fog, mental fatigue or lack of mental clarity? These symptoms can be a sign of brain inflammation and can be causes of depression. Some experts believe depression may not be a disease, but rather a symptom of inflammation. The medical community largely believes that depression is caused by low levels of “feel good” brain chemicals, usually serotonin and sometimes dopamine.
But this is only a theory — albeit a very widely held one!
So if the key is to maintain a low inflammatory state in the body to heal our mind, what must we be doing on a daily basis to combat this?
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with chronic depression or simply have the blues now and then, building a better brain through lifestyle hacks and better nutrition can help you rebound mentally and physically.
Keep at the above, keep it consistent and be thoughtful and loving towards yourself. Everything comes in waves and if you can ride those waves with a stronger mind you have set up a more successful pathway for yourself.
- Byrnes, Stephen, "Staying on Top of Oxidative Stress," WestonAPrice.org.
From inflammation to sickness and depression: when the immune system subjugates the brain. R Dantzer, JC O'Connor, GG Freund, RW Johnson, KW Kelley
Nature reviews neuroscience 9 (1), 46
Sickness behavior as a new target for drug development
S Kent, RM Bluthé, KW Kelley, R Dantzer
Trends in pharmacological sciences 13, 24-28