Depression affects people of all ages, even teenagers. It affects over 19 million Americans a year, and unfortunately the condition is twice as common in females as in males.
But there are certain factors that can increase depression as we age. According to Johns Hopkins you’re “more likely to develop depression if you are between ages 45 and 64, nonwhite, or divorced, and if you never graduated high school, can’t work or are unemployed, and don’t have health insurance.”
The entire boomer generation will experience events that can trigger depression: the loss of a spouse, partner or close friends, financial calamity, deteriorating health, loss of independence…the list goes on.
Unless one wants to have a Prozac crutch the rest of their life, a little bit of awareness and a little change in diet and lifestyle could level off your mood, abate depression, and get you a whole lot healthier. It’s a natural neurotransmitter in our system called serotonin.
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that dramatically affects our moods. It’s formed in the brain and primarily found in three parts of the body – the brain, the lining of the digestive tract, and in blood platelets. In the brain, serotonin’s main effects include improving mood and giving you that “satisfied” feeling from food. It’s also thought to help promote sleep and relaxation.
“So what’s the big deal about eating pasta to chase away the blues? The big problem is…there is also a spike in insulin which could cause weight gain if done consistently, and guess what? Something else to get depressed about.”
It is believed that serotonin levels that are too low can cause depression. Depression affects 19 million Americans a year, with the condition twice as common in females than in males.
It turns out that women are more susceptible to depression caused by lowered serotonin. According to noted author Dr. Nicholas Perricone MD, because of their unique brain chemistry, women naturally have lower levels of serotonin, and this important “feel-good chemical” drops even lower during menstrual cycles. Without consciously knowing, in order to raise levels of serotonin rapidly, women tend to eat carbohydrates, which boosts blood sugar resulting in a rise of serotonin levels.
So what’s the big deal about eating pasta to chase away the blues? The big problem is. In addition to that serotonin elevation, there is also a spike in insulin which could cause weight gain if done consistently, and guess what? Something else to get depressed about.
Through more beneficial foods, one can elevate their serotonin level without spiking their insulin levels. Try turkey, black eyed-peas, black and English walnuts, almonds, sesame or pumpkin seeds, and cheddar, gruyere or Swiss cheese.
Exercise and Increased Serotonin Levels
Another way to maintain a consistently appropriate level of serotonin is to exercise regularly. It is impossible to overdose on serotonin, or any natural body chemical, brought on by exercise.
Researchers at Duke University demonstrated several years ago that exercise can be an effective antidepressant. Putting aside for the moment, that cardiovascular exercise can produce endorphins otherwise known as a “runner’s high”, it is also an effective remedy for depression.
Animal studies have found that exercise increases levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. All of these neurotransmitters have been associated with elevated mood, and it is thought that antidepressant medications like Prozac also work by boosting these chemicals.
“You don’t have become a gym rat and spend endless hours at a health club to combat depression, just a little will go a long ways.”
Exercise has also been found to increase levels of “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF). This substance is thought to improve mood, and it may play a role in the beneficial effects of exercise. BDNF’s primary role seems to be to help brain cells survive longer; so this may also explain some of the beneficial effects of exercise on dementia.
You don’t have become a gym rat and spend endless hours at a health club to combat depression, just a little will go a long ways. Consider joining a local express gym where you could get benefit from three one-half hours sessions a week, and gain both strength and cardiovascular health at the same time and drop a few pounds to boot.
At the very least, walk. You can start off slowly and increase your distance and pace over time. Find something, anything, that you enjoy, that will elevate your heart rate, and make it a weekly habit. This will benefit both your body and your brain.
Sometimes Diet and Exercise Just Are Not Enough
Chronic depression is something that should not be taken lightly. If altering your diet and increasing your exercise don’t snap you out of it, you should seek medical help.
Some cases of depression are influenced by reduced quantities or activity of serotonin in the brain. Certain medications like selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI) work to balance serotonin levels in the brain. For some people, SSRIs, such as Prozac, may be helpful.
However, the causes and solutions might be more involved than unbalanced serotonin levels alone. A medical professional can help determine the best course of action.