Updated: Mar 3, 2019
It’s hard to imagine that depression could be driven by something other than our perception of stress, but it is true. We often blame stress or our mental state as the cause of our anxiety, depression and fatigue but now we are finding it’s not always the case. Stress and anxiety can make any problem worse it’s true. But the source of such problems are not necessarily what they seem, and often the causes of our problems, while blamed on our mental state, can often be traced back to our chemical state. In other words, there are no definitive blood or tissue tests for depression. Therefore it is not necessarily accurate to classify it as a disease. It’s hardly enough to justify a 400% increase in depression since 1988 I know. Nor is it enough to justify prescribing 1 in 10 people over the age of 12 an antidepressant drug, but that is what happens in the United States today.
It’s true! There are actually nine symptoms that doctors look for when they examine their patients for clinical depression and none affect the tissues or cells of the body. A diagnosis is made if a person has five or more of the “symptoms” for more than two weeks, or if there is considerable impairment in normal functioning. These nine factors include:
Feelings of sadness or irritability
Loss of interest in sex and activities once enjoyed
Changes of weight or appetite
Changes in sleeping patterns
Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless
Inability to concentrate, remember things, or make decisions
Fatigue or loss of energy
Restlessness or decreased activity noticed by others
Thoughts of suicide or death
So, as you can see, there’s no tissue culture, no blood test, no neurological exam or image that can be done to come by the “diagnosis” of depression. It does not exist; however, people with depression have been found to have certain nutritional idiosyncrasies which are very real, and this is where we need to focus our attention.
How so? Well let’s look at some of the elements found in our diet that appear connected. Take the artificial sweetener aspartame for instance, a sweetener commonly found in soda. Adverse reactions from aspartame are the number one source of side-effect complaints to the FDA, with over 10,000 complaints filed and over 91 symptoms documented that are related to its consumption. Among them are mental adverse effects such as depression and panic attacks. Unfortunately, aspartame toxicity is not well-known by doctors, despite its frequency of use and FDA complaints. I just read a New York Times article about depression and anxiety in college students. The premise of the article was that there appears to be a “sickness of self-deprecation in college students today” whereby “they don’t see the beauty and hope in themselves.”. Really? No mention of the link between soda consumption and depression and anxiety. No mention of soda consumption on college campuses? You know the use is heavy. In fact 95% of college students report soda usage. The permissives are amass with trying to help those in need, which is good. But their idea of helping is to stroke the students’ shoulders and pat their back while giving them a free soda to sip on to ease their “pain”. We are missing the facts. There is a root cause of these problems. We need to stop stroking the symptoms and understand prevention and effectiveness of treatment.
Aspartame is only one of the issues when it comes to anxiety and depression. But a number of studies have shown that aspartame alone has a detrimental effect on brain function, neurological, cognitive, and behavioral health such as depression and anxiety.
A 1986 evaluation of reactions to food additives and aspartame (in commonly consumed amounts) was linked to mood alterations (anxiety, agitation, irritability, or depression), headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and fatigue. A 1993 study found that individuals with mood disorders are particularly sensitive to aspartame, suggesting its use should be discouraged. In the clinical study, the project was halted by the Institutional Review Board after a total of 13 individuals had completed the study because of the severity of reactions within the group of patients with a history of depression. Another study, in 2006, found that high concentrations of aspartame can cause neurological symptoms, including memory and learning problems, leading into the question as to why a college campus would not make such information available to students. Rather they prefer to increase the staffing for counseling and helping the student cope better. Yet, in 2008, researchers asserted that excessive aspartame ingestion might be involved in the pathogenesis of certain mental disorders and also in compromised learning and emotional functioning.
Some say there’s no connection of course. A series of studies sponsored by a Japanese company that manufactures aspartame found no conclusive evidence! Alrighty then! And we should believe them even though the FDA have it clearly listed in their list of side effects. Good grief!
In addition to anxiety and depression being connected to aspartame use, there’s plenty of evidence showing food additives as being a culprit too. Fifty years ago there were less than 1,000 food additives used in our food, today it’s over 10,000, many of which the FDA do not regulate, nor are they aware of their existence. The FDA have allowed the food manufacturers a Carte Blanc which has allowed them to produce a deadly anxiety producing cocktail of chemicals that also leads to disease and dysfunction. These additives include high fructose corn syrup, MSG, food dyes and flavorings. One serving of Kellogg's Fiber Plus Antioxidants Berry Yogurt Crunch for instance, which sounds fairly healthy, contains over 13 different additives, preservatives, and food dyes, including red #40 and blue #1, which are known to cause allergic reactions. They are also linked to mutations leading to cancer in lab animals. It also contains BHT, monoglycerides, and cellulose gum. In addition, conventional milk poured on that cereal often contains residues of artificial bovine growth hormones, known endocrine disruptors as well as antibiotics used in industrial milk production. A Subway sandwich has over 40 different preservatives and dyes! You don’t even want to know the number of chemicals found in a McDonald’s hamburger. The tragic part of this is that we have been aware of food dyes and hyperactivity in children for years, with little change in packaging or products. What is worse, those children grow into anxious adults because of those dyes, and herein lies part of the problem.
Another issue in depression is chronic hypoglycemia associated with insulin and leptin resistance. First of all, let’s be clear on one major point – hypoglycemia is not a “disease” either, nor is it a psychological problem in that you either have it or don’t, it is a condition, and, in most cases, it is fully reversible.
Sure, some types of hypoglycemia are caused by a tumor or other physical damage to a gland. However, that is rare, and not the focus of this blog. Most causes of hypoglycemia – called “functional,” “reactive,” or “fasting” – is your body’s reaction to what you put in it (or in the case of fasting, what you do not). The term hypoglycemia means low blood sugar, but it is more a consequence of leptin and insulin than anything else.
Leptin is a hormone that plays a key role in regulating energy intake and energy expenditure. Leptin may be one of the most important hormones in your body that will determine your health and lifespan. Insulin is another hormone which regulates blood sugar, and the two work together. Understand that both insulin and leptin resistance are associated with obesity, and impairment of their ability to transfer the information to receptors is the true foundational core of most all chronic degenerative diseases.
Metabolism can roughly be defined as the chemistry that turns food into energy, and therefore insulin and leptin are both critical to health and disease. Insulin and leptin work together to control the quality of your metabolism, and, to a significant extent, your rate of metabolism.
Here’s how it all works. Eating food stuffs that are high in processed carbohydrates or sugar elevate your blood sugar levels. Insulins job is to regulate that blood sugar level in order to keep you blood levels “normal”. In insulin resistance, muscle, fat, and liver cells do not respond properly to insulin and thus cannot easily absorb glucose from the bloodstream. As a result, the body needs higher levels of insulin to help glucose enter cells. Insulin resistance promotes an increase in fats and glycogen (blood sugar) in the bloodstream, which eventually leads to metabolic syndrome.
So here’s how leptin ties into this. Leptin is a hormone that helps you regulate your appetite. When your leptin levels rise, it signals your body that you’re full, so you’ll stop eating. That’s good, however, as you become increasingly resistant to the effects of leptin, you end up eating more. So just like becoming numb to insulin, we also become numb to leptin. Many people who are overweight and eat processed carbohydrates tend to use the immediate sugars as a fuel and fail to burn the fat off because sugar is more bioavailable than fat. This leads to an impairment in their body’s ability to oxidize fat, which leads to a low-energy state and contributes to obesity.
Before the blood sugar levels are too high however, you experience highs and lows from a poor diet. Whereby eating something sugary spikes the blood sugar, insulin over regulates it and drops it lower (hypoglycemia), causing hunger and fatigue and the seeking of more sugar to overcompensate for the issue, and the cycle continues.
Chronic hypoglycemia is the body’s inability to properly regulate blood sugar levels, causing the level of sugar in the blood to be too low or to fall too rapidly.
Blood sugar, in the form of glucose, is the basic fuel for all brain operation and physical activity, including muscular. If the available fuel is too inadequate, any marginal physical or mental system may start to shut down. In addition, the glandular imbalances that result, as the glands struggle to regulate the sugar level, cause their own symptoms – especially high adrenaline, which is usually perceived as anxiety or panic, but, in some cases, can lead to violence.
OK, so here’s the typical pattern: you eat or drink excess sugar (the average American consumes well over 120 lbs/yr or a third of a pound a day. The body releases insulin to put sugar into storage, but the insulin response is excessive. About 2 hours later so much sugar has been put into storage that there is not enough left in the blood, and you get a low-blood-sugar emergency causing weakness, hunger, food cravings and a general mental fog. The body responds to the emergency by dumping adrenaline into the system to get the energy levels up and then more symptoms follow from the high adrenaline, such as racing heart and anxiety. Eventually the roller coaster of rises and falls in critical hormones causes imbalance in all the hormones and often results in ongoing symptoms such as brain fog, anxiety and depression.
Don’t think it’s you? Do you eat processed carbs? Then it’s you and you will at some point get an adrenalin response from it. Now, some people will respond to their adrenaline response with extreme hunger. Others will respond with anger, still others will perceive it as fear or anxiety.
In most cases, the simplest definition of anxiety is the way you perceive your adrenalin rush. If adrenaline is moderately high for too long, people begin to feel anxious and then they wonder why. This type of anxiety is called “free-floating” anxiety.
If, on the other hand, adrenaline shoots up to a very high level rapidly, and then decreases rapidly, the anxiety is brief but intense. This is called a “panic attack.” If you regularly pick a particular thing to tie the anxiety to, such as high places, that’s called a “phobia.”
OK, so how does hypoglycemia tie into depression? A study in the Journal of Family Medicine has shown a direct correlation between depression and increased risk of hypoglycemic episodes. This is extremely important for several reasons. Depression is not uncommon in people suffering from diabetes and treatment can become difficult with a diabetic patient suffering with depression as severe hypoglycemia is often present. People with depression can have a 40% higher risk of developing low blood sugar according to the study.
To reverse the condition, the body must be allowed to recover. It really is that simple. This is done by eliminating all foods and beverages that deliver sugar or any type of sweetener rapidly. No really, the cure for “low blood sugar” is to AVOID sugar and simple carbohydrates, like white wheat flour, that convert rapidly into sugar.
Stress, of course, makes all problems worse. And if you can eliminate stress – fine. But, realistically, it is much easier to simply control what you consume. Obviously the best stress reducer is exercise, but technically your stress levels will be lower if your adrenalin levels are not spiking due to your diet choices.
There’s no doubt in my mind that radically reducing or eliminating all forms of sugar and artificial sweeteners from your diet is a crucial step to prevent and/or address depression as well as a host of other health related issues. Quite simply, if you fail to address the root of the problem, you could be left floundering and struggling with an ineffective and potentially toxic Band-Aid for a long time, one that may eventually require medication. Your diet plays an enormous part in your mental health so do not ignore the impact sugar, processed carbs, food additives and artificial sweeteners might be having. Here are six additional strategies that can help you even further:
Exercise – I know, had to put it at the top of the list, but if you have depression, or even if you just feel down from time to time, exercise is a MUST. The research for exercise and stress is undeniable in this area, with studies confirming that physical exercise is at least as good as antidepressants for helping people who are depressed. One of the primary ways it does this is by increasing the level of endorphins, the "feel good" hormones, in your brain. It also helps to normalize your insulin and leptin signaling, and helps you regulate adrenalin.
Eat a healthy diet – A factor that cannot be overlooked is your diet. Foods have an immense impact on your mood and ability to cope. Seek out whole foods, organic foods, grass fed meat and wild caught fish. Avoid grains and concentrate instead on nutritionally dense foods. Anything that has been fortified is by definition not nutritionally dense.
Avoid Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners- Artificial sweeteners have been a major American health disaster, especially aspartame, and should not even be considered as a substitute for sugar. They make recovery for hypoglycemics much more difficult and are a major health hazard. Avoiding sugar and grains will help normalize your insulin and leptin levels, and eliminating artificial sweeteners will eliminate your chances of suffering its toxic effects. Aspartame will also affect your gut health.
Optimize your gut health – Fermented foods are important for optimal mental health, as they are key for optimizing your gut health. One product, Tula’s Cocokefir literally has 40-50 billion probiotics in it, making it better than most supplement forms of probiotics. Do not underestimate the importance of good gut health. Your gut can significantly influence your mind, mood, and behavior. Your gut actually produces more mood-boosting serotonin than your brain does. Fermented foods are phenomenal for rebuilding the gut, but be patient it can take up to 6 months or longer to fully repair and rebuild a gut.
Support optimal brain functioning with essential fats –Animal-based omega-3 fats, like krill oil. Has a great impact on the human brain and its health. Other fats such as coconut oil have also been found to retard the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This may be the single most important nutrient to battle depression and dementia.
Optimize your Vitamin D – Making sure you're getting enough sunlight exposure to have healthy vitamin D levels is a crucial factor in treating depression or keeping it at bay. One study after another has found people with low D have more depression. Another study found that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels. Vitamin D deficiency is actually more the norm than the exception, and has previously been implicated in both psychiatric and neurological disorders.
Depression is a very serious condition, however it is not a "disease." Rather, it's a set of signals or markers that your body and your life are out of balance and that your body is interacting badly with your diet. This is so important to remember, because as soon as you start to view depression as an "illness," you think you need to take a drug to fix it; you do not. In reality, all you need to do is return nutritional balance to your life, and one of the key ways to doing this is addressing your diet.