Depression is the body’s signal that something is wrong: physically, chemically, or emotionally
People with depression often avoid talking about their symptoms, hesitate before seeking help, and often speak of their symptoms with shame. They sometimes believe their depressive SYMPTOMS reflect their strength or character. Of course they don’t!! Depression is simply the body’s signal that something is out of balance physically, chemically, or emotionally. It is not the signal of character weakness.
It is clear that depression is actually a very helpful signal in our body. It works similarly to pain. If a person puts their hand on a very hot surface, it hurts. The pain is a signal to pay attention to her hand and make sure she take it off the heat before getting severely injured. If she didn’t feel pain, she’d put our hand on a hot surface and might not ever notice the severe injury until it was too late. While it’s not pleasant, we need pain.
Depression works the same way. If someone has unresolved emotional issues, inflammation or damage to the cells of the small intestine, a brain injury, a thyroid issue, a low-level chronic infection, or is missing vital nutrients, then they will likely develop depression.
Depression is the body’s way of saying, “Hey! Something is wrong and we have to fix it!” If your body is sending you this signal, don’t ignore it. You are not depressed because you are weak or flawed. You are depressed because something is wrong and your body is trying to get your attention.
Depression is the body’s way of saying, “Hey! Something is wrong and we have to fix it!”
TEMPORARY DEPRESSION VS. CLINICAL DEPRESSION: THERE’S A DIFFERENCE
The length, severity, cause, and reaction to depression all matter. Mourning may pass over time or it may linger deeply. The two can and should be treated differently.
Some symptoms of depression are familiar: sadness, despair, emptiness, hopelessness, thoughts of suicide. Some are less familiar: anxiety, low energy, too much or too little sleep, a loss of interest in pleasure activities, difficulty making decisions that were once easy, a feeling of seeing “reality” now whereas happier times were a false illusion (this one can be particularly pernicious as the brain is playing tricks on perception).
Now, it is important to note that many of these feelings are simply normal healthy human emotions that are temporary. While they are occurring though, it is important to attempt to recognize WHY they are occurring. When something bad happens, some temporary symptoms of depression can be expected. Talk therapy, speaking with friends, or seeking out counseling may help.
If symptoms last for a long time or are extreme, simply trying to talk one’s self out of clinical depression likely will not work. Regular counseling is always appropriate and can be very helpful, but at certain stages is only part of the solution.
IDENTIFY THE ROOT CHEMICAL IMBALANCE
Here’s the kicker. It becomes critical at this point to identify the root chemical imbalances, and then to follow the right supporting dietary/supplement/prescription combination. They should be individualized for every person’s specific situation. Some solutions are as simple as taking a thyroid supplement or HTP5, while some may be more complex.
The great news is, that with the right in-depth chemical testing, the right plan can be put in place for healing! Progressive runs comprehensive evaluations and testing to determine the root cause. As an added upside, the remedy can often be natural (diet or supplements), so as to avoid long-term dependence on a prescription pharmaceutical product.
CURIOUS AS TO WHY PEOPLE ARE DEPRESSED?
They right answer is that people are not depressed, their chemicals are depressed.
Here’s why their chemicals may become depressed: Emotions, appetites, sleep schedules, energy levels, and so much more are completely dependent on a delicate symphony of hormones in our body.
The levels of all of these hormones change throughout the day, prompting people to wake up, eat, feel energized, get tired, fall asleep, and perform all the necessary functions for life. It is, to say the least, extremely complicated. When this symphony is disrupted, depressive symptoms (and many other issues) can develop.
When we hear about depression as a “chemical imbalance,” we’re mostly thinking about the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Even though there are many other factors involved, pharmaceutical options usually revolve around these particular neurotransmitters. The concept is pretty simple.
Let’s use serotonin, one of our “happy hormones,” as an illustration. If a typical physician suspects that the body doesn’t have enough serotonin, then they would prescribe a drug to increase serotonin levels, called an SSRI. Simple, right? Occasionally, it is this simple, and these medications can be very successful. This is about 30% of the time. Unfortunately, success isn’t the case 70% of the time- the MAJORITY of the time. Further, these medications have the potential to exacerbate the problem in the case that low seratonin wasn’t the problem to begin with.
Sadly, most doctors today do not test serotonin levels before prescribing SSRI’s. Nor do they test for other contributors and co-factors that make our other “happy chemicals.” The testing & benchmarking for these multiple chemicals is highly overlooked in traditional medicine.
SSRIs are only effective 30% of the time. Why? They only treat 30% of the issues causing depression.
WHY WOULDN’T THE BODY PRODUCE ENOUGH SEROTONIN?
Let’s stick with our example of Serotonin for now. If the doctor DID test serotonin levels (which we DO at Progressive), they should look at many factors.
- First, what is the quality of the body’s serotonin factories, which include the brain and small intestine? Damage to either of these organs could result in decreased production.
- Things that would impact the brain would generally (but not always) be a little more dramatic and noticeable, like head injuries or tumors.
- Things that would impact the small intestine are often much more difficult to recognize. Eating something that causes inflammation or damage to the intestinal cells can result in a decreased production of serotonin. This inflammation or damage can go completely unnoticed or might be easily brushed off as “just a little bloating,” or “a tiny bit of heartburn,” or “occasional loose stool”—nothing that would be immediately alarming or concerning for most people. The usual culprits we like to blame for intestinal inflammation are sugar, dairy, eggs, and gluten, but it can be something as healthy as spinach or apples depending on each person’s own sensitivities, food allergies, and overall gastrointestinal health.
- Even if the small intestine and the brain are in perfect working order, it is still possible that there isn’t enough serotonin. We then have to make sure there are enough raw materials available to make serotonin. The main building block of serotonin is tryptophan, a fairly common amino acid. Infamously found in turkey, it can also be found in other poultry, nuts, seeds, legumes, and seafood, among other things. Additionally, producing serotonin requires a few B vitamins and, in the brain, vitamin D.
- Is there enough of these building blocks in the diet?
- If yes, but the person is still deficient, are they not able to absorb the nutrients properly?
- Are there possible issues decreasing these neurotransmitters noted above (tryptophan, for example)
- If the hormones created by the thyroid and adrenal glands are out of balance, that can also contribute to depression. Many factors can contribute to this imbalance such as chronic stress or simply a lack of thyroid T3 & T4. These can cause fatigue and also contribute to an overall depressed chemical set.
As you see, it’s complicated. That is why it is important to test the levels of many chemicals and explore the range of possible contributors before simply trying an SSRI (which is only effective 30% of the time). It is important with other “happy chemicals” to be in the right range, as extreme ranges can cause other issues. Balance is key.
As this simplified image shows:
BEYOND INJURY, WHAT ELSE CAN CAUSE DEPRESSION?
A properly functioning immune system can cause depression. When the immune system is activated, immune cells send signals throughout the body, called cytokines. These cytokines are responsible for telling the body to induce a fever, produce mucus, make us cough and sneeze, inspire us to lie in bed—all the terrible things we hate but which actually make it easier for our body to fight an infection. It has been discovered that one cytokine in particular, interleukin-1 or IL-1, can cause depressive symptoms.
It seems odd that our immune system would cause us to be depressed when we get sick, but there is a reasonable theory: when the immune system is fighting a contagious bug, it forces one to be withdrawn, irritable, tired, and unmotivated, which would cause someone to stay in bed and avoid other people. This would protect others in the community from catching the bug.
This explains why we are depressed when we are sick, but our immune system may also cause depression even if we aren’t sick. IL-1 levels can be elevated without feeling a full-on illness. This can be caused by a chronic, low-level infection that we may not notice.