Whenever I write a post related to anxiety or depression, or about how food affects your mood, there always seems to be a greater response from readers in comparison to other topics I write about. I can only put this phenomenon down to the fact that more and more people are suffering from these conditions and searching for answers. I first witnessed this growing epidemic through my clinical practice, when more than half of my patients reported anxiety and depression as being one of the major issues impacting their health and day-to-day life. I’ve also been in relationships with sufferers of chronic anxiety and depression, and experienced the devastation these conditions can cause, not only on the sufferer’s own life, but on those close to them. It has been through this exposure and my professional work specialising in gut brain health, that I have become so passionate about researching and educating people on natural ways to better manage the effects.
Whilst depression and anxiety are different conditions, over half the people who experience depression, also experience symptoms of anxiety, and in some cases, one can lead to the onset of the other. It’s estimated 45 per cent of people in Australia will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, with around 1 million Australian adults experiencing depression, and over 2 million, have anxiety. But the problem isn’t just limited to Australia, as depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide. Antidepressants, like prozac, zoloft and effexor, are now the third most commonly prescribed drug in the UK, America and Australia. Antidepressant use in America increased by almost 400% between 1988–1994 and 2005–2008, whilst prescriptions for anti anxiety medications, such as Valium and Xanax tripled from 1996 to 2013.
These astounding statistics provide a clear indication that now, more than ever, we need to look for better solutions to not only treat, but also prevent these conditions from occurring at the rate they are. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there are certainly times when taking a prescription medication is critical for managing anxiety and or depression, but in my view, too many people and medical doctors are turning to these medications as a quick fix / band aid treatment, without addressing the underlying causes. So in this post I want to focus on some natural ways to better manage and prevent anxiety and depression, because the answer does not simply lie in popping a pill, but rather in adopting a multifaceted approach to treatment and prevention, for life.
Diet – you have probably heard me bang on about this until the cow’s come home, but it’s as simple as this – every food you eat, affects your mood and if you eat junk, you will think and feel like junk. The food we eat has a direct effect on our hormones, including those that regulate our mood and cognitive function. So if you are looking to reduce or prevent anxiety and depression, then it’s essential to turn your attention to what you are putting into your mouth each and every day. View your food as either natural medicine for your body, or slow poison – I’m talking about processed, high sugar foods containing artificial additives and vegetable oils, as well as gluten. These foods can have a highly toxic effect on your brain, through damaging not just your gut wall, but also the blood brain barrier – the protective membrane around the brain designed to filter out neurotoxins. Including more healthy fats from omega-3 sources – found in anchovies, sardines, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, or krill oil and saturated fats from coconut oil, are highly effective for boosting brain health.
Fix your gut – this is another thing I’ve been beating my drum about for many moons – the importance of optimising your gut function in order to optimise your brain function. This is because your gut and your brain are directly connected via the vagus nerve. So the state of your gut health will determine your brain health. It’s physically impossible to improve or effectively treat anxiety and depression, (or any neurological disorder), without addressing your gut health. Your diet will not only have a direct impact on the function of your gut, but also in maintaining healthy levels of intestinal flora. This is why I created my complete gut repair and detox pack, to repair leaky gut and restore optimal function to your gut and digestive system, in combination with my Eat Yourself Healthy Program, (contained within my e-book and 6WK online program), designed to eliminate the major foods that harm your health, including your brain function.
Exercise – if there is one scientifically proven antidote to combat anxiety and depression, aside from diet and fixing your gut, it would be exercise. Studies have found the effects of regular exercise can be equally, if not more, effective than medication and the effects can last longer than antidepressants. Exercise also reduces feelings of anxiety and encourages feelings of wellbeing. A study from the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry found that running is just as effective as psychotherapy in alleviating symptoms of depression. The positive impact exercise has on depression and anxiety, could stem from the fact that it creates nerve cells that release hormones that have a calming effect on the nervous system, as well as stimulates the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which help to reduce the effects of stress and make us feel happy. This is why we can experience a sense of euphoria after exercise, and why it can become so physically and mentally addictive.
Master good sleep – getting no less than 7 hrs, preferably 8hrs of deep, uninterrupted sleep each night – is essential for reducing the effects of depression and anxiety. The challenge for many sufferers, is that sleep disturbances are typically associated with anxiety and depression. This is because the hormones that influence sleep – primarily melatonin and serotonin – are the same hormones associated with anxiety and depression disorders. You can read my tips for mastering better sleep, here.
Learn the art of mindfulness – relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga and Qi Gong have all been scientifically proven to reduce stress and promote relaxation. Incorporating these into your daily routine will prove to be life changing as far as controlling your mind rather than it controlling you. Look for a meditation course in your local area. Some of the courses I recommend in Sydney include Tim Brown Meditation Andrew Marsh Meditation and the The Broad Place
Replenish nutrient deficiencies – without optimal levels of certain nutrients – specifically D and B vitamins, minerals like zinc, magnesium, iodine and iron, and omega 3 fatty acids from EPA DHA fish oil, the body is unable to produce adequate hormone levels – including neurotransmitters (brain hormones like serotonin, dopamine and melatonin). Excess stress levels; a diet devoid of essential nutrients; food grown in nutrient depleted soil and sprayed with chemicals, in conjunction with leaky gut syndrome, means it is no longer possible to rely on our food to supply optimal nutrient levels for our health. In all the cases of anxiety and depression I have seen within my clinic, testing has revealed deficiencies in many of these nutrients. But through repairing the gut and replenishing underlying nutrient deficiencies, the body is better able to manufacture sufficient levels of hormones, to minimise anxiety and depression.
I’d love to hear if you have found ways to better manage anxiety and depression through diet and lifestyle changes, so why not share your experiences in the comments section below.