The "D" word

More people have it than you think. It affects people in every socioeconomic status. It is hard to tell who has it and who does not. 11% of men and 16% of women will suffer from depression. So what is depression?

Depression does not only affect the mind--it also affects the body. It is normal to experience times of unhappiness and grief, such as the loss of a loved one. However, the normal saddening experiences of life should not be confused with the serious medical illness of depression. Depression is a clinical term used by doctors to define a time period that lasts more than two months in which a person feels worthless and hopeless.

The naturopathic approach to depression focuses on identifying and treating the cause using a combination of dietary, lifestyle, herbal and supplement recommendations.

Possible Contributing Factors:

  • Nutrient deficiencies - particularly vitamin B6, folate/folic acid, vitamin B12, thiamine (vitamin B1) or iron  
  • Imbalance in brain nucleotides - some researchers believe that there is an imbalance in the neurotransmitters of the brain. Many anti-depressants are targeted to regulate these neurotransmitters, such as serotonin
  • Hereditary - up to 50% of individuals suffering from recurrent episodes of depression have a parent who has also experienced depression
  • Drug-induced - examples of drugs that can cause depression include oral contraceptives, alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, caffeine, corticosteroids, beta-blockers and other anti-hypertensive medications
  • Oral contraceptives- may lead to depression in a significant number of individuals because they create a vitamin B6 deficiency - in addition, they may deplete the body of folate, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, and vitamin C. Oral contraceptives may also cause serotonin levels to drop in the brain 
Lastly, stressful or traumatic experiences in our lives can lead to feelings that if left unresolved over extended periods of time, can definitely contribute to the development of depression.  This is when "talk therapy" becomes an important aspect of healing. 

Dietary Modifications:

  • Essential fatty acids- foods high in EFAs include raw nuts, seeds, vegetable oils (walnut, sunflower, flaxseed) and fish oils. EFAs are needed for normal brain function
  • Vitamin B6 – for reasons discussed above, include bananas, feta cheese, halibut, salmon, beans (e.g., chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils and pinto beans), chicken, millet and brown rice
  • Tryptophan- tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin so consider including turkey, chicken, yogurt, nuts, eggs, fish and pineapple
  • Liver cleansing foods - including beets, carrots, artichokes, lemons, parsnips, dandelion greens and watercress
In general, eat a diet that is high in raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains (e.g., brown rice, oats, millet), raw nuts and seeds and legumes (e.g., chick peas, kidney beans, peas, lentils). A whole foods diet will ensure adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates which helps to increase serotonin levels in the brain. 


Lifestyle Modifications:

  • Exercise-is essential in the treatment of depression.  During exercise, the brain produces pain-killing endorphins and enkephalins - these can elevate mood!  Exercise also causes a 200% increase in norepinephrine - one of the brain chemicals that is often low in depression
  • Increase light exposure-increasing exposure to sunlight or bright lights can help elevate mood.  This can be accomplished by a daily walk outside or even by opening the blinds on windows during the day.
  • Sleep - check out Nadia's post
  • Avoid stressful situations- this may seem to be easier said than done, but think about how many daily experiences we turn into stressful ones. One example is for those of us who experience road rage. Traffic is unavoidable so why choose to be angry?
  • Create new thinking habits- learn to recognize, and then to "reroute" negative thinking patterns.  Working with a healthcare practitioner that utilizes cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help to accomplish this goal.

Depression Screening questions:
1. During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?
2. During the past month, have you often been bothered by little interest or pleasure in doing things?

If you answered "yes" to one or both of these questions, consider contacting your health care provider to further assess your mental and emotional well-being.
It is very unlikely to successfully treat depression without the help of a health care provider.


best in health,
kate kokoski



Balch & Balch. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Penguin Putnam Inc.: 2000
Health Canada. Mental Health - Depression. February 2009. Accessed January 28, 2012 from: 
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/diseases-maladies/depression-eng.php
Lazarus. Healing the Mind the Natural Way. Putnam Book: 1995
Pizzorno & Murray. Textbook of Natural Medicine. Churchill Livingstone: 1999

Werbach. Nutritional Influences of Mental Illness: A sourcebook of clinical research. Third Line Press, Inc: 1991
All images taken from www.corbisimages.com

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