Depression effects over 51% of the U.S. population. If you were to ask someone to describe what depression is, the common answer is that "depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain that leads to feeling severely sad, hopeless, and unimportant making it often difficult to live a normal life."

This will be hard to swallow, but that's not correct. At least, that's not the actual cause of depression.

YES - There are often outside forces that cause depression in many people. 

YES - There is a chemical problem and something is physically wrong with the brain of those people experiencing depression. 

But chronic depression is a result of an unhealthy lifestyle, namely poor nutrition practices, according to many studies. This occurs through increased levels of systematic inflammation (which is bad for you, in case you missed the blog on inflammation). Endless data exists showing the relationship between diet quality and systematic inflammation, even going as far as to show that higher intakes of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, fish and legumes are associated with reduced plasma concentrations of inflammatory markers.

Likewise, traditional Western diets containing high levels of carbohydrates and sugars have shown to increase the inflammatory response in the body. One study went so far as to show that fast food consumers are 51% more likely to develop depression than those who avoid fast food. It consisted of nearly 9,000 participants who had never been diagnosed with depression or taken antidepressants. After six months of examination, 493 or the participants were diagnosed with depression or began taking antidepressants. 

What this all means in layman's terms is the you may be feeding your own depression through the food you eat. Fast food and processed carbs are making you and your brain sick. 

Anti-depressant medications have become widely prescribed and the amount of people taking them has skyrocketed in the past two decades. Between 8-10% of the U.S. population is estimated to be taking anti-depressant medication. This spike does not, however, indicate an increase in depression. These medications treat the symptoms of depression without treating or resolving the cause of the problem. This is important because depression is a precursor to many other serious illnesses caused by systematic inflammation.

Depression increases the risk for:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Cancer
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease

Experts like Daniel Amen, MD believe that depression, obesity and Alzheimer's are all very similar diseases with different expressions in the body resulting from an unhealthy lifestyle. This means that you if currently suffer from depression, the likelihood that you can develop these diseases in the future is significantly increased. 

Here are four ways to fight depression WITHOUT the use of medication:

  1. Diet - Remove excess carbohydrates and sugars (in the form of refined and processed foods i.e. bread, pasta, baked goods, processed junk). Fill your diet with fish, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats and foods that fight inflammation.
  2. Sleep - Research shows that getting 5 or less hours of sleep per night may boost our risk of depression to 53%.
  3. Exercise - Getting 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 times per week has been shown to be out of the best antidepressants. 
  4. Sunlight - Serotonin production in the brain is directly related to sunlight exposure.

Depression is no easy disease to overcome. Dietary changes can make a huge difference, but ongoing coaching is likely necessary in many cases. These holistic changes in your lifestyle and nutrition can change not only the inflammation in your body, but the health of your brain and your entire life.