Depression, over the years, has come more and more into the spotlight as research has highlighted its high occurrence and it has become an issue less taboo to discuss. Over the last decade this explosion in research has resulted in more effective medication and counselling therapies, and with this a choice in type of treatment has been afforded to many sufferers. The nineties focus on healthy living prompted many more ‘natural’, herbal or homeopathic remedies to gain popularity and there was also a move toward a change in lifestyle and eating habits to prevent and treat depression.
A fairly new line of research has recently found sugar to be involved in depression. According to research conducted in America: it was found that the average American eats more than 125 pounds of sugar per year, and that this comprises approximately 25% of daily calorie intake.
According to Rita Elkins, author of Solving the Depression Puzzle: “We have become obsessed with sugar, not fully recognizing what excessive sugar consumption not only does to the body, but also the mind. Sugar is a powerful substance that can have a drug-like effect, and it is considered addictive by a number of nutritional experts. In fact, excessive amounts of sugar can be toxic.”
According to McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Weekly, cutting down on sugar is probably one of the best things you could do for your health, although it can be one of the hardest. McMan found studies done by Richard Wurtman MD and Judith Wurtman MD which found that: “Sugar and starch in carbohydrates boosted serotonin [one of the main brain chemicals implicated in depression] levels, and that people who excessively craved carbohydrates were also prone to depression. Additionally, depressed people are drawn to sugar and fat combinations such as those found in cookies and chocolate. On the face of it then, a meal of nachos, buttered noodles, white bread, root beer, sugar doughnuts and chocolate mousse would represent all the major food groups to a person with a mood disorder, but there’s more to it than that. Inevitably, a short time later, even though the stomach is full, the brain is signaling for more. Food-wise, you have enough in your tank to see you through a parched Sub-Saharan summer, but craving-wise your brain is telling you you’re in the middle of winter in the Donner Pass. Now we have a problem, for speed-dialing Domino’s or whatever 911 equivalents you have to rushing carbohydrates to the scene can stimulate insulin overproduction which can paradoxically lower blood sugar and result in further cravings.”
This low blood sugar, hypoglycemia, has been shown by studies, to be linked to depression. Approximately 77% of people with hypoglycemia are suffering from depression. But this is only one part of a vicious cycle. The sugar loading causes weight gain, which in turn, leads to a loss of energy and at times a low self-esteem, which is often associated with depression. The side effect of weight gain associated with anti-depressant medications doesn’t help. Crash dieting also aggravates the problem, decreasing the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) norepinephrine, with can result in feelings of apathy, and serotonin, which can precipitate a carbohydrate binge, continuing the devastating cycle.
Rita Elkins’ solution to this problem is to use a holistic approach to treating this depression. Vitamin and nutrient supplements are recommended along with sensible eating habits. She also recommends avoiding eating when you are anxious, bored, depressed, lonely or frustrated, avoiding nibbling after meals, avoiding using food as a reward, to drink when hungry and then to eat only if you are still hungry, or to join a support group.
The Depression and Anxiety Support Group offers counselling, referrals to support groups and also referrals to appropriate mental health professionals if necessary. They can be contacted, Monday to Friday, 8am to 7pm, Saturdays, 8am to 5pm and on Sundays, 9am to 1pm, on (011) 783-1474/6.
If you are already on medication for depression, it is not recommended to discontinue these in favour of vitamins, but perhaps to supplement your medication. Consulting your doctor before implementing this decision is advised. Together, these treatments fight the whole battle, not only half, and more holistic approaches are becoming more and more the preferable way to treat illness. It is also recommended that you do not attempt to self-medicate using ‘natural’ medications, as although more ‘natural’, they are just as chemically effective, and therefore not necessarily safer.
*taken from McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Weekly Oct 3, 2001, Vol 3 No. 38