” Hello everyone, Cassandra here. Today, I am excited to introduce you to the start of an exciting, brand new series on the Hankering 4 Healthy blog, called Hankering 4 Conversation.
This series is to be an ongoing series of conversational pieces written mainly by other fantastic health and fitness bloggers, with the occasional commentary piece done by yours truly. To start out with, the series is going to cover a number of topics that are hot in the industry right now, but the goal for this series is to eventually get it to the point where we have a monthly topic which is getting a lot of buzz in the health and wellness scene and then have 2-3 bloggers each month sharing their views, opinions, and research on the matter, with an opening or closing article on the matter by me.
I am looking forward to introducing some amazing new bloggers and some really thought provoking new topics to spark a conversation within our community. Part of the journey to health is actually talking about it, so let’s start a conversation and see what happens.
Today our first blogger is Kalina Jones at Happy Minds Natural Health who is diving into the Depression-Inflammation connection. “
Sometimes it seems like depression is everywhere, but it’s one of those things that isn’t very well-understood.
Maybe it’s because different people can experience it in vastly different ways, making there no one stereotype that fits everyone. But so many people who experience it are shamed into silence about a range of mood, memory, and energy symptoms that have the power to bring their lives to a complete halt.
Occasionally, they reach a breaking point and do what they know they’re supposed to: they “seek help.” When they do, they end up in their doctor’s office, on the couch of a therapist, or across a psychiatrist’s desk. And usually, they end up on antidepressants. You don’t have to talk to these people long to get that there’s some serious dissatisfaction with the help they’re receiving. They’re on drugs that don’t always seem to be working, and that are giving them whole new problems that are often brushed off by their doctors. They start to wonder if they’re destined to go from one medication to another for the rest of their lives, if the least severe side effects really are as good as it gets.
Questioning a Paradigm
Is this just what depression looks like? Lives ravaged, futures burned out? No satisfactory answers, and treatments that barely work?
It doesn’t have to be. What if I asked you to reconsider everything you thought you knew about depression? Let’s take it all the way back. Back to chemical imbalances and serotonin deficiencies. Sound familiar? It should, because it has become the go-to explanation of depression. The place you’ve likely heard it most is in pharmaceutical advertisements for these drugs. This idea that too little of the chemical serotonin causes depression and that antidepressants fix this deficiency is blasted to both consumers and doctors by these companies constantly. And if you think about it, it would be all too convenient for them if their drugs were the cure we needed.
The big problem is that research doesn’t support the idea that low serotonin causes depression. That’s right, this idea that is absolutely everywhere isn’t at all based in science. It’s actually based on a very old hypothesis that should have been dismissed years ago when research didn’t bear it out.
So if it’s not a serotonin deficiency, what’s going on? This simple question leads us into a whole new way of looking at depression, a way that’s supported by the latest scientific research, and isn’t limited to the brain but opens us up to the entire body. The most fundamental truth we need to understand about this perspective is that chronic depression is a biological symptom. It’s not a serotonin deficiency and it’s usually not entirely psychological, which is why you may be able to talk to a shrink all day long and still not get better. Depression is a symptom, and symptoms are a lot like smoke alarms. They’re a sign of an underlying problem, something happening on the outside that lets us know there’s a fire raging on the inside.
The New Biology of Depression
There’s actually a large body of research on what’s going on inside the bodies of those suffering from depression. This research has been accumulating for decades, and has more recently begun to receive some mainstream media coverage. Why, then, haven’t we all heard of it? Because it hasn’t reached conventional medicine, and given that research takes an average of 17 years to show up in your doctor’s practice, it’s not that surprising.
What this research shows is that the same inflammation that leads to heart disease, dementia, and other chronic diseases, has a huge link to depression. When you think of inflammation, you might think of the redness and swelling that happens when you get a cut. But inflammation is just your immune system responding to problems in the body in an attempt to protect itself, and it happens all throughout the body. There are a lot of things we’re exposed to on a daily basis in our modern lives that trigger our bodies to react this way, from lack of exercise to crazy stress to the standard American diet. It continues on and on and becomes what is known as chronic inflammation, a damaging war going on inside that ravages our bodies.
So, we live less-than-optimal lifestyles with lots of sketchy exposures and we develop inflammation. But how does that lead us from inflamed to depressed? That question takes us straight into the mind-blowing connectedness of all the body’s systems.
Gut Beginnings and a Path to the Brain
Research on our digestive system, or gut, has blown up in recent years. We know that there’s an entire nervous system in our gut and that more serotonin is made in our intestines than in our brain! We know that all of the bacteria and other friendly beasts in our gut, what we call the microbiome, is vital to our health and well-being. Develop an imbalanced microbiome, and you can expect a lot of dominos in the complicated domino trail of your body to start tumbling.
We also know that the wall of our small intestine, where our food goes after it leaves the stomach, can become compromised. This intestinal wall is incredibly thin, and anything from an imbalance in our gut bacteria to overexposure of substances like antibiotics and sugar can contribute to its breakdown.
What happens? Gaps start to open up in the wall, and undigested food particles can slip out of the intestine and into the bloodstream. This is what’s sometimes called “Leaky gut.” When this happens, the immune system senses foreign particles in the blood and goes on the defensive, kicking off inflammation. And if the lifestyle factors that damaged the gut in the first place continue, this turns into constant, chronic inflammation. You know, the kind we talked about before, the kind that contributes to depression.
Since we know the gut has a nervous system of its very own, it’s not so surprising that there’s a nerve that connects our intestinal nervous system directly to the brain so that inflammation in the body can turn to inflammation in the brain. It suddenly starts to make sense how inflammation that starts in the gut could lead to the mood and memory problems we see with depression.
Of course, it’s not as simple as gut, brain, depression because of the complicated connections throughout the body. This leaky gut isn’t the only way to develop chronic inflammation that can turn to depression over time. And what’s going on in the gut and brain is also affecting the hormones and immune system and vice versa. Each individual’s body may be experiencing different primary root causes caused by different triggers that end up manifesting as very different symptoms.
Part of the reason conventional medicine will be slow to jump on this paradigm is that it must be an individualized healthcare. Seven-minute appointments are never going to come close to getting all the information that’s needed, and seven-minute appointments aren’t going to cut it if we want to get well.
An Empowering Journey to Wellness
But what all of this means is ultimately very empowering. It means you’re not crazy. It means that lifestyle contributed to a fire in your body, and that lifestyle can be the powerful medicine that puts that fire out. But it doesn’t mean that we won’t get weird looks when we talk about how important exercise and nutrition are in our recovery from depression. Or that people won’t roll their eyes when we talk about gut health. Some people will even be offended that you suggest your own lifestyle has a connection to depression, because it means it could have something to do with theirs.
We know this isn’t about blame, and it most definitely isn’t as simple as just eating a little better for a while. It’s going to be a journey. You’re going to need guidance, and you’re going to need time. After all, your body has been going down this destructive path for a long time and recovery isn’t going to happen overnight.
But a journey to take back your life is a journey that’s 100% worth it. And if you battle depression every single day, there’s a reserve of strength inside you deeper than you know. A strength that will come in handy as you take back your power in your journey to wellness. The message I want you to take to heart, that you deserve to hear, is this: it can get better. You can get better.
Latest posts by Kalina Jones (see all)
- What One Health Coach Wishes You Knew About Depression - July 4th 2016
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