Preventing and treating depression with food and Traditional Oriental Medicine
A healthy diet not only keeps us better physically, it also keeps us happy mentally. Indeed, we are much more than just a makeup of chemical reactions and processes of the different organs. The beings on this planet are very complex and modern science does not have it figured out and probably never will. There is just so much unknown when things are analyzed in a pure chemically and physiologically-based assessment of life. It is much better to admit that we don’t know what we don’t know and just learn to follow nature. Observation of nature and observation of the consequences of our actions is one of the best ways we can learn and improve.
The point here is that, no, we are not a mind separate from the body separate from the soul. Modern Western science’s divisiveness of the human beings and all other beings is not the Gold Standard. It is not only off in so much of its assessment and findings, it may even be the “black, dirty oil standard” in certain aspects. While some of the modern science seems to be correct, not all of it is. Furthermore, what we need today in science is good, objective science. When it comes to health, we have some of the most subjective science as never before in our history. The conglomerate pharmaceutical companies and agricultural chemical companies such as Monsanto and others perform clinical trials which will always make them look good. In healthcare, objectivity has really been thrown out the window.
Ancient scientists and medical practitioners developed and learned by observing the ways of nature and understanding that we are only part of nature, and that they needed to live in harmony with it. Very wisely, they knew they could not CONTROL nature. This is how modern science started out, but, alas, has lost its way due to ego.
The modern method to treat mental depression is quite barbaric. Prescribing drugs that are literally uppers and downers (Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications) which have multiple harmful side effects is nothing short of torture. While some people do get relief from them, the payoff is long-term damage to their health, including their mind. It would not surprise me that one day, the anti-psychotic drug industry themselves will find out that these are one of the major factors causing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
So much for “slaughtering” the conventional treatments for depression. Let’s take a look at how we can treat this naturally.
The gut and the brain:
The gut is often looked at in Oriental medicine theory and in Asian culture as the second brain. A person who is very fearful and not brave, in the Chinese language, is described as a person who “has no gallbladder.” In the Japanese language, the “hara” (gut, or abdomen) is looked at as the center of knowledge and bravery and is the control center of the human being, more so than the brain. Thus, there are phrases like “hara-gei,” reading the other persons position or thoughts. This “hara-gei” was very important in battle and it is considered very important in business dealings in Japan. Most Americans know of the term “hara kiri” which was the method of self-destruction in the feudal era of Japan. If one can tear out their own guts, this was the ultimate show of their commitment and earnestness to their duties and beliefs. This was not done out of fear, depression, or giving up, but out of bravery and the “guts” to uphold their responsibilities. That is why “hara kiri” was an honorable method of death, rather than execution style. Even in the West, we have the phrase of “guts” to refer to bravery.
It seems that all cultures of the world, in ancient times, realized the importance of the gut. Oriental medicine has never forgotten this. In Oriental medicine, the digestive system is the center of the human being and animals, it is the little “earth” within us.
So our digestive system is center to our health and this time, in this article, we will discuss its role in our mental health in particular.
Simple sugars and too much fat are substances that weigh us down, literally. Simple sugars, such as refined flour products and industrialized white, brown, corn and a myriad of other foods that are processed and refined so highly that these all become simplified sugars, give people a five-ten-minute boost of energy and then brings them down leaving them feeling fatigued and depressed. The reason for this is that simple sugar energy is used up immediately. Grains and other plants were not meant to be taken apart and refined. Whole grains and whole vegetables must go through many stages of metabolism before being broken down into useable glucose. Whole grains offer a slow release of energy because they are being broken down slowly. They also turn into glycogen for storage in the liver and muscles which the body can call upon when needed. With simple sugars, there is no storage capability of this energy. It must either be used up quickly or turn into fat, because it can’t be stored in the form of the simple glucose molecule. Thus, refined grains and flour and simple sugar drinks and sweets not only make you depressed, they make you fat. We know that the biggest hog of glucose in the human body is the brain. So what happens to the brain when people do not have the glycogen storage and the slow release of the usable glucose? Brain fog, depression, inability to think and make decisions, etc. The brain becomes “hungry” and deficient, as well as the body. Recently there is considerable evidence that the high sugar diet of the modern people is a real culprit in the cause of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Whole grains, such as brown rice, contain many B vitamins so important for nerve and brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium are also very important so seeds and nuts are essential for these. Look at the magnesium content in pumpkin seeds and the essential oils they contain, for example. These foods should be accompanied by fermented products, such as pickles, miso, whole wheat sour dough breads, natto, unpasteurized naturally fermented soy sauce, and other fermented vegetables. These fermented vegetables, beans and grains are natural prebiotics which help your body produce the probiotics necessary in your digestive function. The problem is that the modern diet is all DEAD; dead sugar (nothing can be more deadly than that) and processed, dead food, which is no longer really food. If your food doesn’t rot easily, it is not food. Good food rots rather quickly. So eating fresh, whole food is paramount. Fermentation extends its life and yours!
So for depressed people, a diet of whole grains and vegetables and beans will help as they provide the nutrients necessary, the slow-release of energy and all without the heavy, sticky fat. The sticky (saturated) fat of land-animal food bogs down the system. It is sticky and heavy, literally, as it sticks to the gut, the intestines, and the arteries and muscles. It makes people feel “stuck” like sugar makes people feel “down” and heavy. In older times in the West, fish has been called “brain food” and there really is something to that. The type of long-chain omega fatty acids and the high protein and calcium content without the sticky fat are nutrients the brain really needs. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for the brain as well as the nerves and muscles. Clams and fermented products like miso and natto contain B12. Don’t forget beans! There is considerable modern research that the brain needs the essential amino acids that beans offer for feeling happy.
There was a time here in the West, in the 1980s, when psychiatry used supplements of L-tryptophan to raise levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, to reduce depression and resolve insomnia. L-tryptophan is what the body uses to produce the messenger chemical serotonin. Serotonin is one of today’s most deficient neurotransmitters. All of the essential amino acids are necessary for good health of the body, mind and spirit, but the big powerful five are: 1. L-tryptophan 2. GABA 3. DL-phenylalanine 4. L-tyrosine and 5. L-glutamine. Most beans are high in these and depending on the bean, different amount of these amino acids in different beans. Azuki beans are especially high in L-tryptophan and L-glutamine. Eggs, fish, barely, beets, cabbage, parsley, wheat germ and miso contain much L-glutamine.
L-tyrosine is an amino acid that is nature’s stimulant. L-tyrosine stimulates the production of catecholamines, an umbrella category of neurotransmitter involving dopamine, L-dopa, epinephrine and norepinephrine. With enough catecholamines it’s not problem to bounce out of bed in the morning enthusiastic and alert. In contrast, people who need L-tyrosine may drink multiple coffees or colas daily or some other energy foods and drinks. They are often diagnosed with ADD, lack energy, concentration or ambition, are apathetic and may start multiple projects and finish few of them. Again, don’t forget the beans!
If a truly whole foods diet is followed with NO sugar and NO processed foods and organically grown foods, most cases of depression would not even exist. The key here is TRULY following a whole foods diet. No supplements are generally needed.
The other factor besides diet is regular exercise and getting outdoors enough. This is essential for individuals who easily get depressed and/or anxious.
If following good dietary practices are not enough, then Traditional Oriental Medicine can step in. This medicine can help these cases in most instances with the proper Chinese herbal formulations. Chinese medicine has the experience of several millennia, not just centuries, not just decades. It has had time to develop and practice on millions of people. It has shown to be effective in any century. Not only herbal medicinals, but dietary knowledge which they put into practice. Acupuncture can also be effective. It has actually been scientifically proven that when the needles are put in certain acupoints in the human body, the relaxing neurotransmitters are awakened and more of them get released in the brain. No wonder why some patients remark that they get a relaxed, euphoric feeling after their treatment. Your Chinese medicine doctor should also be able to guide you in taking steps to help yourself through diet.
Food, exercise, fresh air, breathing exercises are all the natural remedies for depression and anxiety. The shogun and feudal lords of old Japan and the rulers of China always had their own doctors living in their castle with them and they were usually drinking Chinese herbal formulations as well. They also exercised outdoors often and/or rode horses. Those that did these practices lived longer than their counterparts who did not.
Food literally makes us happy, but it should be a stable, everyday happiness. If it is not doing that, you may need to look into why it isn’t. Remember, your diet needs to include prebiotic food and the best are fermented foods. Include some alive, fermented food in each meal or at least two meals of the day. Eat for your happiness.
Yours in health and budou,
Dr. (Shihan) Mary Bolz
Master of Science Oriental Medicine
Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
6th Degree Black Belt Okinawan Karate & Kobudou