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Depression and Lifestyle – Questions to Ask

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Depression is epidemic, right along with diabetes type 2. We can make educated guesses as to why, but that’s not the point of this post.

My oldest son (16 years old) was diagnosed with depressive disorder this past year. First thing the doctor did was put him on daily medication. He also had us consult a dietitian who wanted him to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. My son took the meds for a few months and quit without telling me. He quit due to the side effects.

I was never in favor of his taking them to begin with. Nor have I suggested he increase plant foods. Here’s why.

The doctor never asked about my son’s lifestyle. My son and I have been in a long push-pull about choosing better habits. As it was, he was a carbohydrate addict, choosing flour and sugar foods every chance he had and sitting on the couch playing video games. His diet wasn’t examined. His activity wasn’t examined. But he was given a potentially life-long medication with side effects he had to manage.

Once he quit the meds, I implemented a few requirements that I had been discussing with him before. It was time for a major change.

  • He’s eating red meat and eggs. Not as much as I’d like but more than he was. Red meat is the most nutrient dense food on earth. You don’t need to supplement vitamins if you’re eating red meat and eggs. Additionally, a meat-based diet digests easily and completely, keeping your gut healthy and stools small (important for some hypermobile people, like my son). Current research is showing how important the gut-brain connection is.
  • He likes fish, even though I don’t, so I can make that for him. With red meat, eggs, and fish, he’s getting more DHA. There is no DHA in plants. You can try to convert a small percent of ALA to DHA by gorging on flax seed and canola oil. Good luck.
  • He’s taking a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is actually a hormone, not a vitamin, and vital for many things. It’s a hormone we can create ourselves from sun exposure. Food is an insufficient way to get it, unless you’re willing to trade mercury poisoning for good D levels by eating lots of salmon. We live in Iowa and it’s winter, so we supplement, too. Research on the effectiveness of supplementation is mixed, so sun exposure is best. You can store up vitamin D through summer exposure to get you through the winter.
  • He’s going to Crossfit with me. He used to love sports as a kid, joining every team activity he could. As a teen, he dropped out. Perhaps because he’s so small and has EDS-hypermobility, so it became painful and even embarrassing to compete. Crossfit is infinitely scalable and still competitive, but the true competition is yourself not other athletes.

I work in an elementary school over lunch recess. I see what the kids eat. I see what the kids who can focus and be still eat. I see what the ADHD kids eat. The difference is stark, and I’m surprised how little parents seem to know about nutrition. Research for your kids’ sake. Low-fat milk, goldfish crackers, granola, rice, macaroni, bagels, naan, gogurt, applesauce, muffins, cookies, gatorade, and sunny D, aren’t the best foods for their brains or gut.

DHA, micronutrients, vitamin D, and exercise are important parts of a healthy brain. All have been shown to fight depression. All are deficient in those who avoid a lifestyle that includes meat, sun, and movement.

If you or a loved one is already on meds or thinking about adding them, be sure to ask about these lifestyle factors, too. They may be able to end, or help reduce, symptoms.

So far, my son is doing better. He still reports depression symptoms but they don’t control him as they did before. Perhaps with consistency and time, even those will go away.

Some links to research are below:

The Brain Needs Animal Fat

Our Descent into Madness: Modern Diets and the Global Mental Health Crisis

Association Between Vitamin D Levels and Depression

Exercise as a Treatment for Depression: A Meta-analysis Adjusting for Publication Bias.

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