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Dry mouth, constipation, urinary retention, weight gain, headache, nausea, blurred vision, sleep disruption, anxiety, loss of libido.
These are just some of the many undesirable and potentially dangerous side effects of commonly described antidepressant medications. Furthermore, standard antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft have recently been linked to serious risks, including suicide, violence, psychosis, brain tumors, and abnormal bleeding. Yet with approximately 18.8 million American adults affected by depressive disorders each year, many people are turning to drugs to manage their symptoms.
Aside from the negative side effects, the general efficacy of standard antidepressants remains questionable. Recent figures suggest that antidepressants only work for as low as 30% of the people who take them. Other studies have shown that antidepressants work only as well or less than placebos.
With this discouraging data, people are increasingly turning to more alternative treatments for depression. Some popular alternative options include acupuncture, herbs, supplements, massage, exercise, and craniosacral therapy. However, one of the most overlooked and by far the easiest and most available is using food to treat depression! The cure you are looking for may be as simple as making some dietary adjustments.
Many people remain wholly unaware of the mood-boosting power of our natural foods. Before we uncover what these healing foods are, lets look at how they work. Anti-depressant medications work to increase levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that is critical to balancing mood and behavior, and imbalances can lead to conditions such as depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and hyperactivity. The exciting news is that serotonin levels can be boosted naturally simply by adding to the diet foods that are rich in tryptophan, which is the precursor to serotonin!
Tryptophan is one of the 10 essential amino acids. It is well known for its ability to raise serotonin levels. Indications that one may need more tryptophan-rich foods in the diet include depression, anxiety, irritability, inability to concentrate, weight gain, carbohydrate cravings, or insomnia.
Common food sources of tryptophan are bananas, avocados, cacao, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, legumes, red meat, turkey, and dairy products. However, since this delicate amino acid is denatured by heat (as in cooking), these foods would have to be eaten in their raw uncooked state to obtain the maximum benefit. As it is not advisable to consume raw meat or unpasteurized dairy products, the best dietary sources of tryptophan are from raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, which are safe to eat in abundance in their natural state. The great benefit of obtaining tryptophan from these sources is that they also contain the other nutrients that are essential for the metabolization of tryptophan. These include vitamin B6, vitamin C, folic acid, and magnesium.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Boosting serotonin levels by eating high tryptophan foods is the first part of the equation. The second part is making sure that the message is received by the cells. The brain chemical receptors are built principally from the vital fats EPA and DHA. These, along with ALA are known as omega-3 fatty acids. Supplemental intake of these essential fatty acids is a common recommendation for the treatment of depression and other mood disorders. Additionally, omega 3’s are indicated for usage in cholesterol treatment because of their ability to reduce blood platelet thickness and normalize blood cholesterol levels, as well as for pain, inflammation, stiffness, and swelling.
Dietary sources of omega 3’s include hemp seed oil, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, and fish oil. Eating whole hemp seeds, flax seeds, and chia seeds can also be delicious ways to add omega-3 to the diet.
Now for the fun part! Here are some mood-boosting recipes to get you started!
The Oh-so-Happy Breakfast Shake
2 Frozen (or fresh) bananas, 1 tbsp cashew butter, ½ cup vanilla hemp milk, 1 tbsp honey, 3/4 cup fresh blueberries
Blend and Enjoy!
3 frozen bananas, 3/4 cup vanilla hemp milk, 1-2 tbsp raw cacao powder or carob powder, ½ cup cashews, small piece of vanilla bean (optional), 1 tbsp honey
Blend and be blissful!
Sunny Day Sunflower Pate
2 cups sunflower seeds (soaked in water for 6 hours then drained), 1/2 red bell pepper, 1/2 carrot, 1 clove garlic, 1 handful basil, pinch of black pepper, 1 tsp powdered kelp or sea salt, ½ tsp cayenne, 1 tbsp orange juice, 1 tbsp lemon juice
Process all ingredients and serve on a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Top with fresh sunflower (or other) sprouts.
Makes a yummy lunch!
Happy Hemp Protein Salad
2 Cups shredded green cabbage, ½ cubed avocado, ½ cup diced apple, ¼ cup raisins, 2 tbsp hemp seeds, 2 tbsp hemp oil, 2 tbsp lemon juice, sea salt to taste. If you like it sweet, add 1 tbsp honey or chopped dates.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and dig in.
Scrumptious Cinnamon-Raisin “Oatmeal”
3 fresh ripe bananas, ¾ cup uncooked rolled oats, 2 tbsp flax seeds, ½ cup walnuts, ¼ cup raisins, cinnamon to taste
Soak 2 tbsp flax seeds in water for 1 hour. Blend with 2 bananas and 1 tbsp raisins. Mix in the oats and remaining raisins and cinnamon.