By Brigitte Mars

Rather than viewing depression as solely a mental health condition, we need to look at physical contributions that can affect moods.  Shallow breathing and poor posture decrease one’s ability to take in oxygen.  Food allergies such as dairy products, wheat or additives such as chemical sweeteners and colors may be perceived by the body as foreign particles causing a brain allergy and mood changes. Improve digestion when treating depression. It has been estimated that between 15-20% of all depressed people have low thyroid function.

Environmental sensitivities to substances such as formaldehyde, fiberboard, carpet glue, gas from a leaky stove and mold can all cause brain imbalances. Medications such as birth control pills, high blood pressure, heart drugs, antibiotics, pain remedies and tranquilizers can cause chemical changes such as the depletion of brain amines leading to depression. Antibiotics and birth control pills allow yeasts to overgrow in the body, which leaves one feeling depressed. Heavy metal toxicity may be a factor in depression.

In Asian Medicine liver stagnation is often at the core of depression. A healthy liver is needed to maintain even blood sugar levels, filter blood and remove waste products, including negative emotions. If the liver is impaired, the filtration process becomes weakened; toxins circulate throughout the body and affect the brain. And of course life sometimes presents us with challenging circumstances that can cause depression.

In treating depression one must raise enough energy to do something about it. One who is seriously depressed might lack the motivation to follow a program and may need the care and support of a friend, family member or health professional. If a person is seriously suicidal, temporary hospitalization may be necessary until this trend passes, then nutritional and other holistic therapies can begin.

Diet and Depression

Diet is a reasonable place to start in overcoming the blues. Yeasts in food, sugars, fruits and juices can aggravate consciousness confusing yeast overgrowth.  Refined foods like white sugar, white bread, white flour and white rice contribute to high blood sugar levels, for which the pancreas tries to compensate for by secreting extra insulin, giving one a temporary lift with an undesirable let down feeling later.

Alcohol is in itself, a depressant and is the last thing a depressed person needs. On the other hand, when blood sugar levels are low as a result from lack of food or from the bring down effect of earlier consumption of refined food and fruit juices insulin production is decreased and the brain will lack necessary fuel.

The most common allergies include wheat, dairy, corn, soy, yeast, peanuts, eggs and citrus. These ingredients can be hidden in other prepared foods. Keep a food journal to help correlate dietary patterns to moods.

Consume small frequent complex carbohydrate meals that keep the blood sugar levels at an even keel. Also include tempeh, hemp seed, root vegetables such as carrots and dandelion root, green leafy vegetables, miso soup, onions and scallions.  Use basil, ginger and oregano as condiments. Include some mineral rich sea vegetables such as dulse, kelp or wakame to nourish the thyroid and boost a sluggish metabolism. Two ripe bananas a day help production of serotonin and nor-epinephrine. Vegetable juice combinations of carrot, celery, spinach and watercress   can nourish deficiencies. Dilute juices with 50% water to refrain from over stimulating the pancreas.  Chew your food well, breathe deep and try to be in a relaxed state when dining. A blessing before a meal can help put one in the right frame of mind.


Herbs have been traditionally used to lift one’s spirits. Consider:

Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinale) -Stimulates bile production and improves liver function. Dandelion helps clear old stored emotions out of the body.

Eleuthero (Eleutheroccoccus senticosus) helps the body acclimate to stressful situations.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) increases oxygen levels to the brain, cellular glucose uptake, and neurotransmitter production and improves neural transmission.

Kava Kava (Piper methysticum) is an ancient remedy for nervousness and insomnia. Good for mild depression, anxiety and insomnia. Causes a pleasant mild euphoric feeling and is a mild sedative.

Lavender  (Lavendula officinalis) has an uplifting aroma helps to alleviate fear, anxiety and the blues. Good nerve restorative.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) helps relieve anxiety, depression, homesickness, insomnia, nervousness, nightmares and coping with difficult life situations. The famous Arabian physician, Avicenna said of this herb, “It causeth the mind and heart to be merry.”

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) benefits anxiety, depression, exhaustion, gloom and hysteria.

Oatstraw (Avena sativa) is rich in the nerve nutrients calcium and silica. It nourishes the limbic system and motor ganglia, resulting in a sense of well being.  For convalescence, debility, depression, exhaustion and stress.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) improves anxiety, depression fatigue and stress and has a rejuvenating effect on the nervous system.

Saint John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) Slightly Inhibits both A and B monoamine oxidase, thus slowing down the breakdown of neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin. It also appears to inhibit serotonin reuptake. Antidepressant, cholagogue and nervine.


Deficiencies in B vitamins can lead to irritability, forgetfulness and mental sluggishness. Women on The Pill are likely to have increased needs of the B complex. Vitamin B1 helps to energize depressed people and tranquilize anxious ones. B6 is needed for adrenal gland function as well as for the production of acetylcholine (an ingredient in nerve fluid) and serotonin. Deficiencies in B6 can cause irritability.  Vitamin B12 helps in acetylcholine production. Panothenic acid helps  relieve tension and improves adrenal function. Folic acid aids in the production of nor epinephrine, serotonin, RNA and DNA.  Deficiencies in niacin are associated with depression, anxiety and insomnia.

The need for Vitamin C increases during times of stress. A supplement of evening primrose oil or other essential fatty acids may be beneficial to the nervous system.

Calcium is a nerve nourishing mineral used to treat stress and anxiety. If  struggling with sugar cravings, GTF chromium may help. Magnesium helps nerve and muscle function.   An amino acid that has shown excellent results in helping to alleviate depression is DLPA, a form of the essential amino acid L-phenylalanine. It stimulates endorphin, norepinephrine and noradrenalin production as well as allowing the body’s natural endorphins to survive longer by inhibiting enzymes that would break them down.

Essential Oils

Essential oils have shown immediate mental stimulation that can enhance moods. This is due at least in part to the close proximity of the nerve endings in the nasal cavities and the brain. Plant aromas can be used in diffusers to scent an entire room, or a few drops added to bath water or to scent massage oils to name a few techniques available in bringing aroma into one’s life. Essential oils used to “lift one’s spirits” include: basil, bergamot, cedar wood, cinnamon, clay sage, clove, coriander, geranium, jasmine, lavender, neroli, palmers, patchouli, peppermint, rose, rosemary, rosewood, sandalwood, thyme, vetiver, wintergreen and ylang ylang. Do not ingest them.

Physically Lifting from Depression

Massage is an excellent nurturing way to improve circulation and wake one’s mind and body.

Exercise stimulates endorphin production. Not only is physical activity a pleasant distraction, it increases the brain’s intake of the essential nutrient, oxygen.  Yoga and tai chi stimulate one’s life force. Listen to beautiful and rhythmical music and dance! Gardening helps us tune into the delight of helping things grow. A brisk walk in the radiance of nature can help lift one’s spirits. Exercise may not in itself cure depression, yet a lack of it may certainly be a contributing factor.

Many people find that during the grayer months (from October to April), they experience depression, lack of energy, weight gain and decrease in libido called SAD, which stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Artificial light (more infra red) differs from sunlight, which is more ultraviolet. If you find yourself behind closed doors, windows, glasses and sunglasses and experience depression try spending more time outdoors and investigating the use of more full spectrum lighting, which is closest to natural light.

Exercise helps depression

Color is Key

Wearing uplifting colors can help one’s mood to be brighter. Pleasing pinks, scarlets and oranges may well have a beneficial effect on your outlook.

Brighten your living environment. A clean, comfortable space with pleasant colors, art and flowers will do a lot more for your headspace than dirt, dreariness and clutter.

Medication Isn’t The Only Answer

Drug therapy should never be stopped cold turkey, but if possible gradually decreased as the person improves their diet and lifestyle. Though drug therapy should not be the only method used to treat depression, for many it is life saving.

We can do our best to accept the mood attribute the cause.  If a person takes medication, they should make the most of their grace period and get therapy, improve their living environment and learn healthier lifestyle practices.

Set Goals Each Day

Choose ten activities to accomplish every day (even if it is as simple as getting dressed and making the bed.)  Playing games such as chess or tennis can elevate serotonin levels.  Write down goals that you can accomplish. Delight your senses with color, beauty and aromas. Listen to uplifting and motivating audios. Enjoy books and movies that are inspiring. Learn a new skill to build your self-esteem. Get counseling and share your feelings. Let go of old scripts from the past and other peoples’ opinions. Start loving and forgiving yourself.  Spend time with happy uplifting people. Pray or meditate to reconnect with Source. Spend time near water a river, ocean or even a fountain to boost serotonin levels. Find some creative outlet such as writing poetry, working with clay or music. Creativity helps counteract depression.  Count your blessings!


Brigitte Mars

Brigitte Mars is an herbalist, nutritional consultant, and author of thirteen books residing in Boulder. She has a private practice and teaches internationally. Learn more at or contact her at 720-633-0790 or