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For many, the upcoming holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year or the most depressing. Excessive stress is often contagious with the added financial strain of travel, costs of presents, food and/or entertainment.
It is no coincidence that the holidays are the sickest time of the year. Poor food choices, diminished physical activity levels and excessive levels of stress can be linked to the physical and emotional symptoms of depression.
Highly processed food items are commonly loaded with carbohydrates that are a leading cause of nutritional imbalances. Nutritional imbalances create deficiencies that interfere with proper brain function and hormone balance that causes poor concentration, feelings of guilt, lack of energy and other symptoms of depression.
Sweet desserts and refined carbohydrates cause sharp fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This rapid fluctuation is known to cause irritability, forgetfulness and digestive problems.
Compelling research proves connection
A recent study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that consuming processed foods correlated to a 58 percent increase in depression symptoms. The holiday season is the most common time of the year to over-indulge in sweets.
Coincidently higher sugar consumption equates to a lower desire to be physically active. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy meats and other non-processed foods have the opposite effect.
Nutrients balance hormones
Eat for nutritional quality. A healthy mix of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and healthy meats will lower the risk of depression as they will not spike blood sugar. These foods are dense in nutrients and have little sugar.
Vital nutrients support and regulate the processes of the body. For instance, B vitamins—B2, B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12—regulate the toxic amino acid homocysteine. Homocysteine is known to prevent proper brain function as seen in depression.
If the body is deficient in B vitamins, the level of homocysteine can increase and the brain struggles to manage gene expression, enzyme regulation and the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine – a critical brain hormone.
Exercise and nutrition deemed critical
Regular exercise also plays a key role in utilizing and stabilizing blood sugar levels. Managing and preventing depression is as simple as going for a walk, riding a bike or engaging in a physical activity of your choice.
Exercise has been shown to be more effective than a placebo and antidepressants in numerous clinical studies. Engaging in an exercise regimen not only gets you fit but it will encourage a healthier diet as well.
Supplementation has also been found to help fight the symptoms of depression. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help the function of the brain's neurotransmitters and increase the production of serotonin.
Mood, learning ability and quality of sleep are all regulated by serotonin. Often, drugs prescribed to treat depression are designed to increase the level of serotonin produced by the brain. However, these medications often carry other dangerous, unwanted side effects.
Ensure that this upcoming holiday season is not a depressing one. It is important to improve one’s daily nutritional and fitness habits leading up to and following known poor nutrition days. The prevention of depression is easier than the treatment of it.
You may be busy, stressed and over-worked but don’t let the holidays add extra weight and medications to your life. Look at your schedule, make a plan and commit to good nutrition and physical fitness on the non-holiday days.
Dr. Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.
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