Category: Depression

Overcoming Depression Biblically and Naturally

Category:Depression

PURPOSE OF ARTICLE

The Bible has much to say about depression; interestingly, the causes and solutions are not what are commonly thought in Christian circles. This article will offer insights that may help erase the stigma
associated with depression and to see it in a new light. When seen correctly, there is no more stigma or shame associated with depression than any other illness.

UNDERSTANDING DEPRESSION

What is Depression: Depression is a prolonged emotional tone dominating an individual’s outlook and mood. Normal moods of sadness, grief, and elation are typically short-lived and part of
everyday life, but these can progress into a depressed mental state. Other symptoms often accompany depression but the most common symptoms of major depression are:1

deep sadness or emptiness,
apathy, loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities,
agitation or restlessness, physical hyperactivity or inactivity,
sleep disturbances,
weight/appetite disturbances,
diminished ability to think or concentrate,
feelings of excessive guilt, self-reproach or worthlessness,
feelings of fatigue or loss of energy, and
morbid thoughts of death or suicide.

If a person experiences at least five of these symptoms for one month they have major depression. Mild depression would typically be defined as having two to four of these symptoms for over one month. Bipolar disorder (manic depression) includes swings from deeply depressive moods to wildly manic moods (elation, irritability, hostility, inflated thoughts of self, boasting)–with many intensities and
variations.

Biblical Occurrences: Depression is the ascendancy and tyranny of our emotions over our lives. Thus, Proverbs 15:13 says, “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance; but by sorrow of the
heart the spirit is broken.” Often an initiating discouragement leads to sadness, which leads to prolonged grief, and then into a downhill spiral to depression. Depression is a universal problem, but no
one really knows if Biblical characters had what we call depression, or if it would be more appropriate to say they suffered emotionally. However, Paul in I Corinthians 10:13 says, “There hath no
temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able…”. Temptation can mean trial, calamity, or affliction. Accordingly, we should understand that our present day afflictions were also common to the
great Bible characters.

David was overwhelmed with grief and sadness, his heart was desolate, and his tears fell all night (Psa. 61:2, 77:2-3, 142:4, and 143:4). Jonah, Jeremiah (Jer. 15), Job, and Elijah (I Kings 19) are other
examples. Whenever characters express rejection, loneliness, self-pity, hopelessness, overwhelming grief, and wish they had not been born, it seems they are expressing more than temporary sadness but
classic symptoms of major depression. Paul had classic symptoms: his flesh had no rest, he was troubled on all sides, he was cast down, he had fears within, and he despaired of life (II Cor. 1:8 & 7:5-6).
Hannah (I Samuel 1) had many of the symptoms of depression and her spiritual leader instantly and incorrectly accused her of a spiritual problem.

Depression Considerations: Each year depression strikes ten million people in the United States. Older Christians have more depression than younger; does this mean that spiritual maturity is
of no avail? No, what this indicates is that older people have more biochemical and brain malfunctions as they age; depression is a natural consequence. Similarly, more women (two to three times) have depression than men. Women do not have more spiritual problems than men, but they do process adverse events differently than men, and, they have a complex body chemistry that can get out of
balance, both leading to depression. Women tend to take adverse events and internalize them and take the blame–this is a thought-processing problem. Men tend to react to the same events with escapism (sports, TV, sexual obsessions, alcohol); which can later result in heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, etc.–again, a thought-processing problem but with different results. There is another difference: women tend to feel their depression (sadness/guilt) while men act it out in their behavior (rage, hostility and frustration).2

Causes: Understanding the causes of depression is very helpful to finding the solution. It is rare that there is only one causative agent, generally there are several at work. Listed below (no specific order) are some factors known to contribute to depression:3 4 5

nutrient deficiency or excess
drugs (prescription, illicit, caffeine)
hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
hormonal imbalances
allergies
heavy metals
sexual abuse as a child
microbial overgrowths/toxins
medical conditions (stroke, heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, diabetes, thyroid)
natural light deprivation
psychological factors (generally poor thought-processing)
spiritual factors

Depression can have its source in our body, soul or spirit. Our body can affect our soul and spirit and vice versa. For example: if one has a low thyroid function it may affect the soul (for example the emotions) leading to depression which then affects one’s spiritual life. Affecting our spiritual life does not mean it changes our standing or position in Christ, it means things like a less productive outreach/ministry and a more self-oriented prayer life.

There is now no question that reductions in frontal lobe function lie at the core of depression. Complimenting this research is the finding that depressed children have significantly smaller frontal
lobes than non-depressed children. The evidence indicates that frontal lobe problems are the cause and not the effect. The frontal lobe’s proper function requires adequate blood flow and nerve chemistry.

As fog veils a beautiful meadow, so depression clouds life itself; existence becomes dreary and dark. It has been described as darkness visible. One can go to bed feeling fine only to wake with an overwhelming gloom that cannot be explained or escaped. With proper nutrition, lifestyle changes and a renewed way of processing the events of our lives we can break through that fog into a sunny day.

Consequences: Now that it is clear that depression is related to many factors, primarily to frontal lobe malfunction, let’s consider the consequences of depression. Depression weakens the immune
system’s power to attack cancer cells, increases the risk of fatal stroke by 50%, increases the risk of sudden cardiac death in heart attack survivors by 250%, and increases the complications of pneumonia.3 It has been found that depression increase stress hormone levels,
hypertension, and headaches; it complicates diabetes and is the leading cause of suicide (its close relative). The point is clear, depression should be addressed early or it may lead to fatal consequences.
However, because of their illness depressed persons have diminished ability to combat their own disease, so help is often needed to lift them out of the pit of despair.

How the Brain Works: By God’s design, all brain activity (every thought, feeling and emotion, every order the brain sends to the organs and cells) is the product of electrochemical signals. The
brain’s electrical signals require a chemical to carry the signal across a small opening (synapse) between cells. The chemicals used to do this are called neurotransmitters. To have a properly functioning system
we need an adequate amount of neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitter most commonly associated with depression is serotonin.

Depressed people have low serotonin levels. Thus, they have impaired brain message sending, especially relating to emotions and mood. Serotonin is produced in the brain from tryptophan (a protein), which is converted into 5-HTP, and then into serotonin. Some serotonin is converted into melatonin, the hormone needed for proper sleep (thus the connection between depression and sleep disorders). One cause of low serotonin is the lack of an enzyme that converts tryptophan to 5-HTP.1 Before proceeding, just think how unfair it would be to tell a depressed person that is missing this needed
enzyme that they have a spiritual problem. As a doctor told a dear sister in Christ who just could not understand why she could not get over her depression, “quit beating yourself up about it, your body
just does not produce enough serotonin.”

THERAPEUTIC CONSIDERATIONS

Botanical Medicines: The Scripture makes it clear that because of sin the earth today is not yielding its strength (Gen. 4:12). As a result of this Romans 8:22 says, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” Knowing this, the Lord has made special provisions for us. Psalms 104:14 says, “…and herb for the service of man:…”, which means the botanical (herbal) kingdom was designed for the many services of humans, including medicine.

Often herbal products are slower acting than pharmaceutical medications, but the advantages of herbal supplements is that they can often affect a cure (rather than just address symptoms) and the side effects are minor compared to pharmaceutical drugs. Herbs can be considered the medicine from God’s
pharmacy. The most important and well tested herbs to consider in connection with depression are:1 4

St. John’s Wort (SJW): relieves depression, anxiety, apathy, sleep disturbance, anorexia, and feeling of worthlessness. All these symptoms are caused by low serotonin and SJW increases the level of serotonin in the brain.
Ginkgo biloba: improves blood flow and function of the frontal lobe. Ginkgo increases the ability of serotonin to do its job in the brain.
5-HTP: a plant extract that is just one step from becoming serotonin–the brain readily makes this conversion. It raises the level of serotonin and other brain neurotransmitters. This product overcomes the genetic problem that does not allow for the conversion of tryptophan to 5-HTP.

Pharmaceutical Medications: There are times when medications can save a person’s life. If botanical medicines do not work (in conjunction with the lifestyle, thought processing, and consideration of other causes) then medications are an option. A short-term use of antidepressant drugs may be needed in order to get the mind operating sufficiently well so that a person can function. Medications generally work by keeping serotonin (or other neurotransmitters) at adequate levels in the brain’s synapses. They do not help create increased blood flow or frontal lobe function.

Nutrition: A deficiency of any single nutrient can alter brain function and lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. The most common deficiencies are folic acid, vitamin B12 and B6.
An insufficiency of Omega 3 fatty acids (oils) has been linked to depression. Low Omega 3 oils result in cells throughout the body and brain that do not function correctly, and the mind suffers. The needed Omega 3 oils are found in fish oils and flaxseed oil.1 3 4 5 6

The diet for helping to prevent and correct depression is based upon Biblical insights:

Increase the consumption of fiber-rich plant foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and raw nuts and seeds).
Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and other stimulants; also avoid foods that cause allergic symptoms.
A good diet is: low protein, high fiber, low-moderate fat, and high complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates do not include simple carbohydrates (processed foods, snack foods, white bread, soda). Raw fruit has simple carbohydrates but is good because of the fiber, enzymes and antioxidants.
Atkins type diets are poor; they actually lead to depression since carbohydrates are needed to get tryptophan into the brain.
Foods high in tryptophan should be consumed regularly: soy flour, meats/poultry (turkey and chicken), tofu, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, raw nuts, eggs, lentils, and garbanzo beans.
A good snack before going to bed would be a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread (there is tryptophan in the turkey and the whole grain bread will help keep sugar levels stable and help get the tryptophan get into the brain).

Rule to live by: Eat foods as close to the way God created them as possible: raw, whole, and unprocessed. He created vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, etc. He did not create processed
foods or animal meat full of antibiotics and hormones. Humans cannot improve upon God’s bounty!

Lifestyle: Regular exercise and sleep are essential to combat depression. Exercise at least 30 minutes four times a week. One does not have to jog: but walking, biking, tennis, swimming, gardening, active house/yard work are great. Regular exercise takes time for the effects to be felt, sometimes weeks.

We each have an internal clock that operates on a roughly 24-hour schedule (circadian rhythm). Even mentally healthy people can become depressed if the circadian rhythms are significantly disturbed. Seasonal Affective Disorder is common in the winter months in northern climates because the lack of natural sunlight disrupts these rhythms. Direct exposure to bright full spectrum light can help, or, the serotonin boosting botanical medicines.

A common factor leading to depression is hypoglycemia (low blood sugar); the brain requires a constant supply of blood sugar to function properly. Thyroid insufficiency also causes depression. Women with post-partum depression and those approaching menopause (symptoms often start by mid-30 age) are subject to hormonal disturbances that lead to depression.1 5 7

Biblical Thought-Processing: How we handle bad or disappointing news has a profound effect upon our mental well-being. As long as we believe we are victims, we are not able to achieve full mental health.9 Positive thinking is more important for overall health than almost anything else. Negative thinking, on the contrary, can destroy the good done by correct diet and lifestyle.10 Many depressed people have a tendency to look at the down side of life. It has been said that it is a positive duty to resist melancholy and discontented thoughts as much as it is our duty to pray. Certainly there will always be things in this imperfect world that give us cause to complain.