What is depression?
Depression is a complex mood disorder that affects both physical and mental health, considerably reducing an individual’s ability to function in their daily life. Depression has also been strongly linked with suicides. Suicidal deaths and self-harming behavior can be avoided if depression is identified at an early stage.
Someone you know has depression? Scroll down for an assessment questionnaire.
What are the common behavioral changes seen in a depressed individual?
- Frequent and constant low or sad mood
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Lack of energy, inability to focus on tasks
- Irregular sleeping patterns like sleeping too much or too little
- Loss of appetite or eating a lot more
- Low or decreased self-worth and self-esteem
- Emotional imbalance and stress
- Unusual or rapid weight loss or weight gain
- Short temper
- Overreacting to little things
What triggers depression? Are some people more prone to the condition than others?
The answer to this lies somewhat in your genes. Some variants in your genes increase the risk of developing depression that slowly tends to have some negative impact on the overall mood, irrespective of being diagnosed with depression or not.
At Xcode Life, we focus on identifying genetic factors and give you science-based recommendations to help reduce the influence that these factors have on your mood.
Depression: Treatment options
Is depression treatable, if diagnosed?
Now that we know what depression is, the next thing you will be curious to know is whether it is a treatable condition after diagnosis.
The answer is yes!
Depression is a treatable condition. There are various methods of treating depression. The most widely used ones are psychotherapy and antidepressant medications. If you find yourself experiencing any of the depression symptoms, you should immediately seek assistance from a medical professional.
A medical psychiatrist can provide both psychotherapy services and prescribe antidepressants, which differ for each person, based on individual needs.
Talk about it! Talking to a counselor or a medical professional is the first step to living a happier, more fulfilling life.
However, when therapy and medications don’t seem to be working, the other two options your doctor may suggest are:
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
- Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)
ECT is based on the principle of stimulating the brain using electrical pulses to trigger an epileptic seizure and reduce the symptoms of mental disorder.
rTMS, on the other hand, is used to study the relationship between the brain and behavior of an individual with the disorder. It uses a special kind of magnet to excite certain areas of the brain for activity. This helps the parts of your brain that control your mood work better.
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What happens if it is left untreated?
When left untreated, depression can have severe consequences. It increases the chance of risky behavior with potentially dangerous consequences such as drug or alcohol addiction.
It could cause problems at the work-place, and make it difficult to overcome this severe illness.
Suicidal tendency is another symptom of depression, which becomes stronger when depression is left untreated.
People with depression are more likely to have heart problems, inflammatory conditions, or autoimmune disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, arthritis, and cancers.
How can know more about my predisposition to depression?
The Xcode Life Gene Health report does not help with the treatment directly but provides you with insights on how to hack your genes to understand a little more about how depression affects your body.
You can upload your DNA raw data from 23andMe, Ancestry DNA, Family Tree DNA, etc. to get information about the genetic variants of depression that you carry.
What are the different types of depression?
Depression is of different types. Several other disorders and conditions also have depression as one of their symptoms. Some commonly occurring depression types are:
- Bipolar I and II disorders: These are also known as manic disorders. The mood swings in these disorders range from high to low, and so, it is difficult to differentiate between depression and bipolar disorder as individuals with depression only approach a doctor when they have low moods.
- Cyclothymic disorder: It involves a slightly milder range of high and low mood swings and for a shorter duration. It is less severe than a bipolar disorder.
- Persistent depressive disorder: It is also known as dysthymia. A persistent depressive disorder is a chronic form of depression that lasts for at least two years with less severe symptoms.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder: This type of depression is triggered by hormonal changes before menstruation and is characterized by behavioral and physical changes. After menstruation, these depressive feelings fade away. It is a more severe and disabling form of premenstrual syndrome affecting almost 3-5% of menstruating women.
The risk for depression: Evaluating risk
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 16.1 million American adults have suffered from a major depressive episode at least once. Multiple factors lead to an increase in one’s likelihood of developing depression.
Some prescribed medications have been directly linked to depression. For example, few medicines used for the treatment of blood pressure, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, seizures, birth control pills, and some pain killers are said to lead to depression.
Even drugs used in the treatment of insomnia and anxiety lead to depression.
If you are taking any of these medications and are concerned, please talk to your doctor.
Be aware of the risk of relapse
Studies have shown that depression can deteriorate over a period of time, with some people experiencing it only once in their lifetime.
Studies have shown that almost 50% of people suffering from depression have a relapse, and 80% of the people who had a second relapse will have a third.
Hence, it is better to visit your therapist or physician for a checkup after your treatment is completed.
When the possibility of a relapse is high, it is advisable to follow a proper diet, avoid stress, to exercise and practise yoga regularly, sleep well, avoid alcohol an drug consumption, and continue talk therapy to avoid setting in of depressive thoughts.
Genes influencing depression
Many genes influence depression. Some of these include genes involved in the creation of neurotransmitters, such as:
- TPH1: The role of the TPH1 or Tryptophan Hydroxylase 1 gene is implicated in various psychiatric disorders, including depression.
Genes influencing receptors for specific neurotransmitters
- DRD2: There were associations noted between the DRD2 (dopamine) A1 allele and early-emerging anxious and depressive symptoms in a community sample of preschool-aged children. It showed the evidence of a gene-environment relationship and balance of the main effect of child genotype on the child symptoms by parenting.
- CHRM2: Cholinergic muscarinic 2 receptors (CHRM2) are involved in memory and cognition, which are the functions that get impaired in most neuropsychiatric disorders.
- GABRB3/GABRG3 (GABA genes): Dysfunction of the Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) system has been cited in many neuropsychiatric conditions, including anxiety and depressive disorders. In this investigation, GABA receptor genes were studied for their possible associations with a genetic risk for the development of anxiety disorders and depression. Variations in these genes can determine how sensitive your brain is to these neurotransmitters.
Genes influencing your sensitivity to hormones
- ESR2 (estrogen): Estrogen Receptor alpha (ESR1) is known to regulate gene expression and estrogen response in areas of the brain that are associated with major depression. Women with the AA alleles of ESR2 gene polymorphism were shown to have a higher prevalence of lifetime major depression than women with other allele frequencies.
- OXTR (oxytocin): The oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene may be involved in resilience or vulnerability towards stress, and hence in the development of stress-related disorders. There are indications that OXTR single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) interact with early life stressors in predicting levels of depression and anxiety. The OXTR SNPs interact with childhood abuse in the development of clinically diagnosed depression and anxiety disorders.
- CNR1/CNR2 (cannabinoids): Cannabinoid receptors (CBRs) are involved in neuropsychiatric disturbances, including drug addictions. Studies show that single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of CNR1 may contribute to drug addiction and other neuropsychiatric disorders. However, the role of cannabinoid type-2 receptors (CB2Rs) in drug addiction and neuropsychiatric disorders is less defined. Low CB2R function is associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia, depression, drug abuse, eating, and autism spectrum disorders.
Environmental and genetic factors influencing depression
The exact cause of depression is unknown. However, it has a strong genetic component.
An individual's genetic makeup can only indicate that one is potentially more susceptible to developing depression, but does not necessarily mean that one will.
First-degree relatives of people with major depression, including parents, siblings, and children, have been found to have a 2-3 times higher prevalence of developing major depression than their counterparts.
Twin studies, which look at how frequently pairs of twins have the same trait, also provides evidence of a genetic link. Pairs of non-identical twins were found to have a major depression rate of 20%.
However, with pairs of identical twins (who share the same genetic material), the rate rose to about 50%.
Yet, so far, no genetic studies have identified what these specific genes for major depression are.
Anxiety and depression
Anxiety disorders affect women twice as frequently as they do men. Studies have shown that people with depression often experience symptoms of an anxiety disorder and, if left untreated, can cause unnecessary suffering and impairment for both the individual and his/her family.
Autism and depression
There have been studies that show that autism and depression occur together with a higher probability in older children with an autism spectrum disorder.
Stress and depression
Stress creates alertness, provides motivation, and primes you to danger response. So, stress is good for you. However, too much stress or chronic stress can lead to major depressive disorders in susceptible individuals.
Chronic stress leads to elevated levels of stress hormone (cortisol) and reduced levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, causing depression. When the stress response fails, it can lead to depression in susceptible people.
Diet recommendations for people with depression
As humans, we are made to experience a rainbow of emotions. Sometimes feeling sad is an integral part of life. It is when it stretches to extended periods that it becomes a problem.
Though there are no proven diet recommendations that help relieve depression or prevent relapse, there are a few meal plans that can be used to train your brain to feel better and happier.
May foods contain antioxidants. They prevent body cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
The human body forms these free radicals that cause cell damage and other complications, and are risky for the brain too.
These free radicals cause chronic diseases, including heart disease and certain types of cancers.
So, an antioxidant-rich diet rich helps reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases.
The antioxidants scavenge the free radicals from the body cells and prevent or reduce the damage caused by them.
Carbohydrates could have a calming effect
Carbohydrates are linked to the mood-boosting brain chemical called serotonin. There is no proven evidence, but carbohydrate cravings sometimes may be related to low serotonin activity.
There is also an association between eating high-carb, high-fat, and high-sugar foods and a good mood. These foods alter the neurotransmitters' behavior in the brain and signal the nervous system activity to calm you down.
Hence, it is important to choose your carbohydrates wisely.
You must limit your consumption for sugary foods and opt for complex carbohydrates like whole grains rather than simple carbohydrates like cakes and cookies.
Fruits, vegetables, and legumes also have healthy carbohydrates and fiber content.
Foods that increase alertness
Food products rich in proteins help increase the alertness of the mind. Turkey, tuna, and chicken have an amino acid called tryptophan that helps make serotonin.
So, try to eat something with protein several times a day, when you need to boost your energy.
Studies have shown that blackcurrant juice has an impact on alertness, mood, and brain activity in young adults.
Also, coffee or caffeine consumption is not harmful if consumed at levels of 200 mg in one cup of coffee or 400 mg daily.
It causes many positive actions in the brain. It increases alertness, helps in concentration, and limits depressive feelings.
Lifelong caffeine consumption has been associated with the prevention of cognitive decline and reduced risk of developing stroke, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease.
Following are some food suggestions that can help increase alertness:
- For breakfast: Cottage cheese, yogurt, scrambled eggs, peanut butter, whole-grain toast
- Lunch: Hard-boiled eggs, greens, fish, particularly wild salmon, and veggies helps to avoid a mid-afternoon slump
- Great snack options: Nuts, such as walnut and almonds, and seeds, such as pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, nourish the brain
- Blueberries help improve memory and also help prevent short-term memory loss.
- A cup of cooked spinach or a glass of orange juice provide the required daily quantity of folic acids.
There are a few mood-boosting products that you must include in your next grocery list to keep any signs of low mood or depression away:
Dark Chocolate is one of the best comfort foods, and most people would vouch for it. The taste of chocolate produces a near euphoric state in many people. It is also full of protein and fiber and supports a positive mood and healthy cognition.
Herbal teas like chamomile, black, green, white and rooibos teas have a calming effect & are also rich in antioxidants. So, drinking a cup of warm tea helps relieve stress.
Oats are active mood boosters as they release energy slowly into the bloodstream that keeps blood sugar levels and mood stable. Oats also contain the mood-boosting mineral selenium.
Water is essential for our body. Dehydration can severely affect our ability to concentrate.
Vitamin D - The sunshine vitamin
Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin. It increases the production of the neurotransmitters that are associated with mood, like serotonin. Research has also shown that taking vitamin D supplements helps maintain a positive mental state.
Other studies have found a relationship between low levels of vitamin D, depression, and Seasonal Affective Disorder.
During cold months, most of us tend to stay indoors. And our skin is unable to produce the required natural vitamin D as it does in warmer seasons.
Many people may experience subtle changes in the mood but may not realize it women are four times more likely to experience sadness or depressed moods seasonally.
Foods to avoid
While we now know what to eat to keep our mood and spirits high, we must also know which foods are associated with mood problems. Certain foods trigger bad moods and should therefore be avoided. These foods include alcohol, sugar, bread, pasta, potatoes, and white rice.
Depression assessment questionnaire
When you are going through a tough time, it is normal to feel down for a while. However, if you are feeling sad or miserable most of the time and over a long period, you may be suffering from depression.
Take this self-test that can help you figure out whether you are showing any of the warning signs of depression. This won’t give you a diagnosis, but it will help you decide your next step.
Click here to take the depression Self-Examination Questionnaire.
How long does it take to recover from depression?
Recovering from depression is not easy, and the recovery period for each individual differs (from a few weeks or months). For about 20% of people who have depression, the symptoms do not entirely fade away.
How does depression affect your brain?
Depression forces the body and brain into a death-trap of sorts. The stages of how depression affects the brain have also been compared to severe forms of trauma that are difficult to recover from.
Usually, the brain releases high levels of dopamine during stressful situations. This usually helps the person get back to normal.
When extreme depression hits the part of the brain which controls emotions and motivation, dopamine production goes for a toss, making it hard for the body to process negativity.
When the brain is pushed into extreme negativity, it declines its functioning power.
Can depression change your personality?
The answer is yes. During a period of severe depression, your personality does get affected. The way we see the world and the ability to empathize with others diminishes, and you have less energy, so your social activities change, and you’re likely to want to get away from people.
Some people experience personality changes in response to stress hormones, which are part of their internal environment.
Some personality changes in stressed people include: irritability, hostility, frustration, anger, aggressive feelings, and behaviour, decreased interest in their appearance, decreased concern with punctuality, obsessive/compulsive behavior, reduced efficiency or productivity at work, making excuses to cover up poor work, excessive defensiveness or suspiciousness, problems in communication, social withdrawal and isolation, impulsivity.
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