World Health Day: Let’s Talk about Depression

By David Heber, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.S.N., chairman, Herbalife Nutrition Institute

At first glance, it can be difficult to tell if someone you know is suffering from depression. They might appear perfectly fine on the outside or simply “quiet and unhappy.” But inside, it’s a whole other landscape. People with depression suffer from persistent sadness, loss of interest in normal activities and events, and a general lethargy that can adversely affect work, relationships and physical health. Depression can lead to a reduced quality of life, and in the worst of cases, depression can even end in suicide. It’s a global epidemic that affects more than 300 million people around the world.

Yet today, in many parts of the world, depression is not recognized as a disease. So this year, World Health Day, organized by the World Health Organization, is bringing special awareness to depression and other mental-health issues.

Depression involves brain chemistry and external contributing factors and can strike anyone, regardless of socio-economic status, geography, gender or race.

There’s hope, though. Depression can be treated through talk therapy with a professional, antidepressant medications, or a combination of therapy and drugs. There’s even research that shows good nutrition and exercise can alleviate symptoms. (Unfortunately, though, people who are experiencing a depressive episode often don’t feel like getting up and being active or eating well.)

Diet and Nutrition Combat Depression

The Mayo Clinic explains that exercise releases “feel-good” chemicals in your brain. That, combined with an increased body temperature, can calm the mind and body. According to the report, “Research on anxiety, depression and exercise shows that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can also help reduce anxiety and improve mood … The links between anxiety, depression and exercise aren’t entirely clear — but working out and other forms of physical activity can definitely ease symptoms of anxiety or depression and make you feel better. Exercise may also help keep anxiety and depression from coming back once you’re feeling better.”

A National Institutes for Health (NIH) study showed that, “People have much to gain from regular exercise, such as improved sleep, increased cognitive function, and reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, and these benefits may be particularly important for people experiencing deficits in these areas due to depressive symptoms.”

Nutrition may play a part, as well. According to another NIH study: “Depression is more typically thought of as strictly biochemical-based or emotionally-rooted. On the contrary, nutrition can play a key role in the onset as well as severity and duration of depression. Many of the easily noticeable food patterns that precede depression are the same as those that occur during depression. These may include poor appetite, skipping meals, and a dominant desire for sweet foods.”

An anti-inflammatory diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, fish and whole grains may make a difference. An anti-inflammatory diet includes a pattern of eating that focuses on eating whole, plant-based foods that are rich in healthy fats and phytonutrients while also maintaining stable blood sugar levels. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition summarized it this way: “The promotion of a healthy diet with anti-inflammatory properties may help to prevent depressive symptoms, particularly among men, smokers, or physically inactive individuals.”

Talk About Depression

It may seem simple, but being open and talking about depression is one way to combat the disease. Whether it’s sharing information about depression or talking to someone who is suffering, these conversations can help break down the stigma around depression. If someone you know has depression, take their concerns seriously and talk with them about it. And if you’re suffering from the symptoms of depression, seek help.

Considering an anti-inflammatory diet and ways to become more physically active may help too. You don’t have to jump up and run a marathon—even walking a few steps down the block, or performing some simple, gentle stretches each day can have a positive impact.

On World Health Day, let’s break down the stigma of depression. Let’s talk about the disease and ways people suffering can seek help and recover.