Depression affects approximately 12 million Americans every year and is on the rise, and is twice as common in women as in men. Often confused, depression is not the same thing as sadness. We all feel sadness in response to situations; such as, divorce, loss of a job, or the death of a loved one.

Feelings of depression can linger for weeks or months and eventually become incapacitating. It can be either a short term, minor problem or a lifelong, life threatening illness. It begins with a disturbance in the part of the brain that regulates moods. Most people can handle everyday stresses; but, when stress is too great for a person...depression may be triggered.

The causes of depression are not fully understood; but, may be triggered by tension, stress, chemical imbalances in the brain, a traumatic life event, chronic fatigue syndrome, poor diet, nutritional deficiencies, lack of exercise, menopause, a serious physical disorder, thyroid disease, alcoholism, drug abuse or food allergies. Heredity also is a significant factor; up to 50% of people suffering from recurrent episodes of depression have one or both parents that also experienced depression.

A poor diet is a common cause of depression. The levels of brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, (which help us maintain our good moods and energy levels), are controlled by what we eat. Sometimes, however, the movement of these neurotransmitters from cell to cell is not as efficient as it is suppose to be. This can cause anxiety, moodiness, loss of appetite and other symptoms of depression.

The neurotransmitters most commonly connected with mood are serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. When the brain produces serotonin, tension is eased. When the brain produces dopamine and norepinephrine we tend to be more alert.

Fast paced lifestyles brings reduced levels of serotonin, a key protector against depression. Find listed here; natural and nutritional ways to boost your serotonin levels.

Serotonin Boosters:

1. Get more light - exposure to natural sunlight has been shown to raise serotonin levels.

2. Seek out negative ions - purchase a negative-ion generator. These devices boost serotonin levels, improving mood and promoting sleep.

3. Get more sleep - sleep deprivation produces a sharp decrease in serotonin levels and is strongly linked to depression. Make sleep a priority. If you get sleepy during the day or need an alarm clock to wake up - you probably need more ZZZZ's.

4. Get exercise - exercise is an excellent serotonin booster and a good way to discharge your tension. It is not only linked with better moods, but also with better overall health. Exercise can be medicine.

5. Diet - depending on the severity of your depression, changes in your diet may offer some relief and can also work well in conjunction with other remedies.
a. Be wary of cholesterol levels that are too high OR too low. Cholesterol levels below 160 confer a heightened risk of depression, accidents and suicide. Low cholesterol levels interfere with the regulation of serotonin.
b. Carbohydrates appear to improve serotonin function temporarily. However, over the long run, a high carbohydrate diet will diminish your sense of well being.
c. Scientific studies show that there really are comfort foods that can affect your mood. Bananas, tomatoes and walnuts help the body raise serotonin levels.
d. Omit wheat products from your diet. Wheat gluten has been linked to depressive disorders.

6. Tryptophan; an essential amino acid, increases production of serotonin and can replace anti-depression medicine in some cases of depression. Tryptophan rich foods include: soybeans, dairy products and protein rich chicken, turkey or eggs.

Helpful Supplements:

Vitamin B complex and L-tyrosine - If you are feeling down, try 1,000 to 3,000 milligrams of the amino acid L-tyrosine first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, followed by a B complex vitamin supplement 30 minutes later with breakfast. L-tyrosine converts in the brain to norepinephrine (synthesized from dopamine) - a chemical that promotes positive moods and gives us motivation. The B complex vitamins, particularly vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), allows the body to metabolize amino acids.

Folic acid (vitamin B9) deficiency has been linked to depression. Folic acid supplements relieved depression in those who had a folic acid deficiency. Infact, the first signs of a folic acid deficiency is depression, loss of appetite, dizziness, fatigue and shortness of breath. Oral contraceptives, aspirin, acetaminophen (tylenol), dilantin, methotrexate, primidone, phenobarbital, pyrimethamine, triamterene and high doses of vitamin C reduces the amount of folic acid available for the body to use. Folic acid is found naturally in asparagus, beans, leafy green vegetables, liver, oats, peanuts, potatoes, turnips, whole grain products and yeast.

Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is the most potent anti-stress vitamin. Take 500 milligrams daily.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency creates mood disturbances and depression. Correcting a hidden vitamin B12 deficiency can result in a sudden improvement in mood. Take 1,000 micrograms daily.

Vitamin C is needed for the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain. Take up to 3,000 milligrams daily, in divided doses.

SAMe has been found to be one of the most effective natural antidepressants. Studies have shown it to be more effective than some prescription antidepressants, with fewer side effects. Commercial products are available, follow package directions.

Selenium has been shown to elevate mood and also to decrease anxiety. Take 200 micrograms daily.

Zinc is found to be deficient in those with depression. Take 50 milligrams daily. Do not exceed a total of 100 milligrams daily from all supplements.

Herbal Supplements:

St. John's Wort has long been used as a mood enhancer and antidepressant. It contains hypericin, a chemical that blocks the action of monoamine oxidase (MAO) in the body. It has been found to be as effective or more effective than conventional antidepressant drugs in treating mild to moderate depression. Take 250 to 300 milligrams two to three times daily of standardized form.

In addition, nervine herbs (those that calm, sooth and strengthen the nervous system) which may be helpful to those with depression include: balm, black cohosh, blue cohosh, blue vervain, chamomile, cramp bark, damiana, dong quai, feverfew, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, gotu kola, passion flower, red clover, skullcap and valerian.

Author's Bio: 

Edith Lingenfelter-webmaster of Age-old Herbs shows how "self defense" is natures oldest law on how to prevent your health concerns by means of natural healing herbs with herbal and dietary supplements. Learn how to protect your health by visiting