How wide spread is depression?

by 4176 · April 11, 2013 4:38 AM

I've been endlessly trawling through health sites for years trying to tweak my diet in order to cure myself of this mystery illness that makes me exhausted, have bad skin and a poor outlook on life, wake up early in the morning, have low self esteem and worry about the future. Is it my O3 to O6 ratio? Should I perhaps supplement a little iodine? Some magnesium? Or is it that I'm simply depressed as hell??

It must be so easy to slip into depression in our modern world without even realising it and simply masking the symptoms with energy drinks and sleeping pills. My friends are mostly tired as hell, many people sleep poorly or have insomnia, obesity has exploded (comfort eating as well as a lack of good dietary information?) and many people are reporting fatigue and gastrointestinal issues classified as syndrome x/leaky gut/chronic fatigue/IBS that have very similar symptoms to depression

For some people paleo seems enough to cure them of a depression that they possibly didn't know existed, this is why I believe the diet seems to work as a panacea. Though for some, particularly in the case of the primal blueprint whereby low carb is endorsed, high levels of adrenaline can be enduced, leading to an exacerbation of depressive symptoms, hence why some people struggle. This is often alleviated by incorporating higher levels of carbohydrates for people who don't thrive on low carb (possibly as a result of an unbalancing of their fight or flight mechanism due to stress)

Many on paleo purport to having better skin and hair and attribute this to an increase in fat solubale vitamins, particular A and D, but is this just a result of depression being cured and people returning to how they should look because of the intestinal issues associated with depression being improved? I doubt 'Grok' tweaked his macronutrients, but he probably attracted mates because his mental and subsequently physical health were good, not knocked off balance by artificial lighting and access to sugar/caffiene/alcohol, or being sat in a cubicle for hours a day. Many people say their anxiety is improved and the two often sit hand in hand. I've been on prozac now for about a month (not long I know) but I've noticed a slight but obvious improvement in my skin, fatigue levels and IBS which I imagine will continue to improve as the levels build up in my system, and this is coupled with a lessening of strictness on my diet so I know paleo is not necessarily the cause of these improvements

Many have purported an easing of IBS symptoms on antidepressants, it also seems to work with anxiety (my doctor told me depression and anxiety medication are the same thing) many people are relieved of their fatigue as well

Is paleo simply a way of curing depression? Are the increases in energy conducive to a curing of the condition? The list of symptoms it improves seems to suggest so. Are all my fatigued friends depressed but not aware? Preferring to drink their coffees and energy drinks, pop their pills to sleep, and gorge on serotonin inducing foods such as simple carbohydrates and chocolate etc even though it's making them fat? Or drink themselves stupid every weekend? Is the binge drinking culture a result of depression?

Some people think that too many people are offered pills as an easy solution to their problems but in many cases I think depression could be at the root of many peoples' ills and many of the improvements paleo offers are simply an easing/curing of that condition.

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11 Replies

8004 · June 27, 2012 2:55 AM


I'd like to turn this question around a little and ask why there's so much depression these days. I very strongly agree and fully acknowledge that there's a dietary component to it -- particularly when it comes to younger women starving themselves of vital animal fats and protein. (Neurotransmitters, calming the central nervous system, etc.) Combine that with excessive cardio exercise and it's a recipe for emotional and endocrine disaster.


When someone's diet is pretty darn clean, what else could be going on behind depression?

My pet theory:

Let's take human beings - primal Homo sapiens animals, designed to thrive on fresh air, natural light, unprocessed foods (some cooked, some raw, some full of bugs), physical movement (sometimes running really fast, but mostly just lots of walking around and lifting/moving heavy things now and then), the sounds of birds and insects, the sound of a breeze through tree leaves, the sight of a sunset or sunrise, watching the stars come out, meaningful communication, a sense of connection with their tribe...

Let's take those animals who were designed to be vibrant, well, robust, strong, and long-lived, and let's do THIS to them:

  • Stick them in offices far from windows and natural light
  • Have them sit for 8-11 hours a day, depending on their commute time
  • Have them surrounded by people at work, on the bus, on the train, but never actually speak or communicate with any of them.
  • Feed them the most artificial, poisonous, whacked out substances our evil imaginations can conjure up and call them "food." Let's strip away every single nutritious aspect we can, like the animal fat and the live enzymes -- and just for kicks, let's tell everyone they're actually the healthiest foods they can eat!
  • Let's cram them into cities and suburbs so there's never any peace and quiet, and where the streetlights and people's porch lights are so bright and on all night so that on a good night, if they're lucky, maybe they'll be able to see the Big Dipper or Orion.
  • Let's make everyone really scared about money and long-term financial security to the point where they remain in jobs that suck their souls dry little by little and make them question their self-worth.
  • Let's have them stay up way too late just to stave off the morning because they're trying to suck every last second they can out of the evening, before they have to go back to the aforementioned soul-sucking job.
  • Let's have them go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, no matter what season it is, so that if it's January and pitch black at 6am, they'll still get up and go to work, when it's super obvious that it's WINTER, and this is when they should be sleeping lots more, moving lots less, and generally just being lazy, because HELLO, it's COLD AND DARK! But let's make them act like it's June and they should be moving around and doing all the same things -- and eating the same foods! Yes, endless summer! Let's have these human beings gorge on fruit all year long, even in Montana in February. No reason they shouldn't be able to go to Whole Foods there and get a mango!
  • In summary, let's take these beautiful, wild, nature-requiring creatures and deprive them of everything they would thrive on, and force them to live within the constraints of our weird little experiment - cages, lab chow, fake lights, stale air - and let's see how they do! Wheeee!

I think all the above has a lot more to do with depression than an omega-3 deficiency. (Which, like I said, I do think is part of it.)

Yes, I grew up in NYC, went to college in Pittsburgh, now live outside DC, and was 30 years old before I saw the Milky Way.

And I know darn well none of us are "trapped." If I wasn't such a scardey cat, I'd have quit my job 2 years ago and moved to a farm in rural PA. The only person keeping me in the rat race is me, and I acknowledge that. But it might be a little easier to jump off the wheel if most of the other rats in the cage weren't looking at me like, "Huh? What are you talking about? The Bachelor's about to start. Oh, and pass the fritos."

720 · June 27, 2012 6:02 AM

I've dealt with serious depression and anxiety most of my life, since about age 12 (I'm now 39). I've been on every antidepressant imaginable and in therapy for years and honestly, nothing really has helped, I always go back to old patterns. For me it seems totally chemical and just part of who I am. When I started eating paleo, about a year and a half ago, I felt AMAZING, like, the depression totally vanished, but it hasn't lasted. I'd say I was doing really well for a few months and now it's just back again so I don't know if it was just the initial shock of losing all the grains and higher carbs. I'm really disappointed actually because I thought I had found some miracle. I'm still eating the same way, trying to keep out most sugars in fruit and starchy vegetables but I haven't have that feeling of euphoria in a long time.

15261 · June 27, 2012 1:56 AM

I have flirted with mild depression symptoms on and off for most of my adult life. The Paleo diet and regular exercise (both important) have made a huge difference in decreasing symptoms and improving overall well-being, especially as I get older (I am 42). Without regular, vigorous exercise I think I slowly start to go insane. I am not sure which is more important, diet or exercise, but I think it is probably exercise.

I think my problems are genetic and physiological, and also psychological, and that it is impossible to separate the issues (for me). Call it a weakness, or a motivation to exercise...

20 · July 02, 2012 8:24 PM

This is so true. For the longest time I've thought there was something terminally wrong with my genetics/brain chemistry etc., but I think many people with "biological" depression would do just fine in a more natural environment. There is no doubt that rates of mental illness are increasing, and I don't think it's just a function of "better diagnosis". Back before modern psychiatry they used to send people with "nerves" out to the country or, if they were wealthy, to vacation at the seaside. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to give up my laptop or my air conditioning or all of modern medicine, but these things come at a higher cost than we realize. Sometimes I seriously want to be one of those survivalist type people who grows their own vegetables and raises their own animals but I'm so used to every modern convenience that I can barely do anything practical. If I manage to put together an Ikea bookshelf it's like a huge accomplishment for me :P I think many people especially in office/academic/IT type work suffer from being disconnected from the physical world.

1009 · January 17, 2013 9:56 PM

i think depression is becoming very widespread, and has little to do with the food we're eating, although that too needs to be improved.

10 · January 17, 2013 8:48 PM

Do you think a battery (caged permanently) hen is as happy as a free range chicken (free to roam)? Humans are the same. The battery hen would have nothing to focus on except how they feel - whereas the free range hen would have lots of natural stimuli to focus on and very little time to think about how it felt. All this of course presumes that the chicken CAN think:-)

5814 · March 10, 2013 9:04 PM

I can add my own weird tale. I was depressed for as long as I can remember. I contemplated suicide daily from about age 9 on. I hated my self, my life, the sadness of the world, the selfishness of mankind, you name it. I grew up, went to college, got a job, got married, had a kid. Same old depression. Pregnancy did nothing to make it better or worse.

THEN, I got pregnant with child #2. It was twins, but one of them was a "mole" (an embryo that grows into a tumor instead of a baby). The other twin died as well, and I had to go in for a full D&C. I woke up from the D&C and the depression was GONE. I thought it was a weird fluke from the drugs. That was 11 years ago. The depression never came back!

I have spent 11 years trying to figure out WHAT the heck? Was it a hormonal problem that got corrected? Was it a spiritual problem where I met death and returned changed? I don't know. It just was gone. Everyone thought I was weird bc I had no grief over the loss of my babies, but the grief was so small compared to my relief at finally not being depressed!

I still had some low energy and weight problems, but paleo has slowly but surely been curing that.

60 · March 10, 2013 8:15 PM

I slowly sank into depression not realizing it until I took my first antidepressant and had regular counselling. That raised my head above water enough to see clearly that diet and exercise were a factor. Once I got my head together with the counsellinpg and meds I voluntarily got off the meds to take the hard road for a more permanent recovery.

It's been on and off with mild seasonal affective disorder but the biggest improvement came from ramping my vitamin D up to 8000g a day. But paleo seem to put me at a regular pace of happiness.

I blame the SAD diet most of all for all my past mental, physical and spiritual setbacks.

Now I'm looking at the Weston Price theory and paralleling it with paleo. My 50 feels like 30! And this has been commented on by people I've just met.

To have the commitment and desire to help yourself you need to get your head above water just a little and eating comfort food from paleo recipes is my prescription.

8 · June 27, 2012 2:38 PM

a real problem with depression is actually its requirements as stated in the DSM 4; they are quite large and vague, and it will be worse in the DSM 5, apparently. We should probably say low/sad/dispirited/blue which are far more normal and should actually be welcomed or at least acknowledged since their negation would only means to be delusional.

702 · June 27, 2012 2:39 AM

Fructose malabsorption causes ALL those things in me: IBS, bad skin and depression. I've tracked it, an apple with lunch will cause afternoon depression and lethargy, carrots at dinner cause painful gas and anything with corn syrup causes cystic acne. Google it, it's worth a try.

14 · April 11, 2013 4:38 AM

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