Depression is a mental health condition that was originally believed to be associated with neurotransmitter disturbances. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body by relaying signals between nerve cells. There are several types of neurotransmitters and serotonin is one that was particularly believed to be associated with mood. Thus, antidepressants known as selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were prescribed by doctors to increase the availability of serotonin in the brain. It was believed that by increasing serotonin, mood would improve in people with depression. SSRIs have provided some benefit for the treatment of depression, however, they are far from perfect.
Over the last decade, research has confirmed that the causes of depression are far more complex. Depression is not simply a serotonin deficiency disorder. In fact, it has been shown that people with depression have increased ‘oxidative stress.’ This is a condition where there is an excess of free radicals vs antioxidants in the body. Excess free radicals can be damaging to the body including the brain, and we require healthy antioxidant levels to quench free radicals and protect our brain from its damaging effects. Over time, if the body is exposed to excess oxidative stress, it can damage several areas of brain. It is therefore possible that oxidative stress is a major cause of depression. In fact, oxidative stress can even lower serotonin levels in the brain.
So the key is to lower oxidative stress in the brain. This can firstly be achieved by reducing free radical production. This is achieved by reducing pollution exposure, avoiding the consumption of artificial foods, additives, and junk foods, limiting ‘excessive’ sunlight exposure, and avoiding damaging chemicals in the environment.
Oxidative stress can also be lowered by increasing antioxidant levels in our body. Eating a healthy diet, moderate exercise, and taking herbs/spices can all increase antioxidant levels in the body. Interestingly several natural herbs and spices with strong antioxidant properties have proven to be effective natural antidepressants. The most clinically tested spice for depression, is saffron. Saffron has now been studied in several well-designed clinical studies in people with depression and has been shown to be more effective than a placebo and as effective as the antidepressants Prozac and Tofranil. Saffron is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that provides protection to the brain and, in turn, increases serotonin production.
Antioxidants as antidepressants are proving to be very exciting natural ways to improve mood and further research is accumulating about their powerful mental health benefits.