Autoimmune, COVID-19, and Depression: 10 Science-Based Strategies To Feel Better Fast

“When gluten is inflaming your gut, it’s also inflaming your brain. Whatever’s going on in your gut is also going on in your brain. They’re very connected.”

– Dr. Hyla Cass, MD, board-certified psychiatrist & author of Supplement your Prescription: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Nutrition

Autoimmune and Depression Often Go Together

Pain, numbness, tingling, sleep issues, digestive distress, brain fog, weight gain, and daytime fatigue are common autoimmune symptoms. So, it’s easy to see why more people with autoimmune conditions suffer from depression than the general public. One study found a nearly 70% correlation between depression and autoimmune disease!1 Add COVID-19 to the mix and you can imagine levels of depression and anxiety skyrocketing.

Some studies show that 50% of people with MS will experience depression during their lifetime.2 Another study reported that people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and/or fibromyalgia (FM) had even higher depression scores than those with MS.3

I Ended My Depression Naturally

During the 26 years I suffered from MS symptoms like numbness, tingling, and extreme fatigue, I also experienced bouts of depression. I was never sure whether the low moods were a result of dealing with my health challenges, or whether depression was a direct symptom of the MS itself. Ultimately it didn’t matter. What mattered for me was getting to the root of why I was depressed, and then addressing it head-on.

It turned out my blue periods were due to a combination of factors including chronic stress (e.g. years of caring for aging parents), gluten sensitivity (who knew?!), leaky gut, low serotonin, and low vitamin D levels. Once I took action to address each of these roots, my moods improved. Even better, with these steps, I reversed the MS entirely!

Become a Depression Detective

Depression can have a long list of root causes so be sure to do some detective work before turning to an antidepressant and/or sleeping pills. Few people are aware that prescription and over-the-counter medications have been associated with creating a leaky guy which can trigger and perpetuate autoimmune conditions.4

10 Common Root Causes of Depression Include:

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress – meaning too much time spent in the fight-or-flight mode – can lead to immune suppression, and possibly depression.5 Check out Eight Essential, Free and Easy Stress Melters for more info on stressing less and relaxing more.

Hormonal Imbalance & Fluctuations

Thyroid function directly affects metabolism and brain function, and low (hypo) or over-active (hyper) thyroid activity can contribute to depression.6 Depression can also develop during different phases of women’s reproductive cycles: premenstrual, pregnancy, post-partum, perimenopause and menopause.7

Nutrient Deficiencies or Insufficiencies

The most common nutritional deficiencies seen in people with depression are omega–3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that are precursors to neurotransmitters, like the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin.8

Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D is actually a hormone, also known as the “sunshine vitamin”. The ideal blood level of vitamin D for most people is in the 50-70 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter) range. Seniors with vitamin D levels below 20 ng/ml were found to be 11 times more likely to be depressed than those with higher levels.9

Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten can produce depression if you’re sensitive to it. If this is the case, the key is to remove gluten completely from your diet. In Dr. Hyla Cass’ practice, she’s seen many people recover from severe depression when going gluten-free.10 A recent randomized clinical trial found that gluten can cause symptoms of depression.11

Gluten Sensitivity

Gluten can produce depression if you’re sensitive to it. If this is the case, the key is to remove gluten completely from your diet. In Dr. Hyla Cass’ practice, she’s seen many people recover from severe depression when going gluten-free.10 A recent randomized clinical trial found that gluten can cause symptoms of depression.11

Unbalanced Gut Flora (Bacteria)

Your gut bacteria – not your brain — produce 95% of the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin. That means that optimizing your gut flora balance is key to optimizing your serotonin levels, and boosting your mood.13

Poor Methylation

The methylation cycle is a biochemical pathway that manages or contributes to a wide range of crucial bodily functions, including detoxification, immune function and mood balancing.14 It is estimated that 45% of the population has genetic mutation with their MTHFR gene. This is a complicated arena but an important one to explore if you suffer from depression. Consider getting a genetic test; and talk with a functional or holistic provider about taking natural ‘methyl’ folate (not folic acid) to ease depression.15

Insulin Resistance

Obesity — especially fat around your middle — is a primary indicator that insulin resistance is present. Uncontrolled insulin resistance can lead to diabetes, and it can also result in depression.16

Leaky Gut

Researchers have found evidence of bacterial translocation, or “leaky gut,” among people with depression. Bacteria that leak out of the intestines and into the blood stream can activate autoimmune responses and inflammation, which are known to be associated with fatigue, lower mood and the onset of depression.17

Get the Data

An integrative or holistic physician can order the right tests to check your specific levels. Ask for tests to check the following:

  • Thyroid hormone levels (comprehensive, not just TSH)
  • Cortisol (stress) levels
  • Sex hormone levels
  • Fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1C
  • Neurotransmitter levels
  • Nutrient levels
  • Leaky gut
  • Stool test for gut flora balance

If you’ve already addressed the root causes and still feel overwhelmed or in despair, please seek psychological care. A Cognitive Behavioral Therapist (CBT) can help you sort out your situation, your thinking and your moods.

10 Science-Based Strategies You Can Do Right Now to Feel Better Fast

Meanwhile, there are many effective things you can do for yourself to feel better. These strategies require commitment and a little investment of time. Can’t muster the energy to try them all? Pick just one and give it a try.

Catch & Replace Negative Thoughts

About 80% or 45,000 of your 60,000 daily thoughts are negative (and habitual).18 Just because your mind produces thoughts that cause you to suffer does not mean the thoughts are true, even though they may feel real. The key to a happier existence is a simple “catch and replace” process. Catch negative thoughts, challenge their truth and replace them with more realistic ones. For help on this, get Byron Katie’s powerful and practical book, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life.

Reach Out to A Good Friend Daily

Depression and isolation often go hand in hand. Isolating yourself creates more depressive downward spiraling. Connecting with friends feels good and has positive effects on the body and mood. Social connection strengthens our immune system, helps us to recover from disease faster and may increase our longevity.19

Do 30 Minutes of Cardio a Day

Science has known for years that cardiovascular exercise has a beneficial effect on depression.20 If you can, get out in nature or a park, walk at a brisk pace, swing your arms and feel the rhythm of your breath; especially when you don’t feel like it.

Can’t muster the energy? Stretch in bed or do chair yoga. And try doing it with a smile – smiling has health benefits: It can reduce stress and trick your body into feeling happier.

Elevate Your Vitamin D

Research has shown that for most people, it’s best to maintain your vitamin D level between 50-70 ng/ml year-round. To treat autoimmune disorders, cancer or heart disease, elevating your levels between 70 – 100 ng/ml may be optimal. If you take a vitamin D supplement, you also need to take vitamin K2 and magnesium, as these nutrients work synergistically.21

Optimize Your Gut Flora

Reseeding your gut with healthy bacteria is important for the prevention and resolution of virtually all diseases, including autoimmune disease and depression. Avoid processed foods & sugar, take a high quality probiotic, and eat fermented foods.22

Go Fish

Studies show a link between high fish consumption and low incidence of depression.23 This may be the direct result of omega–3 fatty acids found in salmon, sardines & krill. Opt for wild-caught Alaskan salmon, not farmed. Non-fish sources of Omega-3s include flax and chia seeds and walnuts.

Eliminate Sugar, Gluten and Processed Carbs

Radically reducing your sugar intake, especially fructose, to less than 25 grams per day, is one of the most powerful interventions for dealing with depression, as well as fighting chronic inflammation and supporting healthy gut bacteria.24

Meditate for a Few Minutes a Day

Mindfulness meditation — focusing on your breath and each present moment – has been shown to be a remedy for anxiety disorders and depression. Meditation sessions led to significant improvements in both conditions immediately after therapy, as well as approximately three months later.25

Eat Nourishing Foods

A 2011 study in Norway found lower rates of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder among those who consumed a traditional diet of whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods than among people who followed a modern Western diet heavy with processed and fast foods or even a diet of tofu and salads.26

Tap It Out

Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Rick Leskowitz, calls Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or “Tapping,” “the most impressive intervention I’ve encountered in 25 years of work.”27 Tapping seems to work by addressing anxiety and stress at the source by changing your brain chemistry and altering neural pathways.  You can learn the technique in 5 minutes by following along with EFT practitioner, Julie Schiffman, as she helps you transcend depression. Check out her YouTube Channel.

Which one of the 10 strategies resonates with you the most? Pick that one and try it now. Let us know how it goes. If you discover something that lifts your mood, chances are good that it will help someone else. And helping someone else can also make you feel better. Now, that’s creating a positive upward spiral!

Take good care!

p.s. Before you go, please accept our FREE gift: Your Optimal Food Guide ebook, which can help you figure out which foods can help you reverse autoimmune conditions and optimize your health.

p.s.s. Want my help in healing and reaching full vitality? You can sign up for a complimentary 15 min consult to discuss how we might work together. If you’re ready to take control of your health outcomes, I’d love to work with you.

p.s.s.s. If you prefer healing in community, you may be interested in joining Beat Autoimmune Academy, a caring online program and super supportive and private Facebook group. Join us now for a special 50% off your first month — or — 12 months for the price of 10.

You can do it. I can help. Let’s do this together!

Image Credit: Aleksandr Markin/iStock
1 Systemic autoimmune diseases and depressive disorders; Arias S.,; Reumatol Clin. 2011 Nov-Dec;7(6):389-91. doi: 10.1016/j.reuma.2011.04.010. Epub 2011 Jun 30.; Reference
2 Depression in multiple sclerosis: a review; Siegert R.J., et. al.; J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2005 Apr;76(4):469-75.; Reference
3 Living with the unexplained: coping, distress, and depression among women with chronic fatigue syndrome and/or fibromyalgia compared to an autoimmune disorder. Anxiety Stress Coping. 2014;27(6):601-18. doi: 10.1080/10615806.2014.888060. McInnis, O.A, et. al.,; Epub 2014 Mar 3. Reference
4 Environmental Triggers and Epigenetic Deregulation in Autoimmune Disease; Javierre BM, et al.; Discovery Medicine, 12(67):535-545, 2011; Reference
5 Harvard Health Publications, What Causes Depression? Reference
6 The Link between Thyroid Function and Depression, Hage, M.P. & Azar, S.T., Journal of Thyroid Research; Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 590648, 8 pages; Reference
7 Depression and Women; Noble, R.E., Metabolism Volume 54, Issue 5, Supplement, May 2005, Pages 49–52; Reference
8 Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses; Rao, T.S.S., et. al., Indian J Psychiatry. 2008 Apr-Jun; 50(2): 77–82.doi:  10.4103/0019-5545.42391; PMCID: PMC2738337; Reference
9 Vitamin D Deficiency Is Associated With Low Mood and Worse Cognitive Performance in Older Adults, Wilkins, C.H., © 2006 American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, Reference
10 How Nutritional and Alternative Treatments Can Help You Avoid Using Drugs for Depression, Dr. Mercola interviews Dr. Hyla Cass; Reference
11 Randomised clinical trial: gluten may cause depression in subjects with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity – an exploratory clinical study.; Peters, S.L., et. al., Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2014 May;39(10):1104-12. doi: 10.1111/apt.12730. Epub 2014 Apr 1. Reference
12 From inflammation to sickness and depression: when the immune system subjugates the brain; Dantzer, R., et. al., Nat Rev Neurosci. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 Aug 10. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008 Jan; 9(1): 46–56. doi: 10.1038/nrn2297; Reference
13 Advances in Understanding of Depression Offers New Hope, Dr. Mercola, Reference
14 Dr. Amy Yasko, Reference
15 Dr. Ben Lynch, N.D., Reference
16 Insulin Resistance and Depression, Berit Brogaard, MS neuroscience, Ph.D., philosophy, Reference
17 Gut Bacteria May Exacerbate Depression; Microbes that escape the digestive tract may alter mood, Tori Rodriguez, Reference
18 Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D., psychiatrist, brain imaging specialist & author, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness
19 Social regulation of human gene expression; Cole, S.W., Curr Dir Psychol Sci. Jun 1, 2009; 18(3): 132–137. doi:  10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01623.x; Reference
20 Influence of aerobic exercise on depression; McCann IL; J Pers Soc Psychol. 1984 May;46(5):1142-7.; Reference
21 Dr. Mercola Reference
22 Your Gut Bacteria Affects Your Brain Function, Study Confirms; Dr. Mercola;  Reference
23 Eat fish and prevent anxiety, depression, inflammation and insulin resistance, Trudy Scott, Food Mood Expert and Nutritionist, Reference
24 Can Inflammation in this organ be at the root of your depression? Dr. Mercola;  Reference
25 A meta-analysis of hypnosis in the treatment of depressive symptoms: a brief communication; Shih M., et. al., Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 2009 Oct;57(4):431-42. doi: 10.1080/00207140903099039.; Reference
26 The association between habitual diet quality and the common mental disorders in community-dwelling adults: the Hordaland Health study; Jacka, F.N., et. al.; Psychosom Med. 2011 Jul-Aug;73(6):483-90. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e318222831a. Epub 2011 Jun 28. Reference
27 Rapid Treatment of PTSD: Why Psychological Exposure with Acupoint Tapping May Be Effective. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. Feinstein, D. (2010), 47(3), 385-402. Reference




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