“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, 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!1Systemic autoimmune diseases and depressive disorders; Arias S., et.al.; Reumatol Clin. 2011 Nov-Dec;7(6):389-91. doi: 10.1016/j.reuma.2011.04.010. Epub 2011 Jun 30.; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22078697 Among the general American population, about 8% report current depression.2CDC FastStats: Depression; http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/depression.htm

Some studies show that 50% of people with MS will experience depression during their lifetime.3Depression in multiple sclerosis: a review; Siegert R.J., et. al.; J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2005 Apr;76(4):469-75.; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15774430 Another study reported that people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and/or fibromyalgia (FM) had even higher depression scores than those with MS.4Living 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. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24479644

I Ended My Depression Naturally

During the 25 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 triggering and perpetuating autoimmune conditions.5Environmental Triggers and Epigenetic Deregulation in Autoimmune Disease; Javierre BM, et al.; Discovery Medicine, 12(67):535-545, 2011; http://www.discoverymedicine.com/Biola-M-Javierre/2011/12/26/environmental-triggers-and-epigenetic-deregulation-in-autoimmune-disease/

10 Common Root Causes of Depression Include:

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    Chronic Stress

    Chronic stress – meaning too much time spent in the fight-or-flight mode – can lead to immune suppression, and possibly depression.6Harvard Health Publications, What Causes Depression? http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression-2 Check out our Top 6 Autoimmune Triggers You Can Control: Stress for more info.

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    Hormonal Imbalance & Fluctuations

    Thyroid function directly affects metabolism and brain function, and low (hypo) or over-active (hyper) thyroid activity can contribute to depression.7The Link between Thyroid Function and Depression, Hage, M.P. & Azar, S.T., Journal of Thyroid Research; Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 590648, 8 pages; http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/590648 Depression can also develop during different phases of women’s reproductive cycles: premenstrual, pregnancy, post-partum, perimenopause and menopause.8Depression and Women; Noble, R.E., Metabolism Volume 54, Issue 5, Supplement, May 2005, Pages 49–52; http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0026049505000363

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    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.9Understanding 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; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337/

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    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.10Vitamin D Deficiency Is Associated With Low Mood and Worse Cognitive Performance in Older Adults, Wilkins, C.H., © 2006 American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, http://www.direct-ms.org/sites/default/files/Cognition%20and%20mood%20vitamin%20D.pdf

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    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.11How Nutritional and Alternative Treatments Can Help You Avoid Using Drugs for Depression, Dr. Mercola interviews Dr. Hyla Cass; http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/03/01/side-effects-antidepressants.aspx A recent randomized clinical trial found that gluten can cause symptoms of depression.12Randomised 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. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24689456

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    Chronic Inflammation

    Chronic inflammation associated with systemic infections, cancer and autoimmune disease increases the risk of depression.13From 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; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2919277/

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    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.14Advances in Understanding of Depression Offers New Hope, Dr. Mercola, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/01/22/depression-causes.aspx

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    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.15Dr. Amy Yasko, http://www.dramyyasko.com/our-unique-approach/methylation-cycle/ 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.16Dr. Ben Lynch, N.D., http://mthfr.net

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    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.17Insulin Resistance and Depression, Berit Brogaard, MS neuroscience, Ph.D., philosophy, http://www.livestrong.com/article/397331-insulin-resistance-and-depression/

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    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.18Gut Bacteria May Exacerbate Depression; Microbes that escape the digestive tract may alter mood, Tori Rodriguez, http://www.scientificamerican.com/magazine/mind/2013/11-01/

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.

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    Catch & Replace Negative Thoughts

    About 80% or 45,000 of your 60,000 daily thoughts are negative (and habitual).19Dr. 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 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.

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    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.20Social 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; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3020789/

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    Do 30 Minutes of Cardio a Day

    Science has known for years that cardiovascular exercise has a beneficial effect on depression.21Influence of aerobic exercise on depression; McCann IL; J Pers Soc Psychol. 1984 May;46(5):1142-7.; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6737208]. 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.

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    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.22 Dr. Mercola http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/07/07/vitamin-d-screening-cancer-prevention.aspx

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    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.23Your Gut Bacteria Affects Your Brain Function, Study Confirms; Dr. Mercola; http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/06/20/gut-brain-connection.aspx

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    Go Fish

    Studies show a link between high fish consumption and low incidence of depression.24Eat fish and prevent anxiety, depression, inflammation and insulin resistance, Trudy Scott, Food Mood Expert and Nutritionist, http://www.everywomanover29.com/blog/eat-fish-prevent-anxiety/
    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.

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    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.25Can Inflammation in this organ be at the root of your depression? Dr. Mercola; http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/10/06/can-inflammation-in-this-organ-be-at-the-root-of-your-depression.aspx)
    Read more about the perils of sugar in Betsy’ Healing Story.

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    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.26A 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.; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20183000].

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    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.27The 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. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21715296

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    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.”28Rapid Treatment of PTSD: Why Psychological Exposure with Acupoint Tapping May Be Effective. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. Feinstein, D. (2010), 47(3), 385-402. www.EnergyPsychEd.com/mechanisms 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:

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 or just optimize your health.

p.s.s. And, if you are proactively seeking to heal from any autoimmune condition and want community, support and valuable information, please join our free, private Facebook group: Transcend Autoimmune.

For more on self-care, check out Love Yourself First for Goodness’ Sake!

Image Credit: Aleksandr Markin/iStock

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