This question came about following a conversation with my housekeeper.
She recently visited a medical practitioner to ask for advice regarding increasing feelings of depression (brought on in my view as a result of her son recently being diagnosed with prostatic carcinoma and being scheduled for surgery). The advice was to start a course of antidepressants and seek psychological counseling.
I explained to my housekeeper that depression is a perfectly normal adaptation (with the exception when it is caused by underlying pathology) which serves to empower the individual to meet challenges in life. In fact, to take antidepressants - a pharmacological quick fix -would deprive her of the opportunity to recognize and address problems that clearly were affecting her.
This is not an unconventional view, see http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=depressions-evolutionary .
Having said that, I do recognize that there are times when a pharmacological intervention is the only reasonable course of action for acute and prolonged bouts of depression.
For paleo people, I it may be that depression could be of particularly concern:
Firstly, the paucity of carbohydrates - especially refined carbohydrates - removes a source of dopamine and serotonin stimulation. This is, of course, beneficial as it hopefully will influence individuals to seek pleasure from healthy activities and suddenly spending the entire weekend in front of the TV will not seem so relaxing.
Secondly, paleo people would be, I believe, disinclined to resort to antidepressants and would seek non-pharmacological methods of balancing serotonin and dopamine. However, not everyone knows what they're doing and some may find themselves suffering for months or longer whilst trying to find the appropriate combination of food and activity.
Can depression be considered as a beneficial adaptation?
asked bypaleohacks (78467)
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on July 08, 2012
at 05:02 AM
I find this subject so completely frustrating. I think we need a new vocabulary related to this subject. Depression meaning appropriate sadness due to situation or depression caused by brain/body disease? People who do not have the disease have NO idea what it is to suffer and for that I am actually quite happy and grateful. This is something I would not wish on my worst enemy. I am a very happy and positive person (albeit with some attitude) yet I have suffered major depression almost all of my life. I am medicated now and have been for years. I will die taking medication. Major depression is a serious and progressive illness. It is not the blues. It is not appropriate feelings of sadness or loneliness or anger or anything similar. It requires diagnosis by a psychiatric professional not someone who is best suited to dealing with a yearly physical and the common cold. While I might agree that some docs are quick to the pill the social stigma against receiving treatment for any mental illness or issue is so intense and many people who need help are too ashamed or too afraid to get it. I think we need to be careful not to contribute to that. Honestly I can't imagine anyone in their right mind calling major depression a beneficial adaptation and if they did they I hope I'm not in the room when they do.
I have spoken of this before but I have tried several times to get off medication using diet and supplementation to no avail. I am done trying. Paleo doesn't fix everything. Some of us are still going to get sick and ALL of us are still going to die. If you imagine depression did not exist in our ancestors I beg to differ. I imagine there was a very heavy psychological burden living under such brutal conditions. Where did this idea come from that everything was sunshine in roses way back when? Everyone was in perfect health and nothing went wrong with anything ever? A disease of civilization? Hardly.
on July 08, 2012
at 10:32 AM
I have suffered severe depression throughout my life- to the point I have been hospitalized several times. There is a HUGE difference between the sadness, stress and struggle of life and the deep, hopeless dispair of depression. The former can motivate and inspire to change things while the latter feels as though there is nothing you can do about it. Since I have been paleo, life has been good. Is it easy? Am I always happy and stress free? No. However, since I have been paleo, I have been giving my body what it needs to function. Fish oil, good nutrients and vitamins, no grains or dairy to keep my gut happy and allow only the good stuff into my bloodstream. I also work out more (which changes brain chemistry tremendously) and am sure to try and get the sunlight that I can. The energy is there to be able to connect with others, which is also lessens depression. Our bodies know what to do and how to function and make (mostly) what we need (ie. serotonin & other neurotransmitters) provided we give them what, as animals, they need without poisoning them with stuff the is fake and we were not designed to eat.
on July 08, 2012
at 12:08 PM
I've suffered with depression since the age of 13 (now 20) and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 3 years ago and treated with anti-psychotic medications.
My mood pattern over the last 7 years has been very predictable - 2 episodes of depression a year, one over the winter for around 4-5 months and another usually around a month long in the late spring, both of which followed a brief period of 'mania'.
Last year in October the depression that I presumed was inevitable struck again and I noticed that with it my consumption of sugar and junk fold absolutely exploded. Prior to that I'd been eating the traditional 'healthy' diet (I'd say SAD but I'm British :p) of whole grains, not too much red meat and lots of fruit and veg. I was doing 30mins of strength training 3 times a week and ran 5k 4 times a week. I thought I was living my life in the optimal way so was very discouraged when the depression struck again, and my sugar cravings went through the roof.
Suddenly I was spending ??20 a day on junk (crisps, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks etc.), I stopped exercising and I stopped leaving my university flat (apart from to grab junk food) and stopped interacting with my flatmates. The only human contact I had was with my GP once a week to increase my meds.
The depression got worse and worse (and I assume this now to be a result of my appalling diet and lack of human contact/ sunlight) and eventually in January I was hospitalised (psychiatric) after being prescribed yet another med which made me extremely impulsive and agitated, leading me to come within about half an hour of killing myself.The only reason I'm still here to day is because the psychiatric nurse assigned to me phoned me up to see how I was doing before I managed to put my suicide plan into action.
Once in hospital I was dosed up on benzos and released after a week once I was judged to no longer be a risk to myself. I went back to binging on sugar and avoiding human interaction and was back in hospital a fortnight later. When I was eventually released the second time I was determined to find out what I had done wrong to get depressed again even though according to the medical community I was "doing everything right".
I stumbled across Paleo and dived straight into it. I saw an improvement in my symptoms within a week, and things continued to get better for a few weeks until eventually I felt as good as I had before my first episode of depression when I was 13. I felt clear-headed, alert, my memory improvemed, my motivation returned. I wanted to run and skip and read and laugh.
Despite the vast improvement (I would go as far as to say complete reversal) of my symptoms, my psychiatrist and nurse told me that I was not eating healthily and that they were concerned I was slipping back into my old days of disordered eating like when I was 14 and 15. I was willing to listen to them, so I did an experiment with myself - I went back to the "healthy" eating, and sure enough, back came the fatigue and the lack of motivation, back came the anxiety and the self-doubt. I went back to eating Paleo and my symptoms again disappeared. I no longer even get time of the month cravings or PMS. I feel perfect!
I made the decision to come off my medication and in a months time I will be med-free for the first time in 5 years. I'm being careful not to get too ahead of myself because I know my illness has been a recurrant and persistant one, and that this lifestyle might not be the answer to everything, but deep down I think that this lifestyle is the thing that will save me.
My doctors still look at me like I'm a bit mad when I claim that changing the way I eat, sleep, exercise (lots of walking, heavy lifting twice a week; HIIT twice a week) and relax has fixed every complaint that I had, but I know that it's worked for me so I don't waste energy (or risk causing stress) by arguing with them.
Apologies for the length of this post but it's a topic that I'm really passionate about. My parents are still suspicious of the Paleo diet (at least they have no problems with the sleeping/ exercising/ relaxing part) but they can see a huge difference in me so are agreeing to go along with it for now (though there's no chance as yet of them joining me in this lifestyle, sadly).
To actually answer the question (haha, took me enough time to reach this point) - I would say that once the episode of depression has lifted I do feel more in touch with myself, and it's certainly increased my empathy and sensitivity for/to others. I've become a quieter, more thoughtful person and I think some of that is down to the huge amount of self-reflection that I've done over the years when I was searching for what was going wrong. Whether these qualities would have been useful evoloutionarily speaking, I do not know, but they come in very handy in the present day when studying for my degree because I can take my time with my reading and writing and now I'm Paleo I don't waste dozens of hours a week recovering from hangovers and oversleeping like I used to. ;)
on July 08, 2012
at 03:54 AM
I would just like to say that sadness and stress are normal; depression is not. What you have described sounds like sadness and stress, not depression, though since we don't know what else may be going on in this person's life now or in the past, we have no way of telling.
That being said, a lot of times people want a quick fix because they are upset about something going on in their lives, like you said, and the doctor writes the prescription because that is what doctors do, and because many times, if they don't, the person will just go to another doctor until they get the answer and the pills they want.
Depression is a mental illness. Totally a separate thing. (Often over-diagnosed both by physicians and people who like Web MD, IMHO, but that doesn't lessen the gravity of the situation for someone who actually has the disease.) For people who are actually clinically depressed, diet can make a BIG BIG BIG difference, but it is not a cure-all. That person still needs psychotherapy, and possibly medication.
I believe that medication should be a last resort, not the first option, but unfortunately that's just not the way it usually works likely because medication is a lot cheaper than therapy and a lot easier than changing your diet.
I would never judge anyone or give them advice about mental illness, because it is easy to do more harm than you are capable of realizing if that person is mentally ill. If they are mentally ill, you can't expect them to take what you are saying at face value and look at it logically. They may be able to do that; they may not. You just don't know. You just don't know all the factors that could be involved. Mental illness is complicated. I would never, ever tell an individual what to do when it comes to their mental health, other than to see a doctor and wish them the best and let them know I am there for them (if we have that kind of relationship). Even if you are 100% right, it's just not worth the risk, especially when it's not your health you're risking. I can't stress enough how dangerous it can be.
on July 08, 2012
at 06:28 AM
Depression is often directly linked to systematic inflammation. (I suggest a google search) Though we still don't know the exact link between endorphin production, inflammation, and depression, we do know there is a link.
In addition, certain foods can directly cause the release of neuro-chemicals and subsequent down regulation of neurotransmitter production if they are eaten regularly. Obvious examples are sugar and most processed carbs.
In other words, if your body gets used to "feel good" chemicals coming from food, it stops being as good at making it's own feel-good chemicals. I'm not sure of the mechanism of inflammation's role in depression, but there are plenty of studies out there.
Being sad about something is a natural reaction. Crying even prompts the release of endorphins! But depression is different. It's my belief that being sad about something like a traumatic loss can lead to depression if you are also eating sub-optimally and have chronic inflammation.
There may be other causes of depression other than diet, but with this theory the depression is actually cause by the body's physical response to the stress of a traumatic memory or other mental maladies. In other words, psychology doesn't cause depression directly, rather psychological trauma causes a physical stress response, which if chronic can cause systematic inflammation, which has been linked to depression.
on July 24, 2012
at 12:06 PM
Depression is not an adaptation, it is either caused by nutrient deficiencies (such as B12, choline, zinc, B6, amino acids, etc), or lack of human givens.
Givens are: Security ??? safe territory and an environment which allows full maturity and development Attention (to give and receive it) ??? a form of "mental nutrition" Sense of autonomy and control ??? having volition to make responsible choices Being emotionally connected to others Feeling part of a wider community Friendship and intimacy with someone who is accepting of the total person, flaws included Privacy ??? opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience Sense of status within social groupings Sense of competence and achievement Meaning and purpose
As you can see our society doesn't provide Givens very well and so we feel depressed, and we use words like 'empty' and 'meaningless' to describe our lives because in a sense they are.
on July 08, 2012
at 03:42 AM
Except that depression is a disease of civilisation, so its certainly triggered by unnatural living, such as lack of human touch, sunlight, proper sleep, a lack of sense of place/worldveiw and lack of community, as well as singular events.
But i agree that its adaptive (edit: revised thought, its probably not overall adaptive, even though it can be sometimes as a motivator)
on July 09, 2012
at 03:50 AM
My view is pretty much the same as yours.
I think there are times when we need to "lay-low" emotionally, just as we would when recovering from a physical injury.
Having experienced "real" depression, I can tell you that there's nothing adaptive or beneficial about it, but I know there have been other times when I might have shown the outward signs of depression when I felt I was resting or recovering in some way.
on July 08, 2012
at 12:22 PM
No, I do not view depression as a beneficial adaptation. When something becomes common, like when we all do the wrong thing like eating grains, we tend to think that it is normal. I believe that depression is either a physiological, psychological, or spiritual malady.
on August 06, 2013
at 08:01 AM
In my uneducated opinion, depression is not an adaptive mechanism to "Get us to act."
I don't believe depression has ANY UPSIDE.
I believe that if a person is depressed, that he or she is in a bad state period.
The ability to "Act on a problem" requires two things: The identification of the problem itself, and the energy and resolve to solve that problem.
Depression, IMO, robs a person of useful energy and focus. Yes, a depressed person will use energy unwisely like watching a lot of TV or perhaps talking about their problems over and over again, but none of this "Solves" the problems anyway. So to me, depression is just a negative condition/sickness that is unique to mammals of a higher order. It's like our sophisticated brain comes with a potential downside, the possibility of depression is one of them.
I do agree with Jaime (i think it was jaime), that community, and I mean REAL COMMUNITY, CONNECTEDNESS and PURPOSE is really lacking in our lives and helps inch one towards depression. In primitive days, life was very, very hard and bleak, but the stress and the realities of having to survive starvation and sabor-tooth tigers kinda forces a person to not sit around and be in a self-reflective mood, and thus, may not even have the time to be depressed. There are of course many other legit reasons why someone might have been depressed during primitive times, things like brain abnormalities, neuro-chemistry problems, undiagnosed food intolerances, underlying infection, these things obviously can cause depression and it is completely not the fault of the individual. Also, one can't ignore the fact that simply being on our feet all day trying to obtain food and stuff, produces physiological changes in the body that may very well prevent some kinds of depression from taking root. Things like sunshine, increased quality of oxygen have drug like effects to help some non-geneteically predisposed people to being depressed.
Congratulations to OZ for continually putting up a good fight against depression. I love hearing about victories.
on July 08, 2012
at 08:36 PM
Absolutely not. Anxiety is though.
on July 08, 2012
at 07:04 PM
i don't have much more to say than the amazing responses here, but for me, i beat depression with prayer, focusing on where i am heading/moving forward in life, increasing carbs, and for a while, taking medication.
on July 08, 2012
at 03:36 PM
I highly recommend watching the PBS Documentary "This Emotional Life" In Episode 3 titled "Rethinking Happiness" They go into this topic in detail interviewing people with depression, Post Traumatic Stress, Cancer Diagnosis, etc. In the episode they show images of the brain of depressed people and show that the depression actually shrinks the brain. As humans the Fight or flight response is a normal evolutionary response that is actually helpful, however we humans as opposed to animals have no way of shutting off this response and this is what causes things like anxiety and can lead to depression if under chronic stress. I don't think long term depression is beneficial!! In the episode they say something very interesting... They say that people who are happy out achieve and out reproduce people who are unhappy and there are more happy people around now than ever before due to evolution. Interesting and worth watching..