Happy Versus Sad - Is It In Your Genes?
We live in an overwhelming and increasingly demanding society. Our minds are constantly burdened with responsibilities. We continue to fill our schedules and take on as many tasks as humanly possible. For many of us, it can be difficult to balance every aspect of our life. As a result, anxiety can easily settle in. For 1 in 10 people, this anxiety can lead to depression.
Mental health is a growing concern and one that should not be taken lightly. In 2013, there were 8.2 million reported cases of anxiety in the UK. If not treated on time, anxiety can turn into chronic depression.
Depression is common among people who are going through a tough time in life. It can be seen as a normal mechanism that the mind goes through after suffering a loss or traumatic event. However, chronic depression is increasing at an alarming rate.
We now understand that the disease is a result of an imbalance in out brain chemistry. Studies continue to demonstrate that lifestyle, diet, and environmental factors can be very powerful at treating depression. In the long term, these factors are more efficient than medication.
Can Depression Be Genetic?
Quite a bit of research has been done on the comparison of genes and mental health. These studies have been done to determine if certain genes can make people more susceptible to mental illnesses.
If you’ve read my blog or my book “Cracking Your Health Code”, you know that our genes do not necessarily determine our fate. Moreover, the expression of our genes can actually be altered by the environment around us.
There is no such thing as a mental illness gene. However, it is true that some genes can make people more sensitive to the effects of their environment – for better or for worse.
Genes such as 5-HTTLPR and COMT inhibit hormonal levels that can influence neurotransmitters and result in depression.
It goes without saying that happiness is not just dependent on these genes, but it is also reliant on multiple external factors. Therefore, it is possible to influence your genes to produce more positive emotions like optimism.
For example, the active form of folate (L-methyl-folate) is important for producing neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
If you have a variant of this gene, it could lead to a lack of these chemicals and result in feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and even anxiety.
If this is your case, what can you do to bulletproof yourself of these unwanted feelings?
How It Works
If you have certain genes and also live in a negative environment, you are likely to develop negative cognitive biases that lead to mental disorders. On the other hand, if you have the same genes but live in a positive environment, you are likely to develop positive cognitive biases that increase your mental resilience.
Here are the four main pillars for increasing mental resiliency and boosting your levels of happiness.
1) Nutritional Intervention
Nutrition and botanical interventions can neutralize the symptoms associated with depression, protect you against hormone-related diseases, and balance your brain chemistry.
The active form of folate (L-methyl-folate) is vital for producing neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. A lack of these chemicals in our brains can lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety.
- Eat your greens! In many cases, a negative mood can be counterbalanced with the consumption of vegetables rich in folate.
- Increase your intake of leafy greens such as spinach, kelp,Swiss chard. Other folate-rich foods include pumpkin seeds and steamed broccoli
- Watercress is also great hormone regulator. If your hormones are out of whack, I recommend that you incorporate watercress into your daily diet. Also, opt for bitter watercress as it will have higher amounts of Phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are cancer-fighting nutrients that help prevent diseases and keep your body working properly.
- Another nutritional tip is to increase insoluble fiber in your diet, which will keep your gut bacteria happy. Many studies have shown that a happy gut can result in a happy brain.
- Supplementation can also help balance your brain chemistry. Vitamins such as B12, B6, B2, B3, choline, serine, and magnesium can offer great improvements.
- Ditch the bad fat and load up on the good ones. Our brains are fueled by fat, but only the good kind. Incorporate olive oil in your diet and increase the consumption of cold water fish. Fish such as salmon, mackerel, and trout contain Omega3s and many good fats that can help your brain.
- Replace coffee with teas such as green tea and Matcha. Caffeine can stimulate and magnify the symptoms of anxiety, whereas teas rich in antioxidants can help drive motivation and performance.
- Matcha, in particular, is delicious and very rich in antioxidants. It also contains EGCg, vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc, and magnesium which can boost your metabolism. It is rich in fiber and chlorophyll which enhances your mood and aid in concentration. Moreover, it can help detoxify your body effectively and naturally.
Any type of physical or mental exercise can be a powerful tool for fighting the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Hiking, biking, swimming, drawing, painting, and even walking are amongst the many options to choose from. These activities can trigger the release of dopamine and regulate hormones.
It is human nature to explore. A good walk in the woods can do wonders for your health and leave you with a smile.
Challenge yourself and try something new. Take up that pottery class that you’ve always wanted to try, or join a cycling group.
Interestingly, cold water swimming (or outdoor swimming) has been proven to be more efficient than most anti- depressants for treating depression. Currently, further studies are ongoing and NHS is actually considering including it within official recommendations to manage and treat depression.
Essentially, the shock of cold water stimulates the brain to produce a chemical cocktail of neurotransmitters that leads to euphoria. This helps us cope with the sudden shock of cold water and makes us more resilient to the negative effects of depression over time.
Resistance weight training can also help regulate brain chemistry. A regular exercise routine is already part of the NHS recommendation to combat depression.
Another great tool to improve stress tolerance is meditation. There are many great tools online to practice meditation. Guided meditation tutorials are recommended for beginners.
When your mood is low enough that it prevents you from making a change, support is the best solution. Friends, family, or a support group can give you the kick start you need.
Finding out about your genes will give you an extra advantage for tackling any mental health related problem.
Understanding the relationship between your genetic makeup and your mental health can give you the motivation you need to take the first steps. Moreover, applying a personalised approach to your health can be much more effective in helping you overcome these issues.
Over time, you will be able to surpass the negative feelings of depression and replacement with positive ones.
Using your genes to optimise your health can bring your life to a new level. Incorporate these changes into your life, make them into a habit, and watch your health quickly improve!