Foods to Combat Hormonal Depression
Last week, we looked at foods that can calm anxiety in the body.
But what if you suffer from the opposite problem? What if you have to force yourself to get out of bed in the morning? And your body feels heavy all day? And dark and obsessive thoughts continually replay in your shuttered brain?
What if you were so blue that you almost wished for some anxiety, just so you could feel something?
Of course, none of this is normal. It’s common, but it’s not normal.
If you struggle with depression, you need to know that you are not alone. Check out these facts from Mental Health America:
Approximately 12 million women in the United States experience clinical depression each year.
About one in every eight women can expect to develop clinical depression during their lifetime.
Depression occurs most frequently in women aged 25 to 44.
Many factors in women may contribute to depression, such as developmental, reproductive, hormonal, genetic and other biological differences (e.g. premenstrual syndrome, childbirth, infertility and menopause).
Women experience depression at roughly twice the rate of men.
Depression in women is misdiagnosed approximately 30 to 50 percent of the time.
Fewer than half of the women who experience clinical depression will ever seek care.
Why are women so depressed?
I have my theories. I believe we’re created to be in community, and our modern lifestyles encourage anything but community. Sure, we have social or professional outings a few times a week. But I believe that women have a deep need to be known, and surfaceful relationships don’t really fit this bill.
I also believe we are created to have a relationship with God, and when we are too busy or too shut-off or too prideful to put time into cultivating this relationship, we can feel distant from Him. We can believe the lie that He does not care or even see.
And we’ve all bought into the lie that we have to do everything all of the time. We want to be the nicest and sweetest and prettiest and skinniest and most successful and best, even though we know this is all vanity and grasping at the wind. That mental disconnect draws us further into ourselves, and our depression.
We want to be the same as everyone else, but better.
What a tangled web we weave.
Yes, we could consider this idea from an external perspective:
Many women are brought up feeling they need to fulfill an impossible array of ideals simultaneously. They may expect themselves to achieve their own perfect version of multiple roles: daughter, daughter-in-law, wife, mother, friend, sister, and/or professional career woman. Intellectually, they may know that it is not possible to be perfect in all of these aspects of life, all the time; but they may still push themselves to a breaking point. Without balance, it is easy to reach a state of anxiety, stress and depression. Unfortunately, when women are anxious, stressed, or depressed, it is even more difficult to aspire to the women they want to be. (source)
But I think we need to realize that this burden can also attack from the inside.
Take, for example, the question, “what are the causes of depression?” (David) Murray (author of Christians Get Depressed Too) is unwilling to say that depression’s causes are exclusively physical (brain chemistry), spiritual (demon possession or personal sin), or mental (an overactive imagination). In company with the Puritans, Murray rightly recognizes the often unfathomable interrelations of mind and body, concluding that depression’s causes may be manifold, complex, and elusive (source).
What about treatment options?
I love what MFT Leslie Vernick has to say about depression.
To defeat depression, medication may be one of the steps. But you must also look at your lifestyle and habits and how you deal with things (or don’t). Depression begins and grows out of a complex interplay between our bodies (biological factors), our minds (the way we think and look at things), our habits (our personality style and patterns we have developed for coping with people and life’s stresses), interpersonal factors (our relationships with others, past and present), and spiritual problems (sinful responses, faulty teaching or understanding regarding God and his character, and a loss of purpose or meaning to life). (source).
So we’ve seen that the causes of depression are many. That’s normal. We are complex creatures, we humans! And fluctuating feelings can be part of the wonder and awe of living on this earth. On the anxiety-depression scale, I absolutely tend toward depression. I have gone through some long and dark times in my body and brain and soul, and as I approach 40, I realize that this is a cyclical burden and can seemingly come out of nowhere.
As I feel the darkness creep in, I need to run through a checklist to see how I have been treating my body. I have identified the physical factors that can push my mood toward the blues.
- have I said yes to too many things and am consequently way too busy?
- has my sleep been reduced in quality or quantity?
- am I drinking wine too often?
- am I drinking coffee too often?
- am I eating too much sugar?
- am I eating enough protein?
- am I getting enough sun?
- am I spending time with my Bible?
- am I taking my vitamins and brain-balancing amino acids?
- am I exercising the right amount- not too much and not too litter?
- am I feeling stuck in an issue with my husband or children?
Usually, I can identify a few factors that are out of balance in my life. I can work backwards after asking myself these questions and focus on specific and actionable ways to balance things out so that I’m not so overwhelmed.
But it can be a constant struggle. Depression can be the effect. Let’s look at another cause, though.
Hidden hypothyroidism: a cause of depression
So many women walk around with low thyroid function. I can’t tell you the number of clients I have who have thyroid issues. Some have had their thyroids removed. Many are on medication. Most have the classic signs of low thyroid function.
I’m one of them. I have had both hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the autoimmune component of hypothyroidism.
Using FDN principles, I’ve been able to bring my Hashimoto’s antibodies down to undetectable levels, which essentially means I don’t have it anymore. But my thyroid function continues to trend low.
I’m open about my history of punishing diet and exercise regimes. I’ve been dieting since I was 11. At that age, my grandfather told me that he’d give me $20 to lose 10 pounds. So I did. And it’s been a metabolic battle ever since.
But all of that messing with my metabolism had lasting effects on my thyroid function. Low fat diets, too much exercise, insufficient sleep, and lots of stress told my body that it needed to shutter itself for awhile. I told my body that it was not safe, and my body responded exactly how it was supposed to. It slowed everything down.
I’m guessing you may have a similar story.
Here’s the thing, though. Low thyroid function is 100% correlated with depression.
The association between thyroid function and psychiatric disorders particularly mood disorders has long been recognized. Historically, this association has been described more than 200 years ago. Parry in 1825 reported an increased incidence of “nervous affectations” in thyroid disorders. (source)
Patients with thyroid disorders are more prone to develop depressive symptoms and conversely depression may be accompanied by various subtle thyroid abnormalities (source).
So, get on thyroid medication and be less depressed, right? Well, not really. Especially because the standard of care is the inadequate and outdated test-T4-only-treat-with-Synthroid model.
Therapy with levothyroxine (Synthroid) alone was not sufficient to induce a total remission of depressive symptoms…(source).
I believe depression is more correlated with low T3. T3 is the active form of thyroid hormone in the body. Synthroid (a synthetic T4 only medication) has to be processed in the liver and turned into T3 before the body has any usable thyroid hormone.
But if you’re stressed and overwhelmed, you’ve likely got lots of cortisol coursing through your system, or you did at one time.
And check this out:
It has been hypothesized that depression leads to inhibition of the D2 enzyme responsible for conversion of T4 into T3 due to the increase in cortisol levels .
which means, yes! It’s really low T3 that is associated with depression.
In patients with depression and no other illnesses, a “low T3 syndrome” has been described 
And since women suffer from depression at a greater rate than men, it’s likely that if you have depression, you’re a woman. Is that a cyclical argument? I don’t mean for it to be.
I just want to drive home this thought:
The effects of T3 acceleration appeared to be more remarkable as the percentage of women in a trial increased therefore suggesting that women might benefit more than men from T3 supplementation .
So to recap: If you’re a woman with depression, you likely have low thyroid function and could perhaps benefit from asking your doctor to work with you on some T3 (liothyronine) therapy.
I’m not a doctor, so I can’t diagnose, treat, or prescribe. I can just share with you what the research says and tell you to talk to your doctor about it.
Someone in your situation might benefit from starting at 5 mcg T3 in the morning and working up to a dose of 12.5 mcg in the morning and early afternoon. You might not need that much to see a lift in your mood, and you’ll want to work up very slowly, adding in 2.5 mcg every 2 weeks or so until you’re stable.
That said, food for mood is super important. Keeping in mind everything we learned today, I’ll be recommending thyroid-boosting foods to support your mental health.
Thyroid-boosting Foods to Combat Depression
I say it all of the time, and I’ll say it as long as I have a voice: women’s bodies are sensitive. That’s ok. We are actually weaker than men from a biochemical perspective. That’s ok too. I’m not trying to be anti-feminist here, just pro-biological. We have hormones that are very sensitive to environmental and physiological fluctuations. This is purposeful- our bodies are meant to have children. (I know that many women, myself included, have suffered the heartbreak of miscarriage and I also know that some women choose not to have children. Please know my heart is with and for all of you- I’m simply stating that from a purely biological perspective, only women are capable of carrying children).
That said, we need to eat to support hormone health. And…thyroid hormone is a hormone.
Here we go:
Seaweed and Fish
Seaweed and Fish: Iodine
The recommended daily allowance for iodine is 150 mcg. Experts disagree as to whether that is enough iodine for a normally functioning body and thyroid. But you can tell if you’re getting enough iodine or not in two ways:
- Your boobs feel amazing.
- Your thyroid is functioning optimally
If your boobs are tender and hard and lumpy, you’re not getting enough iodine. Here’s the connection. High levels of estrogen increase your need for thyroid hormone, and high levels of estrogen increase your need for iodine. Iodine is needed to convert T4 to T3 during the process of deiodination in the liver.
Your breasts are full of iodine receptors, and when estrogen levels are out of control and iodine is lacking in the diet, your boobs will start to feel tender and hard.
Solution? Eat more seaweed and fish, especially cod.
If your thyroid is functioning optimally- meaning your weight, mood, skin, and body temperature are completely balanced- your iodine levels are probably fine.
You can always check your levels with this easy, at-home test (though it’s a bit controversial).
Here’s the iodine counts of kombu kelp and also cod:
Kombu kelp can contain up to 2,984 mcg of iodine per seaweed sheet (1 gram). This provides almost 2,000% of the recommended daily intake (6).
According to the Icelandic Food Content Database, fish low in fat have the highest iodine amounts (10).
For instance, 3 ounces (85 grams) of cod has approximately 63–99 mcg, or 42–66% of the daily recommended amount (6,).
Meat. Meat. You need it for thyroid health, and also for general health. If you can’t digest it or tolerate it, we’ve got a problem that needs working on. Set up a free call with me here and let’s discuss.
Thyroids need meat because meat contains tyrosine, an amino acid that is a precursor to thyroid hormone. Tyrosine and iodine combine together into T1 and T2, the thyroid hormone precursors. Then T1 and T2 combine to form T4 and T3.
So meat is needed for proper thyroid hormone production.
Side note: tyrosine also increases dopamine availability, which is one of the reasons eating adequate amounts of protein can cut down on sugar cravings (source).
Tyrosine is found in chicken, turkey, fish, peanuts, almonds, avocados, bananas, milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds (source).
You could use tyrosine supplements, but tyrosine from animal products is more bioavailable and also tastier.
Let’s talk about another food that is probably underutilized. Fruit. In the days of keto and carnivore and low-carb dieting (terrible for thyroid health!), fruit is generally maligned as containing too much sugar.
This makes me sad. Fruit is delicious, full of nutrients, and also amazing for thyroid health.
Fruit supplies both fructose and glucose in a delicious and biologically available form. And this is helpful for both liver and thyroid health.
Having a constant flow of glucose is an important part of supporting the glucuronidation pathway, which needs to be in working order to inactivate “used up” estrogen in the liver and brain. The simple sugar boosts the patients glucuronic acid levels enabling them to clear out their “old” hormones. (source)
Remember- high estrogen levels increase the need for thyroid hormone. We need that glucose to clear out estrogen and increase thyroid function.
The conversion of T4 into the active T3 requires glucose, and in diabetes, cells are deprived of glucose. Logically, all diabetics would be functionally hypothyroid. Providing T3 and sugar tends to shift energy metabolism away from the oxidation of fats, back to the oxidation of sugar (source).
Fruit provides energy. If you’re hypothyroid, you probably suffer from lack from lack of energy. Add in 2-4 servings of fruit a day and see how you feel after a month.
That’s what we do in Nourished, my self-paced program that has helped hundreds of women lose weight, re-spark their thyroid, and gain energy. Check it out here.
For this week, I’m offering Nourished at a huge discount, almost 80% off. Use code RESET2021 when you purchase the program and get on your way to better thyroid and period health ASAP.
What do you think? Do you suffer from depression? Do you feel encouraged with your new knowledge? How will you work on your thyroid health this week? Head over to Facebook and let me know.