With the dark days of winter often comes the blues, and the American Psychological Association concluded that this kind of seasonal stress can contribute to health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure and depression. Almost 15 million Americans are affected by depression each year, which can interfere with everything from school to work to social activities, and you may feel hopeless, exhausted, lackadaisical or indecisive.
The exact cause of depression is complicated, and it can be any combination of several known factors, including genetics, traumatic events, hormone imbalances and biochemical reactions in the brain. The good news is you can do something about it.
The Endocannabinoid System
As you know, the brain is the control center of your body, and several neurological systems assist in sending messages to and from this hub. One of these is the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis — internal balance from constant pressure of external stimuli — and affects nearly every biological process in your body, including memory, appetite and sleep, as well as mood, pain and stress.
Here’s the deal: In response to negative stimuli, the ECS produces cannabinoids that bind to particular brain cell receptors, causing the release of serotonin, improving mood and reducing stress. The ECS is also responsible for that “runner’s high” and exercise euphoria you feel after training. Are you addicted to chocolate? It’s no wonder: The cacao in chocolate interacts with your ECS, boosting mood and simulating feelings of love.
The trouble comes when your ECS is not functioning properly or is not making adequate levels of cannabinoids. Your brain chemistry begins to change, and research has linked ECS decline with a number of diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and depression.
Stress reduction is one of the ECS’s primary purposes, and as you become depressed and anxious, your cortisol levels rise. Excess cortisol has been shown to negatively impact your hippocampus — the area of the brain responsible for memory, learning and emotion — actually causing it to shrink and leading to cognitive decline and furthering depressive symptoms. Fortunately, the hippocampus is capable of neurogenesis, and it is able to grow new neurons and make new connections.
Happy, Happy Hippo(campus)
If your ECS is not properly forming its own cannabinoids, introducing cannabidiol (CBD) can mimic the way your own cannabinoids operate and function. In several studies, CBD has been shown to reduce depression through hippocampal neurogenesis, promoting the creation of new neurons, activating the release of serotonin and dopamine, and reversing atrophy. CBD has also been shown to reduce inflammation and pain and re-establish healthy sleeping patterns, all of which can decrease the severity of depressive symptoms.
In addition to CBD supplementation, maintaining a consistent habit of healthy eating and exercise also can help with depression. Exercise promotes the release of several hormones that support your ECS, improving overall mood and outlook. Additionally, a lack of omega-3s has been shown to negatively impact the brain receptors for the ECS, which could lead to depressive symptoms. Supplement daily with omega-3s or eat several servings of fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel per week to keep your systems on go.
There is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding depression and its causes, but it is known to be a biological imbalance of sorts. And since the ECS works to maintain homeostasis, it’s to your benefit to keep it healthy and happy!
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