Feeling Blue?

Generally we tend not to talk about depressing things….

However, Depression is very real and is one of the silent ailments disrupting corporate South Africa today, leading to increased absenteeism, conflict in the workplace and low productivity.


South Africa, spends substantial amounts annually on corporate wellness days, we should consider taking action to also address depression. Current statistics highlights that one in four South Africans suffer from depression and that the impact on companies can be more severe than physical illnesses which have to-date been the focus of corporate wellness days.


Depression can be treated successfully and those suffering can return to normal functioning with the right assistance. The reality is that people suffering from depression are generally not aware of it or are in denial that they too suffer from depression. The stigma attached to depression also leads to people being unable to seek help for fear of being isolated by their colleagues or overlooked for promotions. Some even fear that that disclosing their affliction could ultimately lead to dismissal.
Often, the person suffering from depression will hide their problem so well that co-workers just believe that their colleague is someone who is withdrawn and not a ‘people person’ rather than being someone who is quiet because they are stressed, anxious and depressed. It is often only when colleagues hear of a personal calamity of this type that they begin to understand that the co-worker who was often off sick, was late for work, unmotivated or constantly tired was suffering from something much deeper than just ‘laziness’.
“People with depression find it difficult to function properly. Depression can affect anyone regardless of their gender, age, race or social class. This is one of the main reason why corporate South Africa should encourage Human Capital professionals to be more aware of the problem and use corporate health and wellness days at the office as opportunities to create general awareness about depression, its symptoms and treatment.

By creating an open environment where mental illness is openly discussed, creating awareness about the illness and having tools for quick identification of those suffering from depression, employers can go a long way towards encouraging people to seek support and treatment for their depression-related problems. They will also build a supportive workplace for sufferers who will be better understood by their colleagues,” says Dr Fisha.


In Dr. David Perlmutter’s book “Grain Brain” he references a paper presented by C.J.L. Murray and A.D. Lopez to the World Health Organization stating that by 2020, depression will become the second largest cause of suffering, next only to heart disease. Perlmutter states that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide (page 160).
More and more people are suffering from undiagnosed depression, simply because the demands of our lifestyle today and the expectations we place on ourselves. Our nervous systems are stressed, and before we know it, this level of unhappiness becomes the new norm. This impairment in brain function then leads to poor lifestyle choices.

THIS IS IMPORTANT… a little technical but read on… The frontal cortex!


The part of the brain directly involved with depression is the frontal cortex. Why do we need to know this? Well, because it is the largest lobe of the human brain, it also defines our personality and governs our ability to reason. It suppresses impulses (violent behavior, ADHD), fine motor coordination (handwriting), mental sharpness, cognition (learning new skills, languages) and muscle coordination (sports, dance). Any impairment of these abilities, as well as depression, is an indication of frontal lobe involvement. (So, make sure your bike and other sports helmets fit snugly over your forehead!)


According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, he states in his book “Why Isn’t My Brain Working” depression is simply the decreased firing of the front lobe, and the frontal lobe is saturated with receptor sites for the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Poor serotonin activity leads to inner rage and anger, depression, inability to fall into deep, restful sleep, depression from lack of sunlight, loss of pleasure in life. (pg 309).


A diet including sufficient amino acid tryptophan is necessary for healthy insulin response. Tryptophan can be found in beef, liver, chicken, turkey, lamb, salmon, spinach, eggs, beans, lentils, shellfish… People who constantly skip meals or who are hypoglycemic are at risk for low serotonin production because they cannot deliver enough glucose to the brain.
Dopamine, another neurotransmitter, has many functions in the brain including mood and motivation. It is associated with the “pleasure system” of the brain. Proper dopamine synthesis relies on a diet rich in the amino acid, phenylalanine (sources: beef, fish, eggs, pork, chocolate, turkey, oats, cheese) as well as keeping a healthy blood sugar regulation (not skipping meals, eating sufficient protein in each meal).


Insulin resistant and hypoglycemic individuals experience abnormal insulin spikes which lead to impaired dopamine synthesis. Anemia, B6 insufficiency, folic acid impairment, methylation issues and liver disease can impair the action of dopamine in the brain. In my practice, I use specific questionnaires to assess the function of the different parts of the brain and brain health (neurotransmitter status) as well as a metabolic questionnaire. This enables a more specific recommendation regarding supplementation if any, and diet.

Some of the signs of depression to look out for are:

  • A person suddenly losing enthusiasm for their work;
  • Deadlines being missed and presented work not being as thorough as it used to be, having endless excuses, irrational decisions;
  • Increased absenteeism which is out of character for the worker concerned;
  • Changed social behaviour, withdrawal from peers, memory problems, highly suspicious of others;
  • Restlessness and/or irritability, aggression towards colleagues and superiors;
  • Arriving late for work and looking unhappy; anxious, edgy
  • Fatigue, usually shown through complaints of tiredness after undertaking even basic tasks and constant complaints about feeling tired.

Depression can have various causes some work related such as too much pressure at work, promotions with new demands that employees are unable to meet, and some stressors maybe home related such as , family problems, relationships, financial stressors, illness etc.


“It does not follow that because a person is suffering from depression that they can no longer do their jobs. By showing an understanding of the problem and helping explore options when problems occur, a manager can ensure that an employee suffering from depression remains a productive member of the team.
It should, however, always be borne in mind that offering support does not mean taking up the role as an informal therapist. Depression can be treated and the condition can be managed, but this is best left to professionals, as we all deserve mental break.

Researchers and Scientists are saying your Gut is your Second Brain!

Fiery Guts image


We know the brain talks to the gut and the gut talks back to the brain! Good sourced probiotic supplements (Dairy –free) in sufficient amounts support your healthy bacteria and in turn, influence your brain behavior. They are involved with producing, absorbing and transporting serotonin, dopamine and nerve growth factor. The gut sends out hormonal signals to the brain relaying messages of fullness, hunger, and pain from intestinal inflammation. So now we see why it’s so important to have a healthy gut!
Which strains of probiotics are essential? I recommend at least a variety of 10 strains but make sure it includes lactobacillus, acidophilus, and bifidobacterium. At least ten billion per capsule at least one per day is a good start. However, it is best to check with a functional nutritional advisor.

LOW Cholesterol and Depression:

cholosterol image


Dr. Perlmutter references a study in his book “Grain Brain” (page 162), which states there are numerous studies demonstrating depression runs much higher in people with low cholesterol (both dietary induced and statin-induced. Skipping meals (hypoglycemics), or an insufficient dietary protein intake may put you at risk for low cholesterol.

People taking statins are artificially lowering their cholesterol, can become much more depressed and impair their ability to make sufficient vitamin D as well.
Low vitamin D levels are not only linked to weak bones, but also, a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression.
Cholesterol provides the precursors (building materials) to make phospholipids which are fatty compounds. These fatty compounds make up the majority of your brain!

GLUTEN Sensitivity and Depression:


Gluten sensitivity is the elephant in the room topic currently. Let’s just stress that gluten sensitivity is an immune response. This immune response turns on inflammatory chemicals which can attack the brain. So, basically, if the brain function is impaired, neurotransmitter function is also impaired (remember, dopamine and serotonin?) which leads to depression! Gluten sensitivity is not principally a disease of the small bowel as many think.


In his book, “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?” (page 158), Dr. Datis Kharrazian states “No single dietary protein is a more potent trigger of neurological dysfunction and neurological autoimmunity than gluten (the protein found in wheat).” All autoimmune disorders (Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, etc.) benefit tremendously from a gluten free diet.
There are a lot of mechanisms and factors impacting our mood. One of the underlying mechanisms that cause impaired brain function as you may have noticed is impaired blood glucose regulation. This is another important reason to eat at regular intervals (don’t skip) and eat sufficient quality protein. Depression can cripple our ability to function on a day to day basis, not only impacting our lives but the lives of those around us.


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