Before I was Bulletproof, I suffered from serious mood swings. My bursts of anger and bouts of depression and anxiety impacted my work, my health, and most importantly, my relationships. When your mood can affect so many parts of your life, it’s no wonder 1 in 6 adults have filled at least one prescription for a psychiatric drug.
Antidepressants are the most popular psychiatric medication out there, with anti-anxiety drugs, sedatives, and hypnotics coming in second. So, what? Is this a problem? Can you upgrade your brain and kick depression naturally? Read on to find out.
5 science-backed hacks for a stronger brain
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with chronic depression or simply have the blues now and then, building a better brain through lifestyle hacks and better nutrition can help you rebound mentally and physically. Here are my top hacks to build a more resilient brain:
1. Meditation and mindfulness
This might sound annoyingly simple. But new clinical applications of mindfulness-based cognitive therapies (MBCT) for depressed patients are showing really promising results.
Studies out of the University of Exeter are finding that daily 30-minute mindfulness meditation sessions are better than drugs or counseling alone for depression. Three-quarters of patients in one study felt good enough to stop taking antidepressants after four months with no other intervention besides MBCT.
The science is young, but mindfulness and meditation studies are showing promising results alleviating symptoms like pain, stress, anxiety, depression, and disordered eating. I know it has for me!
2. Get outside more
Humans evolved over millions of years living outside. Only in the last several thousand years have we migrated into the sheetrock caves we now call offices. Getting out into nature, specifically under some big trees (aka forest bathing) rapidly lowers stress hormone levels, blood pressure, pulse rate and heart rate variability compared with exposure to a city environment.
Sunlight also helps you relax and destress through the release of endorphins. These hormones can also help reduce pain, support hormone regulation, and even inhibit cancer growth.
Sunlight also increases dopamine release and dopamine receptors in your body. This is good news if you suffer from depression or seasonal affective disorder, which suggest low levels of dopamine, and even Parkinson’s disease, where dopamine neurons are damaged.
Short bursts of vigorous exercise naturally increase BDNF, a compound that increases the production of new neurons and neuronal connectivity. This is likely just one of the ways exercise reduces stress and improves depressive symptoms. And if high-intensity intervals aren’t for you, there’s plenty of evidence that running and lifting can help alleviate anxiety and depressive symptoms. Some forward-thinking doctors are even prescribing exercise instead of antidepressants, taking into account the poor risk-to-benefit in patients with mild depression. In other words, exercise is more effective and safer, at least for people with mild depression.
Possibly the most effective way to keep depression at bay is to decrease inflammation and support your nutrient levels with a nutrient-dense diet. The Bulletproof Diet eliminates most food allergens responsible for inflammation. It’s also rich in nutrient-dense veggies, herbs, spices, and healthy fats and protein.
The Bulletproof Diet is also high in omega-3 fats, clean saturated fats, and moderate amounts of animal protein to give your body what it needs for a stable mood, but not too much to cause inflammation.
5. Decrease oxidative stress
When you don’t have enough antioxidants present to counteract the free radicals in your body, you begin to suffer from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a sign of mitochondrial problems, and scientists believe it is a cause of many diseases including cancer, ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder), autism, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression.
Glutathione is a protective antioxidant that serves as mitochondria’s main line of defense against damage from oxidative stress, but sometimes your body doesn’t make enough of it. There are, however, ways to get your mitochondria to increase their production of antioxidants like glutathione:
Eliminate crappy fats like canola oil, peanut oil, safflower, oil, and other bad fats as outlined in the Bulletproof Roadmap.
Increase your polyphenols with an abundance of fresh herbs, darkly colored fruits and veggies, and a ton of colorful, anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric.
Increase your natural production of glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant. (I also supplement).
Lifestyle interventions alone may not be for everyone suffering from depression – especially those diagnosed with major depressive disorder. But all of the hacks in this article are safe to try alongside drugs if you’re already on them. And they all work together to mitigate stress and help you build a stronger, more resilient brain.
Using a combination of high doses of fun, bright lights or nature exposure, the right kind of exercise, and the Bulletproof Diet, you can help fight mild depression and optimize your mental performance.