Fight Depression to Improve Your Health


When was the last time you laughed so hard you thought you’d cry? Or spent a carefree day without worrying about anything, just enjoying yourself? Or just smiled at someone you didn’t know?

It might seem far-fetched, but simple acts like smiling and laughing can improve your health.

One thing I’ve learned during more than two decades as a practicing physician is the powerful connection between emotions and health, something mainstream medicine tends to ignore.

Many times, it turns out that a patient’s health problems are caused by emotions, especially depression, rather than something physical. This is contrary to conventional medicine, where doctors rarely discuss feelings, leaving that topic to psychologists.

Depression weakens your immune system, making you vulnerable to colds and infections. It also raises levels of stress hormones, boosting your blood pressure and heart rate, interrupting your sleep, wiping out your libido, intensifying any pains you have, and disrupting your digestion.

The truth is, emotions have a tremendous impact on your health and longevity. Even something as simple as smiling or laughing can boost your body’s levels of natural painkillers known as endorphins.

And more endorphins means less cortisol, the stress hormone that contributes to weight gain and aging, and weakens your immune system, setting you up for repeat infections, colds, and flu as well as more serious diseases.

Depression is so serious that it even shortens cancer patients’ survival time.

Here’s my take on it: Smiling and laughing your way to better health isn’t just some crazy notion from the fringes of medicine – it’s a proven way to conquer ailments of all sorts. Let’s take a look at how that works, starting with a little background.

Author Norman Cousins made it clear back in the 80s. Diagnosed with a severe and crippling form of autoimmune disease, Cousins was told he had a few months to get his affairs in order. But he refused to accept that diagnosis. Instead, Cousins checked into a hotel with a stack of classic comedy films, a film projector, and massive doses of vitamin C. He not only recovered, but lived an additional 26 years!

In his book about the experience, Anatomy of an Illness, Cousins makes it clear that laughter and a sense of humor healed him.

Eventually, Cousins’s “miracle cure” became the foundation of what’s known as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), a long word that basically means your emotions and health are connected.

Even though there’s now a substantial body of research into PNI, most doctors still ignore it.

But here’s my opinion – you don’t need a doctor or antidepressants to improve your mood.

Here are some simple ways to help you brighten your day and feel better fast.

  • Cut back on criticizing and complaining. Next time you recognize yourself fault finding or focusing on disappointments, understand that you’re sending your brain misery-inducing messages. Instead, look for ways to express positive emotions – happiness, joy, love, affection, and pleasure – to give your brain the signal that all’s well.
  • Get up and get going. If you’re depressed or stressed, you definitely don’t feel like exercising. But you must do it anyway! Seriously, I’ve reviewed many clinical trials and worked with hundreds of patients with depression and exercise is at the top of my list for helping them beat their depression – it’s as effective as or better than pills!
  • Look into cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Often depression is the result of faulty thinking. CBT helps patients identify those thoughts and turn them – and their health – around.
  • Build meals around ‘happy foods’. Research has shown that certain foods make it easier for your brain to produce feel-good chemicals.Start with salmon (or supplemental omega-3s) to get the mood-lifting benefits of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Since eating fish is only recommended once per week, purchase a purified, molecularly distilled omega 3 supplement, preferably one containing about twice as much brain-boosting DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).Then stock up on foods rich in tyrosine, an amino acid your body needs to product dopamine and other mood-related neurotransmitters. The best food sources of tyrosine are:
    • Almonds
    • Cheese
    • Turkey
    • Chicken
    • Pork
    • Egg whites
    • Sunflower seeds

Low levels of the mineral magnesium have been linked to depression, and a recent survey found that the majority of Americans are low in magnesium. Since the mineral has been removed from processed and prepared foods, eat more whole foods, including:

  • Swiss chard
  • Almonds
  • Cereal made with bran
  • Cashews
  • Cocoa
  • Halibut
  • Spinach

Finally, if you’re a chocolate lover, here’s some good news. Dark chocolate improves blood flow to the brain, lifting mood and helping with concentration. Plus, chocolate is a good source of magnesium, too. An ounce or two daily is all it takes, though, so don’t go overboard. Too much of a good thing is still too much!


Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: July 28, 2014