Depression can best be defined as a whole-body illness, one that affects behavior, moods, thoughts, the nervous system, the way we eat and sleep, and how we think about other people and the world around us.
Symptoms can last for weeks, months or years. There are many types of depression, with variations in severity, persistence and other symptoms. Depression affects over 20 million Americans every year and is becoming an epidemic problem in the United States. It affects young and old, rich and poor, and is twice as common in women as in men.
The two major classifications of depressive disorders are unipolar and bipolar. Unipolar disorders are characterized by depressive episodes, mostly short-term in nature, but can reoccur several times in the course of a person’s life. Bipolar disorders usually begin as depression, but as they progress, they involve alternating episodes of recurrent and sometimes severe depression, and even mania.
The causes of depression are not clearly understood. Depression may be triggered by stress, anxiety, tension, trauma, lack of exercise, illness or disease, chemical imbalances, thyroid or adrenal dysfunction, allergies or poor diet and/or nutrition. One of the most causes of depression is food allergies. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) may also be a common cause.
The American Psychiatric Society estimates that 80 to 90 percent of cases of depression can be treated effectively, but that two-thirds of the people who suffer from depression do not get the help they need. Although the mainstay of treatment for depression are prescription drugs such as tricyclics (amitriptyline, chlorpromazine) and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Lexipro), nutrients and other supplements can be helpful for those suffering from depression.
Dietary guidelines should be similar to dietary guidelines for optimal health. Limit foods that are high in saturated fats; the consumption of fried foods, such as hamburgers, and French fries leads to sluggish thinking and fatigue. For proper nutrition eliminate junk food, cola, alcohol, refined carbohydrates (sugars), caffeine, food additives, white flour and saturated fats from the diet. Since one of the most common triggers of depression are food allergies, if they are suspected try the Elimination Diet. Drink 6-8 glasses of pure water daily. Try and eat more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fish. Supplementation with vitamins can also be beneficial.
Risks & Causes
May be precipitated by pre-existing physical conditions, i.e. diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, heart and lung disease, cancer, fibromyalgia, insomnia, heavy metal toxicity, hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, PMS, food allergies, sleep disturbances, hypoglycemia, chronic pain, liver disease or nutritional deficiencies. Certain drugs can induce or cause depression. Be careful to monitor a patient who is concomitantly taking drugs like anti-hypertensives, anti-inflammatory drugs, birth control pills, antihistamines, corticosteroids, tranquilizers and sedatives, and showing increased symptoms of depression. There can also be organic or physiological causes, including lifestyle factors. Try to increase exercise and avoid addiction to caffeine, cigarette smoking, alcohol use/abuse, access to drugs. EXERCISE may be the most powerful natural antidepressant available. People who exercise more have higher self-esteem, feel better, and are much happier.
In some cases, low cortisol levels (adrenal suppression) contributed to depression.
Substance abuse is a particularly common and problematic condition in depressed patients, especially bi-polar patients.
Common Target Symptoms
Some of the most common target symptoms include sleep disturbances, poor appetite with significant weight loss, or increased appetite and significant weight gain. Other signs include chronic fatigue, decreased libido, feelings of hopelessness, self-reproach and worthlessness, delusions, poor diet, loss of interest, preoccupation (suicidal) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
- OMEGA 3, 6 FATTY ACIDS (FISH OIL, FLAXSEED, EVENING PRIMROSE, EPA)
Omega 3,6 fatty acids should be supplemented to all patients on either natural supplements and/or chemical anti-depressant drugs. These quality fats aid in the transmission of nerve impulses that are needed for normal brain function, and may reduce symptoms of depression, balance hormones and moods, and lower inflammation. Many Studies show that prescription anti-depressant drugs (SSRIs or Tricyclics) work better when taken in combination with Omega-3 fatty acids. Dosage: 1,000-4,000 mg daily or as directed.
- ST. JOHN’S WORT
Although some media attention in recent years has been negative toward St. John’s wort, it still is perhaps the most effective natural antidepressant currently available for mild-moderate depression. It is not indicated in use for severe depression. It is highly researched and may be as effective as many prescription drugs without producing side effects. A British studied confirmed that St. John’s Wort extract is as effective as the prescription drug Paxil, and has less side effects. (NOTE: Do not mix with other SSRI drugs, cyclosporin, indinavir [a protease inhibitor used for HIV patients], and digoxin. Use of St. John’s wort with oral contraceptives may lead to increased bleeding episodes.) Dosage: 300-900 mg daily.
- EXERCISE AND STRESS MANAGEMENT
There are many ways to deal with stress management. Some suggestions are Pilates, yoga, meditation, relaxation, walking, prayer and listening to soft music. In many cases stress management can be augmented by boosting the adrenal glands and thyroid.
- 5 HTP (5- HYDROXYTRYPTOPHAN)
5-HTP is an amino acid that can effectively help increase the body’s production of serotonin. Several double-blind trials have indicated 5-HTP as an effective antidepressant, with more than 50% of patients showing very good to moderate improvements. Caution when using with other prescription anti-depressant drugs. Dosage: 50-150 mg taken 20-30 minutes before bed. 5-HTP may be taken in combination with anti-depressant prescription drugs under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.
An amino acid found in green tea, L-theanine is a safe alternative to kava and other prescription anti-anxiety medicines because it will relieve anxiety and promote relaxation without promoting sedation or grogginess. It has shown the ability to promote deep muscle relaxation and improve good quality sleep and help to relieve mild to moderate depression. Dosage: 50-200 mg daily.
GABA is an amino acid that has a tranquilizing effect, much as diazepam (Valium) and other tranquilizers do. GABA is especially effective for children and adolescents, and is best taken before bedtime. Dosage: 500-1,000mg a day. Take with niacinamide for best results.
This herb has been used as an herbal sedative throughout the world. Dosage: See package instructions.
- FLOWER ESSENCES (BACH REMEDIES)
Fragrant liquid elixirs made from water that’s been infused with the energy of various flowers. Dosage: As directed.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (sad)
SAD is a type of depression that usually occurs during the darker, shorter days of winter and subsides as the days get longer in the spring. People who suffer this type of depression in the winter months lose their energy, suffer anxiety attacks, gain weight, sleep too much and have reduced sex drive. Winter depression is four times more common in women than men.
Symptoms include: loss of energy, anxiety, irritability, decreased libido, overeating, weight gain, fatigue, increased sleep.
- Light Therapy is the most popular, least invasive, most natural and effective therapy for SAD. A 70 percent success rate was elicited when applying bright light (3300 lux). Antidepressant drug therapy may be used with or without light therapy.
- St John’s Wort in dosage of 300mg three times a day is effective, but may take 4 weeks to work. SAMe has not been tested for SAD, but there is no reason to believe that it would not be helpful, and actually may work more quickly than St. John’s wort.
- Vitamin D3 is the hormone of sunlight and supplementing may play a role in relieving depression symptoms. Dosage: 800-2,000 IU daily.
- Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland that regulates circadian rhythm, which is the sleep cycles. Supplementing melatonin 3-5 mg before bedtime may be helpful. Since melatonin is a metabolite of the adrenal hormone (serotonin), it is believed that low levels of serotonin will contribute to SAD. Boosting the adrenal glands (with glandulars or herbs) may be encouraged. See a qualified practitioner before using adrenal products.
- 5-HTP has shown beneficial in non-responders to light therapy. Four weeks of treatment with 5-HTP (2 grams twice daily) demonstrated significant benefit.
- Vitamin B12 did improve depressive symptoms in short term. Dosage: 1,000 mcg daily.
- Vitamin C is proven to be effective in low levels during depression. Dosage: 1000 mg 3 times daily.
- B-Complex supplementation can rejuvenate cells related to energy and stress relief. Dosage: 50-150 mg daily.
- Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder frequently characterized by periods of abnormally elevated mood (mania) that cycle with lowered moods (depression). Although this disorder is tied to genetics, there are also highly susceptible environmental stressors that may be involved. The most common stressors are childhood abuse (physical or sexual); substance abuse; tragic life events; and toxic chemical exposure. Bipolar depression has a high degree of morbidity, lost productivity, and suicide risk. For years lithium has been the mainstay of treatment, followed by other mood stabilizing drugs, anti-depressants, tranquilizers, and anticonvulsants.
- Omega-3 EPA and DHA Nutrients (Flaxseed Oil) have emerged as effective mood stabilizers in Bipolar disorders.
- Phospholipids (Lecithin) are the primary building blocks of cell membranes.
- B-Complex Vitamins have all been proven beneficial in the treatment of mental disorders.
- Additional antioxidants supplementation (especially vitamin C) has been shown to be helpful for Bipolar disorders since these patients may have impaired antioxidant defenses.
- 5-HTP has long been used effective in depression, although its safety in BiPolar is unclear.
- Oral dosing with L-Tryptophan has been found to benefit BiPolar patients.
Schizophrenia is a disorder that makes it impossible to differentiate what is real and what is imagined. Although drug therapy is the mainstay of treatment for this disease, and has beneficial effects on acting very rapidly to control psychotic and agitated patients, most modern chemical treatment has a dismal recovery rate. Some physicians consider these potent drugs as essential evils because they are addictive and it is difficult to wean a patient off of them.
The combination of essential nutrients and supplements can help a doctor wean a patient off over months. There is no ‘cookbook” recipe for treating schizophrenia, and according to Dr. Abram Hoffer the five elements of proper treatment include; shelter, good food, a supportive environment, psychiatry, and patience.
- B-complex vitamins are important in treating schizophrenia. Deficiencies of folic acid and vitamin B12 are found in over 25% of patients. Vitamin B6 in doses of 100-400 mg daily id also recommended.
- Niacin is perhaps the single most valuable nutrient. Niacin (niacinamide or inositol niacinate) is a potent vasodilator. Watch for liver damage. Dosage: 0.5-3 grams daily.
- Vitamin C is also an important nutrient and antioxidant. It helps folic acid and vitamin B12 absorption. Dosage: 1,000-5,000 mg daily.
- Flaxseed oil and fish oil helps to supply essential fatty acids to the brain and is important for proper nerve function. Dosage: 2,000-3,000 mg daily. It is necessary that essential fatty acids be taken concomitantly with prescription drugs. EFA’s actually enhance the effectiveness of drugs used to treat schizophrenia.
- 5-HTP will increase the body’s production of serotonin, a vital chemical. There have been reports showing tryptophan depletion may cause relapses of schizophrenia. Dosage: 50-150 mg 1-3 times daily.
- Amino acids such as GABA, L-asparagine, L-glutamic acid, glutathione and glycine may be helpful in maintaining metabolic balance and integrity of the nervous system.
Balach, PA, Balch, JF. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Third edition. Penguin-Putman, NY. 2000.
Blumenthal, M. St. John’s Wort Extract Shown as Effective and Safer than Paxil. Herbalgram, #68. P. 23.
Borus, JS, Alpert, JE, Fava, M. Folate, Vitamin B12, and Homocysteine in Major Depressive Disorder. Am J Psychiatry, 1997. (154): 426-428.
Brown, DJ. Use of St. John’s wort with Oral Contraceptives. Herbalgram, No. 62, 2004. Pp. 22.
Cass, H. Supplements for anxiety and depression. Natural Pharmacy. May 1999. Pp. 6-8.
Gaby, A. DHEA is Effective Against Depression. Nutrition & Healing, June, 1997. P.8.
Gerbarg, PL, Brown, RP, Bottiglieri, T. SAMe in Clinical Practice of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Internal. Journal of Integrative Medicine, Dec 2001/Jan 2002. 3(4): 6-13.
Hoffer, A. Beat Mental Illness with Nutrition. Alive #228, October 2001. Pp. 32-33.
Hoffer, A. Orthomolecular Treatment for Schizophrenia. Integrative Medicine, Dec 2002/Jan 2003. 1(1): 18-20.
Kidd, PM. Bipolar Disorder as Cell Membrane Dysfunction: Progress Toward Integrative Management. Alternative Medicine Review, June 2004. 9(2): 107-132.
L-Tryptophan- Monograph. Alternative Medicine Review, March 2006. 11(1): 52-54.
Miller, AL. Epidemiology, Etiology, and Natural Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Alternative Medicine Review, March 2005. 10(1): 5-13.
Murray, MT. Natural Alternatives to Prozac and Other Antidepressant Drugs. Health Counselor Magazine. 1997. Impakt Communications. P. 2-3.
Naguib, Y. Complementary Approaches to Depression. Vitamin Retailer, August 2005. 12(8): 36-38.
Neustadt, J. Natural Remedies for Seasonal Affective Disorder. NNfA Today, Jan 2005. 20(1): 8.
Oppel, M. Trial Suggests Saffron’s Potential to Treat Mild to Moderate Depression. Herbalgram #71, 2006. P. 26.
Rapaport, J. Shaking the Blues. Natural Health. July-Aug 1997. Pp. 99-102.
SAMe Matches Drugs for Depression. Energy Times, May 2003. 13(5): 14.
Torkos, S. Down With Depression. Alive #266, December 2004. Pp. 40-42.
Your Daily Reminder. www.dontforgettotakeyourvitamins.com