By Steven Horne, RH (AHG) & Kimberly Balas, ND
Are you singing the blue’s? If you are, you are not alone. Doctors are handing out prescriptions for antidepressants like candy. Unfortunately, the number one noted side effects for these popular drugs is, believe it or not, depression.
Depression is a misunderstood, misdiagnosed and often mistreated condition. So, let’s unravel some of the causes of depression and provide some natural alternatives to the prescription drug scene.
Once named “melancholia”, shamans and sages felt that bad thoughts or demons caused the disorder. Our modern understanding of depression comes from research done on chemicals called neurotransmitters. Here’s how these chemicals work.
The area where two nerves meet and exchange information is referred to as a “synapse”. The synaptic region is filled with fluid in which neurotransmitters travel and transmit information from one nerve to another. As one nerve releases a neurotransmitter, the other nerve has its receptor that will then accept and process the information.
Once the receptor has been stimulated by this chemical message, the neurotransmitter may be returned to the originating nerve for recycling or it may be destroyed. Destruction of neurotransmitters involves converting them into substances that can be absorbed into the bloodstream and eliminated in the urine. Various enzymes, such as monamine oxidase (MAO) accomplish this task.
The nerves must replenish their supply of neurotransmitters in order to send the next message. This can be accomplished by reabsorbing the previously released neurotransmitters (a process called reuptake) or by manufacturing a new supply. Neurotransmitters are created from amino acids using vitamins and minerals.
Medical Approaches to Depression
Modern scientists believe that during depression there may be an imbalance of neurotransmitters, either a depleted supply or excess. Some of the neurotransmitters believed to be involved in depression include serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. When the supply of one of these chemicals is depleted, the nerve is unable to send signals properly. When the chemical is in excess, the message is “over-sent.”
Today’s antidepressant drugs are all designed to alter neurotransmitters in some fashion. In the 1940’s, tricyclic drugs, better known as MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) began to hit the market. These drugs inhibited the enzyme we mentioned earlier that breaks down some of these neurotransmitters. Although this approach worked for some, it had serious side effects for others, including death. In some cases individuals who were depressed, ended up with anxiety and vice versa.
In 1988, Prozac, a SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) was introduced into the scene. Soon 22 million Americans were taking the drug. With the fad popularity of Prozac, soon more antidepressant drugs appeared on the scene.
Antidepressants such as Wellbutrin and Zyban work by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin and dopamine. Effexor inhibits serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. SSRIs such as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft cause more of the serotonin to remain in the synapses for extended periods of time.
These drugs all have numerous side effects. For starters, they mask the real causes of depression, which relate to diet, exercise, stress and unresolved emotional issues. Instead of making appropriate life-style adjustments or dealing with life’s issues, patients are given a false sense of reality and often feel detached and indifferent to family, friends and environment.
These drugs are also noted in many cases of joint pain, abnormal blood cell counts, sexual dysfunction and altered appetite/weight. An overdose or faulty interaction with other drugs can also cause a SSRI to induce hallucinations, irregular heartbeat and seizures. As an odd irony, depression is one of the common side effects of these drugs.
A common cause of depression is prescription medication. Your busy family physician may overlook the fact that the antibiotic or antihistamine you are taking could be the cause of your being “down and out.” Diuretics, beta-blockers, hormone replacement therapies, painkillers, sleep aids, Tagamet and Zantac can all create the imbalance of neurotransmitters that may color your days gray. You can see the importance of educating yourself about the medications and supplements that you use.
Natural Approaches to Depression
Diet plays an important role in relieving depression. A deficiency of amino acids or B-complex vitamins will result in a deficiency of neurotransmitters. Tyrosine and phenylalanine will both elevate levels of norepinephrine, seen to improve mood in depression and anxiety case studies. Tryptophan (and its derivative 5-HTP) will increase serotonin levels.
Amino acids are derived from vitalized protein. Over-cooked meat is not a good source of amino acids. Furthermore, many people have problems with protein digestion. Super Algae or Ultimate Green Zone can be beneficial here, along with protease and high quality vegetable or animal protein sources.
B-complex has remarkable results for many sufferers, because the B-vitamins are critical to the synthesis Of neurotransmitters. Dr. Peter D’Adamo has successfully treated depression, hyperactivity and Attention Deficit Disorder in many O Blood Types With high doses of folic acid and B 12. One should always make sure to incorporate a B-complex when taking a single B vitamin.
Essential fatty acids (Flax seed Oil, Super Omega 3 EPA, etc.) are also important to nerve function and may help depression and other nervous system disorders.
Where depression is associated with anxiety, kava kava or St. John’s wort may help to eliminate nervous tension. Nutri-Calm is an excellent source of B-vitamins and also contains herbs and nutrients to help anxiety.
Since 1976 s-adenosyl I-methionin (SAM) has elevated mood, eliminated suicidal tendencies and improved intellectual performance. This improvement was noted in approximately 80% of the cases. This is as effective as clomipramine and amitriptyline.
Getting off Antidepressants
For individuals who have already been subject to synthetic antidepressants, it is essential that you wean yourself gradually from these drugs while transitioning to other therapies. Sometimes the sudden loss of said chemicals can contribute to a deeper and more disturbing condition for the depression sufferer.
Balancing the adrenals with products such as Adrenal Support and Licorice may prove beneficial. While transitioning, it is vital to keep the bowel and liver in good condition in order to aid in elimination of wastes and to support the other organs in their responsibilities as well.
We have been led to believe that if we are not giddy and full of laughter at all times, then we must be depressed. It is up to you to know the difference between being a little blue and having depression. It is normal and natural to feel “blue” when we have experienced grief, sadness or setbacks. The key here is to find a constructive solution to the life situation so that we can move forward again.
In many cases there is no need for medication at all. Sometimes our “down” time is just that, a time to rest and reflect. Keeping a journal, exercise, dietary changes, daily exposure to sunshine, fresh air, talking to a trusted friend or advisor and taking a few supplements can work wonders.
The supplements that will work best for you will depend on what is causing your depression. Here are some of the common causes and remedies that can help.
As a precursor to serotonin, 5-HTP (5-HTP Power) aids in balancing mood and regulating sleep patterns. In recent years, St. John’s wort has been widely touted as a natural product for mild to moderate depression. St. John’s wort does have antidepressant action, but works best on depression associated with anxiety.
Kava Kava targets the limbic system in the brain, as well as relaxing muscles. It helps promote a calm, mentally alert state coupled with a feeling of well-being.
High cortisol levels from chronic stress may contribute to feeling anxious and “blue.” Adaptogens such as Eleuthero root or SUMA Combination can help to reduce stress levels and calm distressed feelings.
Licorice root strengthens the adrenal function and may also help balance blood sugar levels. This can help to stabilize a person’s mood. “Concentrated and liquid available.”
Black cohosh can be an effective antidepressant for depression associated with PMS, menopause or childbirth. It is also a good antidepressant for women who feel “trapped”.
Damiana is another mood elevator, which can treat depression in both men and women caused by low reproductive hormones.
Taking 2000 IU of Vitamin D3 daily can cause significant improvement in seasonal depression. St. John’s wort is also helpful for seasonal depression. “Also available St. John’s wort Concentrate Time-Release“
Folk medicine has long recognized a connection between the liver and digestive function and depression. Constipation was thought to produce melancholy in traditional western medicine. Recent research shows there is scientific validity to this point of view as the bowel produces more serotonin than the brain. 95% of the serotonin receptor sites in the body are located in the colon. Because of this, intestinal irritants and a high sugar diet can lead to depression.
A particularly effective formula for depression here is the Chinese formula Mood Elevator. This formula helps sagging energy, feelings of sadness and sagging spirits. It decongests the digestive organs and liver, and helps calm anxiety.
The thyroid plays an elemental function in this physiology. Hypothyroidism is often overlooked and the depression, a mere symptom, diagnosed. Depression is noted and is sometimes the first diagnosed in 40% of hypothyroid patients. If a group of depression patients were tested, approxiately 10-15% of them would be found to have thyroid disorder.
In many cases feeding the thyroid with iodine (found in liquid Dulse, concentrated black walnut or black walnut concentrated , Thyroid Activator and TS II with Hops) can alleviate the depression and turn hypothyroidism around. Thyroid Support may also help.
It is important to get in touch with any emotional causes of the depression while working on the physical side of it. Use flower essences or essential oils to help heal emotional issues and consult with a qualified therapist to help identify triggers or causes.
A complete list Of possible therapies and remedies for depression follows.
Therapies: Aromaherapy, Deep Breathing, Exercise, Flower Essence Therapy, Gut Healing Diet, Heavy Metal Detoxification, Hydration, Low Glycemic Diet and Stress Management
Herbs: Ashwagandha, Black Cohosh, Black Walnut, Damiana, Dulse(liquid), Eleuthero, Gotu Kola, Kava Kava, Korean Ginseng, Passion Flower, St. John’s Wort, Wild American Ginseng and Yellow Dock
Herbal Formulas: AdaptaMax, Blood Stimulator, Kudzu/St. John’s Wort, Mood Elevator, Nervous Fatigue Formula, Stress Relief, Stress-J(liquid), SUMA Combination, Super Algae, Thyroid Activator, Trigger Immune and TS II
Nutritional Supplements: Nutri-Calm and Vitamin B-Complex
Nutrients: CLA, Flax Seed Oil(liquid), Folic Acid Plus, L-Glutamine, Magnesium, Niacin, Omega-3, SAM-e, Vitamin B-12, Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin D3
Nutraceuticals: 5-HTP Power, Adrenal Support, Anxiousless, Bowel Detox, Master Gland, Mega-Chel, Melatonin Extra, Men’s X-Action, Thyroid Support and Women’s X-Action
Flower Essences: Find Strength and Distress Remedy
Essential Oils: Bergamot, Frankincense, Helichrysum, Jasmine Absolute, Lemon, Neroli, Patchouli, Pine Needle, Red Mandarin, Rose Bulgaria, Rosemary and Ylang Ylang
Foods: GreenZone Powder and GreenZone®, Ultimate
Topicals: Wild Yam Emollient