Depression – A Sign of Our Times

happy.sadA recent news program featured a segment on depression and the use of the herb St. Johns Wort. This program went in great detail about this one herb product and how it is helpful in mild to moderate cases of depression.  It also detailed how St. John’s Wort is an alternative to the use of Prozac and other anti-depressant medications. The statistics are staggering as to how many Americans are subjected to depression (approximately 18 million people). The drug Prozac had annual sales of over $1.3 billion in 1996.  The medical communities in many countries are calling the U.S. the Prozac nation.  I wanted to address an issue that concerns me when we just see or read reports of one herb that can do it all.

Let me explain in this article the numerous concerns that need to be looked at in a treatment protocol for depression.  It is not as simple as taking St. John’s Wort alone, but a multifaceted approach needs to be looked at that will address the body’s ability to correct itself when given the nutrients and the proper environment for healing to take place.

When we hear the word “depression,” what does it mean?  Depression is a whole body illness.  It involves the nervous system, moods, thoughts, and behavior.  It affects the way we eat, sleep, and feel about ourselves.  It can last anywhere from a few days to weeks, months, or years.  Many people suffering form depression withdraw from society and friends and lose interest in their present circumstances.  Of course, there are many types of depression.  This article will deal with the overview.

Let’s look into some of the causes that can be factors in depression:

  1. Nutritional deficiencies – Vitamin C, B Complex vitamins (folic acid, B12, niacin, B6, B1), calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and potassium, essential fatty acids and protein deficiency
  2. Nutritional
    influences – Excess caffeine, refined sugars, alcohol, high fat intake, excessive use of aspartame (Nutrasweet)
  3. Low stomach acid and food sensitivity
  4. Low thyroid and adrenal function
  5. Parasites, viruses, and bacteria
  6. Heavy metal and environmental toxins
  7. Allergies
  8. Oral contraceptives and other common drugs (beta blockers, corticosteroids and blood pressure medication)
  9. Anxiety and chronic stress
  10. Serotonin deficiency
  11. Chemical imbalance in the brain

Because this disorder is very complex, it is believed that a poor diet greatly influences proper brain behavior. The level of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which regulate our behavior, are controlled by what we eat. The neurotransmitters most commonly associated with mood are dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Dopamine and norepinephrine are produced from the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine. These substances help us think and act quickly to stimuli and keep us alert. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of wellbeing, calmness, relaxation, confidence and concentration.  It is made from the amino acid tryptophane. In many cases of depression and other serotonin deficiency disorders the brain is not producing enough serotonin.

When you look at the biochemistry of the brain and how nutrients get into the brain, it is quite fascinating.  It has been shown in research that a high protein diet is detrimental for people with this deficiency. The brain has a barrier called the blood brain barrier. Only certain substances can get through this barrier, and the only way for that to occur is by a system that is analogous to a bus. Nutrients attach to this bus system and are carried through the barrier. Tryptophane is one of six amino acids that all use the same bus system. If there is too much protein competing for seats, tryptophane gets left out, therefore, a potential for deficiency.  Once inside the brain tryptophane in converted into a substance call 5 HTP (l-5 hydroxytryptophane) and is then used to produce serotonin.  Many years ago we sold a product called free form amino acid tryptophane. Many of you might have used it. Because I don’t have space to go into detail, it is believed there was a conspiracy to get it taken off the market. A bad batch was imported from Japan and resulted in some deaths, and the FDA pulled all tryptophane off the market except in baby food, etc.  It is ironic that it happened in the same year that Prozac hit the market.  Needless to say, reducing heavy animal protein and going with a high complex carbohydrate diet has shown benefits.

Let’s look at some of the nutrients that can be supplemented:

  • Tyrosine Amino Acids – Taken in tablet form 500 mg 2-3 x day
  • B Complex – 50-100 mg works with essential fatty acids and amino acids and minerals for proper brain nerve function.
  • Triple Strength Lecithin – Provides the brain with nutrients needed for neurotransmitter production
  • Multi Minerals – Containing calcium, magnesium, chromium, potassium and zinc (found to be deficient in depressed people)
  • 5 HTP – Now available on the market 50-300 mg daily. Must be used with caution  (It will potentate SSRI [Prozac] and MAO [valium, elavil, paxol] drugs)
  • Melatonin – Due to its serotonin connection

Dietary consideration would be:

  • Eat plenty of raw fruits and vegetables
  • Increase whole grains, beans (soybeans)
  • More white fish and salmon
  • Reduce red meat particularly fast food burger and fries. They will cause sluggishness.

In dealing with depression there are many botanicals that work well with the nervous system. We call them nervines and antispasmodic. The following list has all been shown to be helpful in calming and toning the nervous system:

  • St. John’s Wort – Used to treat mild to moderate depression. Is a nerve tonic with hypericin and other constituents that work with mono amine oxidation inhibition. This helps to increase certain nerve transmission and elevate mood and emotional stability.
  • Gingko Biloba – Increases circulation to brain providing nutrient and oxygen.
  • Kava Kava – Is used for anxiety and induces calmness.
  • Siberian Ginseng – Works to aid adrenal function and elevate mood works with neurotransmitters.
  • Gota Kola – Aids thyroid and neurotransmitters
  • Lemon Balm – Useful for seasonal affective disorder. Great nervine for stress.
  • Rosemary – Has shown to increase acetylcholine in the brain which aids alertness.
  • Wild oats – Helps to nourish all nerve activity.

As you can see, there is a whole lot more to depression than looking at one substance for relief. It is important to study and make lifestyle adjustment when treating any disorder of the body. I did not address the detrimental effects of medication used for depression in the article but hopefully gave some insight as to how you can approach this without reliance on drugs. There are always situations where the need for medication is necessary. Consult with your healthcare practitioner if dealing with these circumstances.

Some good reading material is Natural Alternative To Prozac by Michael Murray, and Depression And Natural Medicine by Rita Elkins.


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