Depression is a very common health condition. But how can you treat it without using antidepressant medications which have plenty of side effects and are only slightly more effective than placebo?
Usually disorders of the mind (anxiety, depression) are a reflection of disorders of the gut. When humans are developing, they have two central nervous systems – one develops into your current central nervous system, the other becomes your digestive tract. So most of the time, gut problems and mind problems are related. Many of the receptors in your brain are also found in your digestive tract. So if you have issues with depression, anxiety, brain fog, etc., you probably have a digestive problem that needs to be fixed!
Diet the first place to start. It is best to avoid MSG, processed foods, trans fats, artificial sweeteners (can block formation of serotonin), fast foods, alcohol (a depressant), and sugars. I recommend organic foods whenever possible and grass fed hormone- and antibiotic-free meats. It is really important to pay attention to how foods make you feel because I don’t think there is one ideal diet for everyone – it’s a trial and error. Probiotics and fermented foods can help get your gut back in good shape.
Depression is linked to inflammation and sugar contributes to chronic inflammation as well as throwing off the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut. Limiting sugar in your diet can really help with depression symptoms.
A low functioning thyroid can contribute to depression so thyroid function should be tested. Toxins can also be culprits. Avoiding MSG and artificial sweeteners is a good place to start. “Silver” (really mercury) fillings can also be contributing (see my youtube video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tA4_itvckro). Also be careful about fish consumption since this can cause toxic mercury build up.
It would be worthwhile to eliminate gluten and see if this helps with depression. Wheat gluten has been linked to depressive disorders and many people are intolerant even if they are not officially allergic. Food allergies can contribute to depression, so if it’s not gluten it’s possible there is another allergy present and it may take some detective work.
Tryptophan is a very important amino acid for treating depression. Tryptophan increases serotonin levels, which is how many antidepressants work. Turkey and salmon are high in tryptophan and protein in general might help elevate mood. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and evening primrose seeds are also high in tryptophan. You can buy tryptophan as a supplement (5-hydroxytryptopahn) but probably shouldn’t use it with other antidepressants. Start with 100mg at bedtime, if you don’t notice any changes after three days, take 100mg in the morning while continuing to take the 100mg at bedtime. If still no effect after three more days, increase to 200mg twice daily. If this doesn’t benefit you, discontinue and try something else, higher doses have not been shown to be any more effective.
Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression. Vitamin D is actually a hormone, and deficiency is linked to many disorders. I would recommend checking a vitamin D level. There is a difference between it being ‘low’ and ‘optimal’ – you want it high enough for optimal health. Optimal levels are 50-70ng/ml, or maybe even up to 100ng/ml, but most labs will have “normal” values lower than that.
B vitamins not only help with energy, but also help with depression since they enable the brain and nervous system to work properly. Find a vitamin B product that also contains folic acid – folic acid deficiency has been linked to depression. Some foods to try include – spinach, pinto beans, asparagus, broccoli, okra, and brussel sprouts.
Niacin is also known as vitamin B3. You can have 50mg three times daily. Depending on the product this can cause a ‘flushing’ sensation (longer acting products don’t) so may want to take before bed to help with that. The dose can really be pushed up for depression treatment.
Omega-3 deficiency is linked to depression as well and fish oil has been shown to help depression and anxiety. Treatment doses of omega-3’s are quite hefty – 10 grams daily for depression – that’s 30 fish oil capsules! It comes as a liquid too though, and the taste starts to grow on you. =) Starting with 1gram daily will help ensure you are not deficient and that may be enough of a dose for you to see benefit. Krill oil is also a great source of omega-3’s and may be more sustainable than fish oil.
L-tyrosine (up to 50mg per pound of body weight – take on an empty stomach with 50mg vitamin B6 and 100-500mg vitamin C for best absorption – best at bedtime) boosts production of adrenaline to alleviate stress, raises dopamine to help mood, and is important for brain function.
S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) helps depression by improving methylation in the body. 1600mg daily is an appropriate dose.
Choline (found in eggs, or you can take 100mg twice daily) is important to brain and neurotransmitter function. Inositol (another B vitamin) is also important for brain function.
St John’s Wort is an herbal product that treats depression. It is actually the most prescribed antidepressant in Germany! It has many drug interactions and herbal product interactions so don’t start without consulting a healthcare professional. It can make you sensitive to sunlight. You should notice an effect after 10 days, but it can take 6 weeks to reach full effect. Start with 300mg daily and increase to 300mg three times daily every few days if you feel you need a higher dose. Kira was the brand used in European studies to show effectiveness.
Selenium can elevate mood and decrease anxiety. It is also a great way to prevent cancer, I recommend everyone take it.
Acupuncture can help with depression and fatigue, as can magnet therapy – an ancient Chinese practice.
Exercise has been shown to be just as good as antidepressant medications!
Find balance in your life. Address underlying stress issues. Try meditation and relaxation techniques.
A great book to read for anyone struggling with brain disorders is The UltraMind Solution by Mark Hyman. This book addresses how to use information on nutrition, hormones, inflammation, digestion, detoxification, and energy metabolism to heal your brain.