Most people have at one time or another in their lives experienced a case of the blues and some have even experienced something more serious. In certain cases it may have been a reaction to something that happened in their lives, excess stress or even something biological like an underactive thyroid or too-low cholesterol.
Although the exact causes of depression are complex, there are a number of neurotransmitters or ‘chemical messengers’ in the brain that are implicated in its development. These are serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Normally in people suffering from depression there is a deficiency of one or a combination of these. It is not as simple as it may sound though, and over the years there have been a variety of different methods and medications suggested to boost levels of the various neurotransmitters.
Some people suffering from depression find it very difficult to find an antidepressant that works for them, while others may find one that works but which has side effects that they find unbearable. Others may just not want to be on any sort of prescription medication at all. Fortunately, for these people, there are other options.
The first of these is St. John’s Wort, an over-the-counter herb that boosts the brain’s serotonin levels. It has been shown to be effective in cases of mild to moderate depression, but does have certain side effects like increased skin sensitivity to the sun. It should not be taken in conjunction with any other prescription antidepressants as this can cause ‘serotonin syndrome’, where dizziness, restlessness and muscle twitching may be experienced.
Depression is very complicated and a low level of serotonin is not the only trigger, therefore St John’s Wort may not work for everyone. There are other herbal alternatives though, that pick up where St John’s Wort leaves off.
Last year, the USA saw another contender for the public’s attention, take its place next to St John’s Wort on the shelves of countless health food stores. S-adenosyl-L methionine or SAM-e is a naturally occurring compound found in the human body, which last year became available in pill form. It has been described as the breakthrough supplement that works as well as prescription drugs, in half the time, without the side effects of weight gain, intestinal upset or sexual dysfunction. This natural amino acid is involved in more than 35 different biochemical reactions in the body, and appears to increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain by slowing down their breakdown. The recommended dosage is between 400 and 800 mg a day, which is best taken as a divided dose on an empty stomach. As with St John’s Wort, some doctors may be a little wary, because SAM-e has not been subjected to rigorous testing. As always it is best to consult a health professional before taking any new treatment.
There are a number of other supplements that can also be taken to help lift your mood and energy levels. 1000mg of tyrosine daily, for example, is highly effective when your depression follows a long bout of stress. Tyrosine is an essential component of the mood-boosting neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine. When the levels of these are low, lethargy and difficulty concentrating are experienced.
DLPA supplements also help combat the lethargy associated with depression. These amino acids are also essential components of norepinephrine, and occur naturally in lentils, peas and protein-rich foods. The recommended dosage is 1500mg daily, half before breakfast, half before lunch.
Certain types of Vitamin B, like folic acid (400mg) and inositol (500mg), are also useful in the fight against depression. Approximately 38% of depressed people have insufficient levels of folic acid, an essential B vitamin. These can be found naturally in broccoli, beans, green leafy vegetables, whole grains and oranges. The folic acid supplements can also be taken in conjunction with SAM-e or any other antidepressant. It can help them to work more effectively.
As well as taking supplements, therapy is another option that should be considered. The supplements help balance the chemicals in your body and essentially help you cope, but often don’t treat the problem permanently. Whether it is stress management, relaxation techniques, cognitive restructuring or merely talking out a few issues, talking therapy may be an alternative to seriously consider.
Although there is still a substantial amount of scepticism from the medical field towards the so-called natural route, due to the chemical complexity of many of the herbal products, the lack of standardisation of commonly available preparations and the lack of well-controlled studies, evidence of the effectiveness of herbal preparations in treating psychiatric conditions is growing. Many homeopaths believe that sometimes the modern pharmaceutical derivatives are not always better than their herbal equivalents. Herbal remedies are packed with different ingredients; all of which herbalists believe are important in helping the patient get better. They feel that sometimes isolating the active one ‘unbalances’ the remedy and can cause more problems than it solves.