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Depression and Nutritional Deficiencies

WHAT IS DEPRESSION AND ITS CONVENTIONAL TREATMENTS?

Signs of depression may include:

  • Loss of energy or feeling fatigued
  • Changes in appetite accompanied by weight loss or weight gain
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate and focus
  • Physical inactivity or hyperactivity
  • Feelings of self-reproach, worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities; decreased sexual drive
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Conventional treatment makes use of talk therapy and/or antidepressants. It is well documented
  • though, that a significant portion of patients exhibited limited or no response to antidepressants
  • and among responders to treatment, lingering side effects are very common.
  • What are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Antidepressants?

    Newer classes of antidepressants known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) are mostly prescribed. Serotonin is a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) released by one nerve cell (neuron) to generate another neuron to trigger messages to the next neuron and so on. Serotonin is released into the space between neurons (synapse) which is then chemically destroyed or reabsorbed back into the cell that originally released it.

SSRI antidepressants block this re-absorption causing an excessive amount to accumulate in the synapse. Theoretically, the activity of the nervous system increases due to more serotonin in the synapses. The problem with this theory is it excludes other known chemicals affecting brain function. It also ignores the fact every function of the body, including brain, is dependent upon food as a source of energy, cellular repair and structure. According to Peter Breggin, M.D., there is mounting clinical evidence of the SSRI’s side effects.

Some of these include:

  • Lasting brain dysfunction
  • Shrinkage of brain tissue
  • Abnormal growth of brain cells
  • Reduced cerebral metabolism
  • Abnormal swelling in the bodies of neurons and axons

NUTRITIONAL RELATIONSHIPS TO MENTAL HEALTH

     Most people who experience depression, panic attacks and anxiety have a history of excessive sugar and simple carbohydrate intake, together with poor protein digestion and an essential fatty acid deficiency.

Fats are critical as they form the sheath around nerve cells. It is known as myelin and serves as an electrical insulator much like the protective covering around electrical wires. Myelin speeds the conduction of nerve impulses.

Inadequate nutrition, poor digestion, stress, and vaccines are known factors causing myelin to break down. This is equivalent to stripping away the protective layer of insulation in your house wiring. It causes shorting of the system; fuses blow, appliances and lights shut off. If the brain’s circuits “slow down” or “cross-firing occurs”, the brain functions improperly.

Neurotransmitters are primarily in the form of amino-acids; the building blocks of protein. The amino-acid tyrosine converts to L-dopamine and norepinephrine. Both regulate alertness and feelings of well-being.

An inability to properly digest protein can create an insufficiency of the above neurotransmitters. This results in a lack of motivation, mental lethargy, slow reaction time and an inability to concentrate.

The amino-acid tryptophan is converted to serotonin which has a calming affect. Tranquility and long-term memory can be improved when serotonin is present in appropriate levels of the brain.

Melatonin, one of the main chemicals for sleep, is derived from serotonin. The body produces natural biochemical regulators for the management of serotonin. SSRI’s disrupt normal serotonin distribution and keep excessive serotonin circulating. This could have detrimental effects as documented by clinical studies.

One of most important functions of the body is digestion. It takes place through the action of enzymes. Improved mental function comes from proper digestion of food; complex carbohydrates, fats, fiber and protein. Studies show modifying your diet enhances neurological function.

60% of the brain is comprised of fats. The major essential fatty acid component is docosahexaenioc acid (DHA). It is found in sea vegetation and in the oils of fatty fish. Recent studies on fish oils show promising alternatives to antidepressants.

Vitamins B1, B2, niacin, B6, pantothenic acid, folic acid and B12, all have their place in brain physiology. A deficiency of one implies a deficiency of others. The antioxidant vitamins A, C-complex, and E-complex prevent oxidative damage to the brain’s neuron membranes which are highly susceptible to free radical damage. Free radicals are elements capable of damaging the cell membrane.

Calcium and magnesium are essential in nerve function. Zinc and selenium play significant roles in anti-oxidative enzymes protecting neuron membranes. Lithium has been used with bi-polar disorder. Safer forms of this essential trace mineral reveal it is vital to the brain. In fact, studies show increased gray matter and the possible prevention of more serious conditions.

In well documented studies, St. John’s Wort proved its use for mild to moderate depression. Gingko Biloba and Gotu Kola have been traditionally used for mental health. Ginkgo increases circulation to periphery blood vessels and plays an important role in oxygenation of the brain. Gotu Kola increases mental acuity and is high in antioxidants. There are other lesser known nutrients that contribute to healthy brain function. There are ample clinical studies in the medical literature demonstrating their efficacy.

In recovery of one’s health, be it physical or mental, exercise plays a significant role. Exercise affects neurotransmitters of the brain. Clinical studies demonstrate enhancement of well being due to an increase in dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Instead of artificially stimulating them through drugs, the body has an innate ability to produce them in a balanced proportion. Also, regular aerobic exercise oxygenates the brain which is one of its essential nutrients.

The age old tradition of acupuncture has excellent results in treating depression and other mental health issues. The World Health Organization lists acupuncture for the treatment of depression. Acupuncture enhances feelings of well being by increasing neurotransmitters listed above.

Lastly, some of the earliest studies found the feeling of helplessness dominant in those depressed. When patients responded by making changes in their life, the feeling of helplessness and the depression subsided. By reading this article and reaching out to a health care professional well versed in nutritional therapies is a start. As the famous Chinese philosopher and teacher Lao Tzu said centuries ago, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

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*This article/web page is Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction of this article/page in it entirety or in part is permitted without written permission by Mark Rojek.