How to avoid depression
There is a long-held view that depression is caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine; and this has fed the traditional approach of treating the disorder with drugs that modify the presence, concentration, and breakdown of these chemicals.
However, only around one in three people respond to traditional drug therapy. Modern research is uncovering growing evidence that depression is frequently a manifestation of uncontrolled inflammation in the brain. The link between the gut and the brain is now well established (via the gut-brain axis) and research suggests that the bacterial flora in your gut can affect the function of this gut-brain axis. It is a significant step in understanding how the gut microbiome might affect mood, leading to depression (and other mental health conditions). It also sheds light on why mental disorders, including depression and anxiety, are often seen in conjunction with gut problems.
- A ketogenic diet as a way to modify and control depression has a rapidly increasing body of evidence in research studies. A ketogenic diet pushes the brain into using fat as an alternative fuel to carbohydrates, which can help correct impaired glucose metabolism, neurotransmitter imbalances, oxidative stress and inflammation.
- Restricting sugar and caffeine in people with depression has been reported to elevate mood in repeated research. (A symptom of caffeine addiction can be depression).
- The amount and type of dietary fat consumed may influence the incidence of depression. The connection has to do with the balance of fats in the diet. A high intake of omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3 fatty acids and an inadequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., from fish and fish oils) have been associated with increased levels of depression (alongside increased generalised inflammation).
Exercise increases the body’s production of endorphins—chemical substances that can relieve depression. Scientific research shows that routine exercise can positively affect mood and help with depression. As little as three hours per week of aerobic exercise can profoundly reduce the level of depression. One trial compared the effects of an exercise training program with those of a prescription antidepressant drug in people over 50 years of age. The researchers found the two approaches to be equally effective after 16 weeks of treatment.
Nutritional supplement treatment options
Iron deficiency is known to affect mood and can exacerbate depression. Iron should not be self-prescribed, but only taken under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner or following confirmed deficiency by blood test.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can create disturbances in mood that respond to B12 supplementation. Significant vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with a doubled risk of severe depression. Depression caused by vitamin B12 deficiency can occur even if there is no B12 deficiency-related anaemia.
Folic acid deficiency can also disturb mood. A large percentage of depressed people have low folic acid levels. Folic acid supplements appear to improve the effects of lithium in treating manic-depressives. Anyone suffering from chronic depression should be evaluated for possible folic acid deficiency.
Inositol – some research indicates that people with depression may have lower levels of inositol. Supplementation with large amounts of inositol can increase the body’s stores by as much as 70%. Trials have shown significant improvements in symptoms with supplementation over a four-week period.
Vitamin B6 – Oral contraceptives can deplete the body of vitamin B6, which is necessary for maintenance of normal mental functioning. Double-blind research shows that women who are depressed and who have become depleted of vitamin B6 while taking oral contraceptives typically respond positively to vitamin B6 supplementation.
Selenium – Less than optimal intake of selenium may have adverse effects on psychological function, even in the absence of signs of frank selenium deficiency.
Vitamin D supplementation is associated with elevations in mood. Double-blind trials have shown that vitamin D3 supplementation significantly enhances positive mood even in people without depression.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, particularly DHA, are needed for normal nervous system function. It is extremely common to find lower omega-3 fatty acid levels (e.g. DHA) in people suffering with depression. Low levels of the other omega-3 fatty acid from fish, EPA, is also associated with increased severity of depression. Trials have shown a drop of as much as 48% in scores of depression levels when omega 3 fatty acids were supplemented.
Probiotics – dysregulation of the microbiome and subsequent inflammation is a potential driving factor for depression. Probiotics have been shown to reduce depressive and anxious behavioural symptoms in clinical trials on patients with associated gut dysfunction.
L-tyrosine can be converted into norepinephrine, a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter. Women taking oral contraceptives have lower levels of tyrosine, and some researchers believe this to be related to the depression that is a common side-effect of the contraceptive pill. L-tyrosine metabolism may also be abnormal in other depressed people and is always worth investigating.
DL-phenylalanine (or the D- or L-form alone) is another amino acid that converts to mood-affecting substances (including phenylethylamine and norepinephrine) and may reduce the symptoms and severity of depression.
Acetyl-L-carnitine may be effective for depression experienced by the elderly. Trials on elderly people have shown that those taking acetyl-L-carnitine experienced significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared to those receiving placebo.
Melatonin might help some people suffering from depression. Research suggests that supplementation with small amounts of melatonin may reduce winter depression and reduce sleep disorders often seen in association with depression. (Melatonin is a prescription drug in the UK).
S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) appears to raise levels of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter in mood regulation. SAMe supplementation has been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for depression in several clinical trials. Its effects are felt rapidly, often within one week.
5-HTP – Disruptions in emotional well-being, including depression, have been linked to serotonin imbalances in the brain. Supplementation with 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) can increase serotonin synthesis.
Phosphatidyl serine (PS), a natural substance derived from serine, affects the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain related to mood. It has been shown to reduce the severity of depression.
Botanical treatment options
St. John’s wort extracts are among the leading medicines used in Germany by medical doctors for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Using St. John’s wort extract can significantly relieve the symptoms of depression. People taking St. John’s wort show an improvement in mood and ability to carry out their daily routine. Symptoms such as sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, exhaustion, and poor sleep also decrease. In repeated double-blind trials using standard amounts of fluoxetine (Prozac®) St. John’s wort extract was equally effective at relieving depression, and with far fewer side effects. As an antidepressant, St. John’s wort should be taken for four to six weeks before judging its effectiveness.
Ginkgo biloba may alleviate depression in depressed elderly people not responding to antidepressant drugs.
Damiana has traditionally been used to treat people with depression. Yohimbine (the active component of the herb Yohimbe) inhibits monoamine oxidase (MAO) and therefore may be beneficial in depressive disorders.
Acupuncture may improve depression by affecting the synthesis of neurotransmitters that control mood. Controlled trials have found electro-acupuncture (acupuncture accompanied by electrical currents) equally as effective as antidepressant drug therapy without causing side effects.
Meditation is a form of relaxation intended to clear your mind by focusing on the breath, a word, or a mantra. Studies show that daily mindfulness or meditation can help alleviate stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression.
Music therapy has been used to help improve the mood of people with depression. This includes listening to music to promote relaxation and positivity; as well as singing as a form of therapy.
Article contributed by Dr Tracy S Gates, DO, DIBAK, L.C.P.H., Consultant, Pure Bio Ltd. Copyright © Pure Bio Ltd 2022. All rights reserved
Pure Bio Ltd are a leading UK supplier of the highest quality PURE nutritional supplements, based in Horsham, West Sussex. Proud Winners of Southern Enterprise Awards, Best Nationwide Hypoallergenic Nutritional Supplements Distributor 2022.
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