Depression - In any given 1-year period, 9.5% of the population, or about 19 million American adults, suffer from a depressive illness. The economic cost is estimated at $30.4 billion a year, but the cost in human suffering cannot be estimated. Depressive illnesses often interfere with normal functioning and cause pain and suffering not only to those who have a disorder, but also to those who care about them. Serious depression can destroy family life as well as the life of the ill person. But much of this suffering is unnecessary.
Most people with a depressive illness do not seek treatment, although the great majority--even those whose depression is extremely severe--can be helped. Thanks to years of fruitful research, the medications and psychosocial therapies that ease the pain of depression are at hand.
Unfortunately, many people do not recognize that depression is a treatable illness. If you feel that you or someone you care about is one of the many undiagnosed depressed people in this country, the information presented here may help you take the steps that may save your own or someone else's life.
A depressive disorder is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from depression.
Depressive disorders come in different forms, just as in the case with other illnesses such as heart disease. This pamphlet briefly describes three of the most common types of depressive disorders. However, within these types there are variations in the number of symptoms, their severity, and persistence.
Major depression is manifested by a combination of symptoms (see symptom list) that interfere with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat, and enjoy once pleasurable activities. Such a disabling episode of depression may occur only once but more commonly occurs several times in a lifetime.
A less severe type of depression, dysthymia, involves long-term, chronic symptoms that do not disable, but keep one from functioning well or from feeling good. Many people with dysthymia also experience major depressive episodes at some time in their lives.
Another type of depression is bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness. Not nearly as prevalent as other forms of depressive disorders, bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling mood changes: severe highs (mania) and lows (depression). Sometimes the mood switches are dramatic and rapid, but most often they are gradual. When in the depressed cycle, an individual can have any or all of the symptoms of a depressive disorder. When in the manic cycle, the individual may be overactive, overtalkative, and have a great deal of energy. Mania often affects thinking, judgment, and social behavior in ways that cause serious problems and embarrassment. For example, the individual in a manic phase may feel elated, full of grand schemes that might range from unwise business decisions to romantic sprees. Mania, left untreated, may worsen to a psychotic state.
Not everyone who is depressed or manic experiences every symptom. Some people experience a few symptoms, some many. Severity of symptoms varies with individuals and also varies over time.
Some types of depression run in families, suggesting that a biological vulnerability can be inherited. This seems to be the case with bipolar disorder. Studies of families in which members of each generation develop bipolar disorder found that those with the illness have a somewhat different genetic makeup than those who do not get ill. However, the reverse is not true: Not everybody with the genetic makeup that causes vulnerability to bipolar disorder will have the illness. Apparently additional factors, possibly stresses at home, work, or school, are involved in its onset.
In some families, major depression also seems to occur generation after generation. However, it can also occur in people who have no family history of depression. Whether inherited or not, major depressive disorder is often associated with changes in brain structures or brain function.
People who have low self-esteem, who consistently view themselves and the world with pessimism or who are readily overwhelmed by stress, are prone to depression. Whether this represents a psychological predisposition or an early form of the illness is not clear.
In recent years, researchers have shown that physical changes in the body can be accompanied by mental changes as well. Medical illnesses such as stroke, a heart attack, cancer, Parkinson's disease, and hormonal disorders can cause depressive illness, making the sick person apathetic and unwilling to care for his or her physical needs, thus prolonging the recovery period. Also, a serious loss, difficult relationship, financial problem, or any stressful (unwelcome or even desired) change in life patterns can trigger a depressive episode. Very often, a combination of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors is involved in the onset of a depressive disorder.
Depression in Women
Women experience depression about twice as often as men. Many factors may contribute to depression in women--particularly such factors as menstruation, pregnancy, miscarriage, postpartum period, and menopause. Many women also face additional stresses such as responsibilities both at work and home, single parenthood, and caring for children and for aging parents.
A recent NIMH study showed that in the case of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), women with a preexisting vulnerability to PMS experienced relief from mood and physical symptoms when their sex hormones were suppressed. Shortly after the hormones were re-introduced, they again developed symptoms of PMS. Women without a history of PMS reported no effects of the hormonal manipulation.
Many women are also particularly vulnerable after the birth of a baby. The hormonal and physical changes, as well as the added responsibility of a new life, can be factors that lead to postpartum depression in some women. Treatment by a sympathetic physician and the family's emotional support for the new mother are prime considerations in aiding her to recover her physical and mental well-being and her ability to care for and enjoy the infant.
Depression in the Elderly
Some people have the mistaken idea that it is normal for the elderly to feel depressed. On the contrary, most older people feel satisfied with their lives. Sometimes, though, when depression develops, it may be dismissed as a normal part of aging. Depression in the elderly, undiagnosed and untreated, causes needless suffering for the family and for the individual who could otherwise live a fruitful life. When he or she does go to the doctor, the symptoms described are usually physical, for the older person is often reluctant to discuss feelings of hopelessness, sadness, loss of interest in normally pleasurable activities, or extremely prolonged grief after a loss.
Recognizing how depressive symptoms in older people are often missed, many health care professionals are learning to identify and treat the underlying depression. They recognize that some symptoms may be side effects of medication the older person is taking for a physical problem, or they may be caused by a co-occurring illness. If a diagnosis of depression is made, treatment with medication and/or psychotherapy will help the depressed person return to a happier, more fulfilling life. Recent research suggests that brief psychotherapy (talk therapies that help a person in day-to-day relationships or in learning to solve problems of everyday life) is effective in reducing symptoms in short-term depression in older persons who are medically ill. Psychotherapy is also useful in older patients who cannot or will not take medication. Efficacy studies show that late-life depression can be treated with psychotherapy.
Improved recognition and treatment of depression in late life will make those years more enjoyable and fulfilling for the depressed elderly person, the family, and caretakers.
Depression in Children
Only in the past two decades has depression in children been taken very seriously. The depressed child may pretend to be sick, refuse to go to school, cling to a parent, or worry that the parent may die. Older children may sulk, get into trouble at school, be negative, grouchy, and feel misunderstood. Because normal behaviors vary from one childhood stage to another, it can be difficult to tell whether a child is just going through a temporary "phase" or is suffering from depression. Sometimes the parents become worried about how the child's behavior has changed, or a teacher mentions that "Johnny doesn't seem to be himself." In such a case, if a visit to the child's pediatrician rules out physical symptoms, the doctor will probably suggest that the child be evaluated, preferably by a psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of children. If treatment is needed, the doctor may suggest that another therapist, a social worker or a psychologist, provide therapy while the psychiatrist will oversee medication if it is needed. Parents should not be afraid to ask questions: What are the therapist's qualifications? What kind of therapy will the child have? Will the family as a whole participate in therapy? Will my child's therapy include an antidepressant? If so, what might the side effects be?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has identified the use of medications for depression in children as an important area to learn more about. The NIMH-supported Research Units on Pediatric Psychopharmacology (RUPPs) form a network of seven research sites where clinical studies on the effects of medications for mental disorders can be conducted in children and adolescents. Among the medications being studied are antidepressants which can be effective in treating children with depression, if properly monitored by the child's physician.
The first step to getting appropriate treatment for depression is a complete physical examination by a family physician or internist. Certain medications as well as some medical conditions such as a viral infection can cause the same symptoms as depression, and the physician should rule out these possibilities through examination, interview, and lab tests. If a physical cause for the depression is ruled out, a psychological evaluation should be done, usually by a psychiatrist or psychologist.
A good diagnostic evaluation will include a complete history of symptoms, i.e., when they started, how long they have lasted, how severe they are, whether the patient had them before and, if so, whether the symptoms were treated and what treatment was given. The doctor should ask about alcohol and drug use, and if the patient has thoughts about death or suicide. Further, a history should include questions about whether other family members have had a depressive illness and, if treated, what treatments they may have received and which were effective.
Last, a diagnostic evaluation should include a mental status examination to determine if speech or thought patterns or memory have been affected, as sometimes happens in the case of a depressive or manic-depressive illness.
Treatment choice will depend on the outcome of the evaluation. There are a variety of antidepressant medications and psychotherapies that can be used to treat depressive disorders. Some people with milder forms may do well with psychotherapy alone. People with moderate to severe depression often benefit from antidepressants. Most do best with combined treatment: medication to gain relatively quick symptom relief and psychotherapy to learn more effective ways to deal with life's problems, including depression. Depending on the patient's diagnosis and severity of symptoms, the therapist may prescribe medication and/or one of the several forms of psychotherapy that have proven effective for depression.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is useful, particularly for individuals whose depression is severe or life threatening or who cannot take antidepressant medication. ECT often is effective in cases where antidepressant medications do not provide sufficient relief of symptoms. In recent years, ECT has been much improved. A muscle relaxant is given before treatment, which is done under brief anesthesia. Electrodes that deliver electrical impulses are placed at precise locations on the head to deliver electrical impulses. The stimulation causes a brief (about 30 seconds) seizure within the brain. The person receiving ECT does not consciously experience the electrical stimulus. For full therapeutic benefit, at least several sessions of ECT, typically given at the rate of three per week, are required.
There are several types of antidepressant medications used to treat depressive disorders. These include newer medications--chiefly the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)--the tricyclics, and the monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). The SSRIs--and other newer medications that affect neurotransmitters such as dopamine or norepinephrine--generally have fewer side effects than tricyclics. Sometimes your doctor will try a variety of antidepressants before finding the medication or combination of medications most effective for you. Sometimes the dosage must be increased to be effective. Antidepressant medications must be taken regularly for as many as 8 weeks before the full therapeutic effect occurs.
Patients often are tempted to stop medication too soon. They may feel better and think they no longer need the medication. Or they may think the medication isn't helping at all. It is important to keep taking medication until it has a chance to work, though side effects may appear before antidepressant activity does. Once the individual is feeling better, it is important to continue the medication for 4 to 9 months to prevent a recurrence of the depression. Some medications must be stopped gradually to give the body time to adjust. For individuals with bipolar disorder or chronic major depression, medication may have to be maintained indefinitely.
Antidepressant drugs are not habit-forming. However, as is the case with any type of medication prescribed for more than a few days, antidepressants have to be carefully monitored to see if the correct dosage is being given. The doctor will check the dosage and its effectiveness regularly.
For the small number of people for whom MAO inhibitors are the best treatment, it is necessary to avoid certain foods that contain high levels of tyramine, such as many cheeses, wines, and pickles, as well as medications such as decongestants. The interaction of tyramine with MAOIs can bring on a hypertensive crisis, a sharp increase in blood pressure that can lead to a stroke. The doctor should furnish a complete list of prohibited foods that the patient should carry at all times. Other forms of antidepressants require no food restrictions.
Medications of any kind--prescribed, over-the counter, or borrowed--should never be mixed without consulting the doctor. Other health professionals who may prescribe a drug--such as a dentist or other medical specialist--should be told that the patient is taking antidepressants. Some drugs, although safe when taken alone can, if taken with others, cause severe and dangerous side effects. Some drugs, like alcohol or street drugs, may reduce the effectiveness of antidepressants and should be avoided. This includes wine, beer, and hard liquor. Some people who have not had a problem with alcohol use may be permitted by their doctor to use a modest amount of alcohol while taking one of the newer antidepressants.
Antianxiety drugs or sedatives are not antidepressants. They are sometimes prescribed along with antidepressants; however, they are not effective when taken alone for a depressive disorder. Stimulants, such as amphetamines, are not first-line antidepressants and share the habit-forming risks of antianxiety medications and sleeping pills.
Questions about any antidepressant prescribed, or problems that may be related to the medication, should be discussed with the doctor.
Lithium has for many years been the treatment of choice for bipolar disorder, as it can be effective in smoothing out the mood swings common to this disorder. Its use must be carefully monitored, as the range between an effective dose and a toxic one is small. If a person has pre-existing thyroid, kidney, or heart disorders or epilepsy, lithium may not be recommended. Fortunately, other medications have been found to be of benefit in controlling mood swings. Among these are two mood-stabilizing anticonvulsants, carbamazepine (Tegretol®) and valproate (Depakote®). Both of these medications have gained wide acceptance in clinical practice, and valproate has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for first-line treatment of acute mania. Other anticonvulsants that are being used now include lamotrigine (Lamictal®) and gabapentin (Neurontin®).
Most people who have bipolar disorder take more than one medication including, along with lithium and/or an anticonvulsant, a medication for accompanying agitation, anxiety, or insomnia. Finding the best possible combination of these medications is of utmost importance to the patient and requires close monitoring by the physician.
Antidepressants may cause mild and, usually, temporary side effects (sometimes referred to as adverse effects) in some people. Typically these are annoying, but not serious. However, any unusual reactions or side effects or those that interfere with functioning should be reported to the doctor immediately. The most common side effects of tricyclic antidepressants, and ways to deal with them, are:
The newer antidepressants have different types of side effects:
In the past few years, much interest has risen in the use of herbs in the treatment of both depression and anxiety. St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), an herb used extensively in the treatment of mild to moderate depression in Europe, has recently aroused interest in the United States. St. John's wort, an attractive bushy, low-growing plant covered with yellow flowers in summer, has been used for centuries in many folk and herbal remedies. Today in Germany, Hypericum is used in the treatment of depression more than any other antidepressant. However, the scientific studies that have been conducted on its use have been short-term and have used several different doses.
Because of the widespread interest in St. John's wort, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is conducting a 3-year study, sponsored by three NIH components--the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and the Office of Dietary Supplements. The study is designed to include 336 patients with major depression, randomly assigned to an 8-week trial with one-third of patients receiving a uniform dose of St. John's wort, another third receiving a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) commonly prescribed for depression, and the final third receiving a placebo (a pill that looks exactly like the SSRI and the St. John's wort, but has no active ingredients). The study participants who respond positively will be followed for an additional 18 weeks. After the 3-year study has been completed, results will be analyzed and published.
Many forms of psychotherapy, including some short-term (10-20 weeks) therapies, can help depressed individuals. "Talking" therapies help patients gain insight into and resolve their problems through verbal "give-and-take" with the therapist. "Behavioral" therapies help patients learn how to obtain more satisfaction and rewards through their own actions and how to unlearn the behavioral patterns that contribute to or result from their depression.
Two of the short-term psychotherapies that research has shown helpful for some forms of depression are interpersonal and cognitive/behavioral therapies. Interpersonal therapists focus on the patient's disturbed personal relationships that both cause and exacerbate (or increase) the depression. Cognitive-behavioral therapists help patients change the negative styles of thinking and behaving often associated with depression.
Psychodynamic therapies, which are sometimes used to treat depressed persons, focus on resolving the patient's internal conflicts. These therapies are often reserved until the depressive symptoms are significantly improved. In general, severe depressive illnesses, particularly those that are recurrent, will require medication (or ECT under special conditions) along with, or preceding, psychotherapy for the best outcome.
Depressive disorders make one feel exhausted, worthless, helpless, and hopeless. Such negative thoughts and feelings make some people feel like giving up. It is important to realize that these negative views are part of the depression and typically do not accurately reflect the situation. Negative thinking fades as treatment begins to take effect. In the meantime:
How Family and Friends Can Help the Depressed Person
The most important thing anyone can do for the depressed person is to help him or her get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment. This may involve encouraging the individual to stay with treatment until symptoms begin to abate (several weeks), or to seek different treatment if no improvement occurs. On occasion, it may require making an appointment and accompanying the depressed person to the doctor. It may also mean monitoring whether the depressed person is taking medication. The depressed person should be encouraged to obey the doctor's orders about the use of alcoholic products while on medication. The second most important thing is to offer emotional support. This involves understanding, patience, affection, and encouragement. Engage the depressed person in conversation and listen carefully. Do not disparage feelings expressed, but point out realities and offer hope. Do not ignore remarks about suicide. Report them to the depressed person's therapist. Invite the depressed person for walks, outings, to the movies, and other activities. Be gently insistent if your invitation is refused. Encourage participation in some activities that once gave pleasure, such as hobbies, sports, religious or cultural activities, but do not push the depressed person to undertake too much too soon. The depressed person needs diversion and company, but too many demands can increase feelings of failure.
Do not accuse the depressed person of faking illness or of laziness, or expect him or her "to snap out of it." Eventually, with treatment, most depressed people do get better. Keep that in mind, and keep reassuring the depressed person that, with time and help, he or she will feel better.
If unsure where to go for help, check the Yellow Pages under "mental health," "health," "social services," "suicide prevention," "crisis intervention services," "hotlines," "hospitals," or "physicians" for phone numbers and addresses. In times of crisis, the emergency room doctor at a hospital may be able to provide temporary help for an emotional problem, and will be able to tell you where and how to get further help.
Listed below are the types of people and places that will make a referral to, or provide, diagnostic and treatment services.
It is essential that you get adequate amounts of all vitamins and minerals in order to maintain good health and emotional stability. Following are the nutrients that are associated with depression and other mood problems.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
B1 is necessary for the brain to metabolize carbohydrates. A deficiency of B1 can result in fatigue, irritability, memory lapses, insomnia, loss of appetite, and stomach upset. The people most at risk for a serious deficiency are chronic alcoholics, pregnant and nursing women, people who experience frequent diarrhea, drug addicts, the elderly, people with chronic illness, and people who eat mostly junk food.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Vitamin B2 is essential for growth and the functioning of body tissue. A deficiency can cause symptoms of depression. People at risk include women who take oral contraceptives and those in the second trimester of pregnancy.
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
A deficiency of this vitamin can cause
depression. Left untreated, it can lead to psychosis and dementia. Symptoms
of a deficiency include agitation, anxiety, and mental lethargy. Those
people most at risk are the elderly, drug addicts, alcoholics, and people
with liver disease.
Dosage: 500 mg two times daily.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
A deficiency of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) usually accompanies depression. It is essential for healthy blood, skin and nervous system functioning. It is present in most foods.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) levels are typically quite low in depressed patients, especially women taking birth-control pills or other forms of estrogens. Vitamin B6 deficiency usually arises from malabsorption of the vitamin due to disease, drugs, and an unusually fast metabolism. Vitamin B6 performs several important functions in the brain. It is essential to the manufacture of serotonin. Vitamin B6 deficiency has been strongly linked to depression. They usually respond well to supplementation.
High levels of vitamin B6 occur in cauliflower, watercress, spinach, bananas, okra, onions, broccoli, squash, kale, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, peas and radishes.
Dosage: Take 50 milligrams of vitamin B6 twice a day for two weeks, between meals. Then take 50 milligrams once daily for three weeks, between meals. Thereafter, take a good B-complex formula or a multivitamin and mineral supplement to maintain healthy levels of this vitamin.
Recent studies have shown that there is a definite benefit to be gained by giving vitamin B12 to patients suffering from depression, fatigue and mental illnesses of other kinds. Even a slight deficiency of B12 is found to produce marked symptoms. See Folic Acid below.
Vitamin B12 is found mostly in meat and animal proteins. B12 is stored in the liver. A deficiency can lead to symptoms such as dementia, changing moods, irritability, paranoia, mania, and confusion.
Dosage: Take 300 to 500 micrograms twice a day.
Low levels of folic acid have been noted in depressed patients. In studies of depressed patients, 31-35% have been shown to be deficient in folic acid. In elderly patients, this percentage may even be higher. Studies have found that, among elderly patients admitted to a psychiatric ward, the number of patients with folic acid deficiency ranges from 35% to 92.6%. Depression is the most common symptom of a folic acid deficiency. Other symptoms of folic acid deficiency are: fatigue, apathy, and dementia.
Folic acid, vitamin B12, and a form of the amino acid methionine known as SAM function as "methyl donors." to important brain compounds, including neurotransmitters. Without the methyl group, the neurotransmitter cannot perform its function. SAM is the major methyl donor in the body. The antidepressant effects of folic acid appear to be a result of raising brain SAM content.
Supplementing the diet with folic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin B12 was found to increase BH4 levels in the body. BH4 (tetrahydrobiopterin) is essential in the manufacture of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine from their corresponding amino acids. Patients with recurrent depression have been shown to have reduced BH4 synthesis.
Folic acid supplementation and the promotion of methylation reactions increase serotonin levels. Elevation of serotonin levels is responsible for much of the antidepressive effects of folic acid and vitamin B12.
Drugs such as aspirin, barbiturates, anticonvulsants, and oral contraceptives can inhibit the absorption of folic acid in the body. Good sources of folate include pinto beans, navy beans, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, okra and brussels sprouts.
Dosage: Typically, the dosages of folic acid in the antidepressant clinical studies have been very high: 15 mg to 50 mg. High-dose folic acid therapy is safe ( except in patients with epilepsy) and has been shown to be as effective as antidepressant drugs.
A dosage of 800 mcg of folic acid and 800 mcg of vitamin B12 should be sufficient to prevent deficiencies in most circumstances. Folic acid supplementation should always be accompanied by vitamin B12 supplementation to prevent folic acid from masking a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Take 800 micrograms of folic acid twice a day for one month. Thereafter, take 800 micrograms once daily.
Inositol is a B vitamin required for the activity of several important neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Depressed people often have low levels of inositol.
In one clinical study. subjects were given 1 gram of inositol per day. The results showed that they had therapeutic results similar to common antidepressant drugs, but with no unwanted side effects. Additional studies confirmed the value of inositol for treating depression.
Dosage: Take 500 milligrams of inositol three times daily for one week. If you note no improvement after that time, discontinue use; otherwise, continue taking 500 milligrams three times daily as needed.
Vitamin C facilitates the absorption of iron and is involved with folic acid and amino acids. A deficiency can result in fatigue, weakness, apathy, weight loss, and depression. You will need more than the standard amount of vitamin C if you are on oral contraceptives or tetracycline, or if you are pregnant, elderly or under stress. Bioflavonoids enhance the use of vitamin C and similarly treat depression.
Dosage: l,000 mg three times daily (as ascorbate or Ester C)
Dosage: 400 I.U. daily (as Natural d-alpha-tocopherol)
Iron, sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium,
chromium, copper, cobalt, manganese, zinc, nickel, strontium, selenium, and
molybdenum are all metals, or minerals, essential for proper enzyme
Deficiencies in certain minerals, such as potassium, sodium, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and manganese, can cause symptoms of depression. An abundance of nonessential minerals, such as lead, mercury, arsenic, bismuth, aluminum, and bromides, can mimic depression.
Calcium and magnesium are essential to the central nervous system. They work best when taken together.
Dosage: Take a calcium and magnesium combination formula that supplies 500 milligrams of calcium and 250 to 500 milligrams of magnesium twice daily.
Chromium helps keep blood-sugar levels in balance. Take 200 micrograms twice a day for one month, then reduce to 200 micrograms daily.
Selenium is an antioxidant It has a mood-elevating effect when taken in regions where food supply is deficient in selenium.
Dosage: 100 mcg daily
Anemia resulting in lack of energy and depression is often caused by illness or blood loss. Low dosages of iron are helpful for depression caused by anemia.
Dosage: 30-40 mg daily (as picolinate)
Some amino acids have properties similar to neurotransmitters. This makes them useful in treating anxiety and depression.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is a natural antianxiety chemical and is often found in low levels in depressed people. L-tryptophan is a precursor to the synthesis of serotonin, and so it too is vital for combating depression and maintaining emotional balance. Tyrosine is a precursor of norepinephrine and dopamine, two neurochemicals that are involved in mood. D-phenylalanine is another important amino acid that has been associated with depression.
DLPA, or phenylalanine, is an amino acid found to be effective for treating depression. It is a precursor (directly on the formative pathway) to nor- epinephrine, one of the main neurotransmitters that govern mood.
In one study, more than 75 percent of people with severe depression showed rapid improvement while taking supplements of phenylalanine and vitamin B6. Food sources for this are: sunflower seeds, black beans, watercress and soybeans.
Recommended dosage: Begin with 500 mg (one capsule) two times daily, on an empty stomach with juice. This can gradually be increased by 500 mg per day to two or three capsules, three times daily.
For maximum effect, it is best to take 50 mg of vitamin B-6 at the same time, as well as niacin, 500 mg per day, and one gram of vitamin C. Vitamin B-6 is particularly important in regulating the absorption, metabolism, and utilization of amino acids.
Caution: With both DLPA and L-tyrosine (described below.), you need to be watchful for increased blood pressure, headaches, or insomnia. These side effects are indications that an excessive stimulation of the nervous system has occurred. Do not take these amino acids if you are currently taking standard antidepressant medications. Do not take these amino acids if you are suffering from any of the following conditions: phenylketonuria (pKU), hepatic cirrhosis, or melanoma.
Melatonin is helpful for some cases of seasonal affective disorder. Some experts believe the body's melatonin mechanism is involved in this form of depression. Melatonin can also be helpful if you are having problems with insomnia.
Dosage: Take 3 milligrams each evening, between one-half hour and two hours before retiring for the night.
S-adenosyl- L-methionine (SAM or SAMe)
SAMe is an excellent supplement for depression. This amino-acid derivative is comparable to prescription antidepressants in their action, but without the side effects.
SAMe has been studied for decades internationally and is approved as a prescription drug in Spain, Italy, Russia and Germany. More than 1 million Europeans have used it, primarily for depression and arthritis. It is often touted a depression remedy that is nontoxic, without side effects, and better and faster than traditional medications.
SAMe is produced in the body from methionine, a sulfur- containing amino acid, and the energy- producing compound adenosine triphosphate (ATP). SAM-e ranks with ATP as a pivotal molecule in living cells. It is distributed throughout the body; but it is most concentrated in the brain and liver.
SAM is involved in the methylation of
monoamines, neurotransmitters, and phospholipids such as phosphatidylcholine
and phosphatidylserine. Normally, the brain manufactures all the SAM it
needs from the amino acid methionine. However, SAM synthesis is impaired in
Our diet yields insufficient quantities of SAM-e either for wellness or treatment of illness. Moreover, the form of SAMe found in food is not stable. It oxidizes too rapidly to absorb well. Our bodies can only generate a small amount of SAMe. Therefore, SAMe levels are to be increased through dietary supplementation, if that is necessary.
Supplementing the diet with SAMe in depressed patients results in increased levels of serotonin and dopamine and improved binding of neurotransmitters to receptor sites. This causes increased serotonin and dopamine activity and improved brain cell membrane fluidity, resulting in significant clinical improvement.
The results of a number of clinical studies suggest that SAMe is one of the most effective natural antidepressants. SAMe is also better tolerated and has a quicker onset of antidepressant action than tricyclic antidepressants.
A recent study compared SAMe to the tricyclic desipramine. In addition to clinical response, the blood level of SAMe was determined in both groups. At the end of the four- week trial, sixty two percent of the patients treated with SAMe and fifty percent of the patients treated with desipramine had significantly improved. Regardless of the type of treatment, patients with a fifty-percent decrease in their Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HDS) score showed a significant increase in plasma SAMe concentration. These results suggest that one of the ways in which tricyclic drugs exert antidepressive effects is by raising SAMe levels.
Folate, B12 and B6 are necessary for efficient use of SAMe. SAMe has been effective for treating major depressive disorder in 13 trials comparing it to placebo and 19 trials comparing it to tricyclic antidepressants, with more than 1,400 patients studied.
No significant side effects have
been reported from the use of oral SAMe.
Dosage: Because SAMe can cause nausea and vomiting in some people, it is recommended that it be started at a dosage of 200 mg twice daily for the first two days, increased to 400 mg twice daily on day three, then to 400 mg three times daily on day ten, and finally to the full dosage of 400 mg four times daily after twenty days.
Treatment for severe depression requires higher doses. Unipolar patients are given 800 mg or 1600 mg per day.
Caution: Do not take SAMe if you suffer from bipolar (manic) depression. Because of SAMe's antidepressant activity, individuals with bipolar depression are susceptible to experiencing hypomania or mania. This effect is exclusive to some individuals with bipolar depression.
Research has found that TMG is
converted into SAM in the body. TMG is less expensive than SAM.
Dosage: 3,000 milligrams a day, followed by a maintenance dose of 1,000 milligrams a day for up to three weeks.
Tyrosine is an important amino acid that stimulates the production of norepinephrine, a hormone that is essential to the central nervous system. This nutrient is especially important for the depressed individual who is feeling excessive fatigue. The B-complex vitamins, particularly vitamin B6, allow the body to metabolize amino acids.
Foods containing tyrosine include eggs, green beans, lean meat, peas, seafood, aged natural cheese, seaweed, skim milk, tofu, whole wheat bread, and yogurt.
Dosage: 1,000 to 3,000 milligrams of the amino acid L-tyrosine first thing in the morning (on an empty stomach), followed by a B-complex vitamin supplement 30 minutes later, with breakfast.
Warning: If you are taking a monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor drug or antidepressant, do not take supplemental tyrosine. A dangerous elevation in blood pressure may result when they are used in combination. Also do not take St. John's Wort with this amino acid.
Serotonin and Tryptophan
Serotonin is a very important brain biochemical and must be present at optimal levels to prevent depression.
Tryptophan supplementation increases the levels of serotonin and melatonin in the brain. Many depressed individuals have been found to have low tryptophan and serotonin levels. European studies have shown that L-tryptophan is of value in relieving depression. Unfortunately, other studies have given mixed results as to the effectiveness of tryptophan in depression.
Tryptophan is only modestly effective in the treatment of depression when used alone. In order to gain any real benefit from tryptophan, it must be used along with vitamin B6 and the niacinamide form of vitamin B3 to help block the kynurenine pathway to provide better results. Tryptophan manufacture is susceptible to contamination risk. The use of 5-HTP is more effective than the use of tryptophan for depression.
Tryptophan is found in certain foods, such as milk, turkey, chicken, fish, cooked dried beans and peas, brewer's yeast, peanut butter, nuts, and soybeans. Eat plenty of these foods together with a carbohydrate (potatoes, pasta, rice), which will ease the brain's uptake of tryptophan. Foods such as bananas, walnuts and pineapples are a good source of serotonin.
Recommended dosage: For depressive symptoms, take 2 grams (2,000 mg) of tryptophan two or three times daily. It should be taken between meals, with fruit or juice (simple sugars) to improve its utilization. It should not be taken with a protein meal, because tryptophan competes poorly with other amino acids for absorption. To convert tryptophan to serotonin, the body must have adequate levels of folic acid, vitamin B-6, magnesium, niacin, and glutamine.
Disclaimer: This information is intended as a guide only. This information is offered to you with the understanding that it not be interpreted as medical or professional advice. All medical information needs to be carefully reviewed with your health care provider.
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