If you regularly feel flat, un-enthusiastic or "down in the dumps", you may be suffering with depression. A lot of people can feel depressed from time to time, but if these feelings & mood continue for longer than 2 weeks and are accompanied by other symptoms that interfere with daily life, the diagnosis may be given as clinical depression.
Clinical depression is a state of intense sadness, melancholia or despair that has advanced to the point of being disruptive to the persons every day life. Many people identify the feeling of being depressed as "feeling sad for no reason", or "having no motivation to do anything." Those suffering from depression may feel tired, irritable, sad, unmotivated, lazy and apathetic. Clinical depression is generally acknowledged to be more serious than normal depressed feelings.
It is estimated that at least 150,000 individuals in New Zealand suffer from depression each year and that over a lifetime as many as 20% of New Zealanders will be affected by depression.. There is evidence that the incidence of depression is increasing and that younger generations (those born after 1945) are at a higher risk. The incidence of depression is about twice as high in women as in men, although the reasons for this are not clear.
Many natural health practitioners find that some people are too readily given the diagnosis of depression and then prescribed anti depressants, often without looking at what else could be going on in their body to contribute to these symptoms. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine states "A deficiency of any single nutrient can alter brain function and lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders." The most common nutritional deficiencies which can contribute to depression include a lack of most of the B Vitamins, Iron, Vitamin C, Protein and the amino acids tryptophan & SAMe, the mineral Magnesium and the essential fatty acid omega 3. Interestingly, too higher levels of omega 6 (as found in common seed oils) can also contribute to symptoms of depression.
Many people consume a low fat diet, depriving them of the essential fatty acid Omega 3. Our body cannot make these fatty acids, so they must be supplied in the diet from foods rich in this or by taking a supplement. Omega 3 is commonly found in certain seeds such as flax, black currant and borage oils, as well as egg yolks, tuna, salmon and cod. Population studies in different countries have shown that decreased consumption of omega 3 correlates with increased rates of depression.
A significant ingredient in fish oil is eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA. A study in the October 2002 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry found that depression was reduced significantly when volunteers took fish oil supplements containing 1000mg of EPA a day for 12 weeks. You can determine how much EPA is in each fish oil capsule by reading the label on the bottle. Some have much higher amounts of EPA in them than standard fish oil supplements.
An interesting study was done by the Department of Psychiatry, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, to ascertain whether individuals with mood disorders are particularly vulnerable to adverse effects of aspartame, the artificial sweetener used in many diet and sugar free products these days. Although the protocol required the recruitment of 40 patients with clinical depression and a similar number of individuals without a psychiatric history, the project was halted by the Institutional Review Board after a total of 13 individuals had completed the study because of the severity of reactions within the group of patients with a history of depression. In a crossover design, subjects received aspartame 30 mg/kg/day or placebo for 7 days. There was a significant difference between aspartame and placebo in number and severity of symptoms for patients with a history of depression, whereas for individuals without such a history there was not. The researchers conclude that individuals with mood disorders are particularly sensitive to this artificial sweetener and its use in this population should be discouraged. Aspartame is marketed as NutraSweet & Equal and is found in most "Sugar free" products.
It is not common for men to have low iron, unless they have a problem with internal ulcers, bleeding hemorrhoids or with those who have coeliacs disease. Apart from these bleeding problems, another contributor to low iron is consuming tannin and caffeine rich foods and beverages at meals. If tea, coffee, some herb teas, red wine, cocoa or chocolate rich foods and beverages are consumed for up to 1 hour after having a meal or taking nutritional supplements, the absorption of the nutrients will be affected.
The B complex vitamins are water soluble, which means you need a daily supply of these as they are not easily stored in the body. All multivitamins contain B vitamins, or if an extra boost is needed, a B Complex could be considered. The Nutrition Almanac states that if a person is tired, irritable, nervous, depressed or even suicidal, suspect a vitamin B deficiency. Those who consume a lot of alcohol, eat a refined high carbohydrate diet or who are regularly stressed have a need for higher amounts of B vitamins than others.
Serotonin deficiencies are common these days and are a major contributor to depression. Serotonin is a word often associated with the use of substances like E, P & BZP, as taking these depletes this vital brain chemical. Prolonged stress, as well as a high protein, very low carbohydrate diet will also contribute to low brain levels. In the winter months many people suffer with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also called the winter blues, which is linked to light deprivation. Studies show that the seasonal variations in natural light alter levels of the hormone melatonin, which subsequently causes reduced levels of serotonin. Working in enclosed spaces without natural light can cause the same kind of problem, with all of these creating a wide range of serotonin deficiency symptoms.
The most common symptoms relating to low serotonin are depression, carbohydrate craving & binging, sleeping problems & insomnia, compulsive obsessive disorders, anxiety & appetite changes to name a few.
When Serotonin levels drop you can start to experience problems with concentration & routine responsibilities can start to become quite over whelming. As depression sinks in, it can seem hard to get enthusiastic about anything. Emotional sadness, low self confidence & social withdrawal are common. Taking the nutritional supplement 5 HTP provides the building blocks to produce serotonin. This cannot, however, be taken in conjunction with anti depressant medication.
Your GP will not recommend 5-HTP to you. This is because drug companies have no interest in supplying this compound to the public, as 5-HTP cannot be patented. This is a real shame, as researchers have clinically investigated 5-HTP in comparison to antidepressant drugs & the results of the studies were astounding. Using the standard depression scale, both the drug & 5-HTP groups displayed identical reduction in depression. Depressed patients who received 100 mg of 5-HTP three times daily, showed at least a 50% improvement in their symptoms, without any reported side effects. Subsequent studies were performed using 5-HTP for anxiety, panic disorder, sleep difficulties & obesity. An obvious decline was also noticed in anxiety symptoms & patients with panic disorder noticed a feeling of relief after receiving 5-HTP. Always seek professional advice before self prescribing.
Getting out in the sunlight for 20 minutes a day is an easy way to help boost serotonin levels. This may also help reduce stress levels, another important factor involved in helping with serotonin. If you are going to take stimulants & party pills, ensure you pre load with the correct amino acids & nutrients before & afterwards.
The herb St Johns Wort is used specifically for helping with mild to moderate depression. It has a genuine mild anti-depressant medicinal action and is considered a nerve tonic. Its action is gentle, yet very effective. Its combination of sedative activity and nervous system restorative properties make it an ideal herb for use in anxiety, irritability, neuralgia, nerve damage or injury, nervous tension, depression and general nervous system debility. The best researched St Johns Wort supplement is called Remotiv ®, made by Zeller AG, a company in Switzerland with over 135 years of herbal medicine experience. This is the only St Johns Wort I know of that can be taken in conjunction with the contraceptive pill.
Researcher Dr Sandra Siedlecki, of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation completed studies which showed that listening to music had a statistically significant effect in reducing pain, depression and disability and increasing feelings of power. I personally think there is nothing more exhilarating than singing at the top of your voice to your favourite song.
There are many things which can help if you are suffering with depression. Consider addressing any nutritional deficiencies, as suggested above. Other considerations include talking to a professional who can help you to clarify your thoughts, learn better coping skills and see if there are outside influences which could be contributing to these feelings.