Depression or some form of mental health issue has touched most of us at some time of our lives. Nearly a fifth of all adults in the UK have suffered from some form of anxiety or depression. So even if you have not been a statistic yourself, the chances are that you are caring for, or are worried about someone who has.
The obvious place to start is with anti-depressants – we have all heard about them and many people have taken them. But my approach is to boost our own anti -depressants. In this post I will take you through a few of my top hormone balancing, mind and morale boosting nutrients. Ones that don’t come with the range of side effects listed in association with the likes of Prozac.
I should first say that our brains are full of fatty membranes, the solid part of our brain being made up of about 60% fat. So making positive changes to the types of fat that we eat is going to have an effect. It is old news now but switching to an omega 3 strong diet of wild fish and ground flax seed with added supplements of krill oil, fish oil or flax seed oil will be beneficial in calming down inflammation and boosting the flexibility of our brain cell membranes. This means that our cell membranes will be able to control our neurotransmissions of calcium to a much better degree.
So next stop Magnesium, known as a key element in optimum brain function…and can I just say that I recently read about a man who read about magnesium as a treatment for depression on a website, thought it too simple and so didn’t take it…when he finally gave it a go, it worked for him and his response was to get shitty with the website for making the solution seem too simple, so much so that it delayed his treatment.
Magnesium directs and guides our calcium response in our synapses. With insufficient magnesium our nerves fire in all directions. Think machine gun when a well aimed pistol would suffice. The damage that is caused when calcium goes awry is inflammatory and causes oxidative stress. It damages our brain cells and the ill-timed and chronic misfiring of neurons depletes our adrenal glands, which keep responding to the stimuli by producing among other things the stress hormone cortisol. It is tiring to be constantly bombarded with hormones that should only be used in instances that require fight or flight responses. Signs of magnesium deficiency are fatigue, depression, irritability, anxiety and hyper excitability. Headaches, insomnia, compulsive behaviour, SAD, drug and alcohol abuse can all occur when we fall below required levels of magnesium.
Modern processing methods, massively depleted soils and calcium rich diets (calcium is somewhat antagonistic to magnesium) have devastated our naturally occurring magnesium supply through foods. Some have explained the dramatic rate of increase in depression over the last few decades, by such malnutrition of this mineral.
There are some fantastic case studies offered by a study conducted by Eby and Eby: Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment., published by Medical Hypotheses 2006.
59-year old man experienced life-saving bene-fit from magnesium. The first night after startingmagnesium, sleep was restored essentially to nor-mal. Within the following 4 days, depression wasgreatly reduced for 4–6 h after each magnesiumdosage. Anxiety steadily disappeared. Tetany andheadaches rapidly disappeared. On occasion,2:00AM doses were also required to maintain afeeling of wellness. Over the following months,normalcy was maintained only by frequent magne-sium ingestion. In this patient, depression alwaysoccurred 1 h after taking a 500 mg calcium (carbon-ate) dietary supplement, which was extinguishablewithin 1 h only by administration of 400 mg of mag-nesium. This man was extremely sensitive to cal-cium, and elimination of all dairy andsupplemental forms of calcium was mandatory formental stability. Osteoporosis due to low calciumintake was feared, but a high magnesium and lowcalcium diet did not have an adverse effect on hisbone density over a 5-year observation period. Nor-mal life free of depression was difficult to maintainwithout frequent magnesium treatment, until Ke-fir, a rich source of beneficial intestinal flora andinulin (vital for magnesium absorption ), andindole-3-carbinol (200 mg per meal) were addedto his diet. These nutrients seemed to stabilizethe beneficial effect of magnesium, perhaps byimprovements in intestinal absorption, digestionand immunity. After incorporation of these agentsinto his diet, total wellness occurred, which waseasily maintained with much less magnesium.
After 1 week of magnesium treatment,became freeof depression. Unex-pectedly, her short termmemory and IQ also returned, benefits onlypreviously shown in rats  when immediatelytreated with magnesium after traumatic brain injury.However, her mental acuity returned nearlyimmediately upon magnesium treatment, eventhough the trauma had occurred 5 years earlier.
40-year old man found himself free of hissymptoms within a week, and unexpectedly foundhis craving for smoking, dipping, cocaine and alco-hol to disappear also. It seemed that magnesiumdeficiency caused his habituation. He also notedthat his ravenous appetite was suppressed, andbeneficial and desired weight loss ensued.
Zinc is also anti inflammatory and has anti depressant qualities. It works in the same way as magnesium in our brain receptors, controlling the calcium flux, but to a lesser extent. It plays a regulatory role in the human nervous system and also promotes growth of new brain cells. Zinc is found in its highest levels in the brain.
Some can struggle with absorption of zinc and Pyroluria, one of the conditions associated with this can be helped by taking a combination of zinc and B6. This relationship was discovered by C Pfeiffer who used zinc and B6 in the successful treatment of depression and schizophrenia.
My next big one is Vitamin C. I mentioned earlier the detrimental effects of oxidative stress; if we need to counter the effect of this we need antioxidants. Hailed by Dr Levy as a cure all we can see that it would be remiss not to give this incredible vitamin some air time:
…all toxins cause oxidative damage – at least 100 percent of the over 100 toxins that are researched in the literature; and to this end, high doses of intravenous vitamin C, or other elegantly applied forms of vitamin C – will neutralize botulism, snakebite, organo-phosphate insecticides, all the different heavy metals. To the best of my knowledge there’s no need for anything known as an antidote – other than vitamin C. Similarly, all infectious diseases ultimately inflict most of their damage via oxidative damage – increased free radicals. Whenever you hear pro-oxidant, increased free radicals – all of these things can be quenched by a large enough supply of electrons.”
It appears that we as a species are rare by the fact that we do not produce our own vitamin C. Under stress, animals (that produce their own vitamin C) will often increase their production of this vitamin by 10 times as much as their normal output. It must be important then.
Vitamin C is used to regulate our stress hormones including cortisol, adrenalin and norepinephrine. This does seem to be our Achilles heel when it comes to the chronically overwrought lifestyles that many of us try to maintain. Rather than preserved for the ‘fight or flight’, ‘life or death’ situations that it has been designed for – we are now placing demands on our stress responses for hours and days at a time. Vitamin C is depleted when we initiate the stress response and as we know that we don’t make our own – we need to replenish our stores. If we don’t our responses will be sub optimal an our health and state of mind compromised. If Vitamin C cannot be called upon when required to return excess cortisol levels to within a normal range -symptoms will start to emerge; fatigue, insomnia, mood disorders to name a few.
Vitamin C is also responsible for maintaining the healthy function of mucous membranes in our body and also those of the secreting glands; the adrenal, pituitary, hypothalamus, thyroid, testes and ovaries, the thymus, eye and gastrointestinal tract can all be compromised resulting in reduced health and longevity.
An approach to depression should not be all about pill popping (even if they are beneficial supplements). Exercise should not be overlooked. It is one of the most effective treatment strategies for depression. Exercise triggers neurotransmitters such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and GABA which play a crucial part in controlling our moods.
I will come back to this and add some more when I can.
You can read some great further insight at Dr Mercola’s site, which talks about the role of inflammation in depression:
If such supplements do not make enough of a difference. It may be wise to get tested for Pyroluria through a nutritional practitioner. For some the breakdown of B6, Fatty acids and Zinc can be challenging or virtually non-existent. As nutritional therapists we would start right back at the beginning to work on hydration through various methods. So it would always be best to talk things through with a practitioner before making any radical changes to your diet or lifestyle.
In the meantime – drink your clean water, eat a few soaked nuts and seeds (if you are OK with them), plenty of dark green vegetables and understand that for some, supplementation may provide the necessary ‘spark’ to bring back light where there is dark.