Saturday, January 3, 2009

Nutrition and Mental Health Part 3: Treating Depression

Of all of the chronic mental disorders, depression is the one that can be the most impacted by our nutritional consumption. A good diet heightens the body's functioning and when you feel good physically, you are energetic and optimistic, more capable of dealing with stressful events and setbacks as they come about. Simply eating light healthy food will help your energy. Food that digests easily and is involved with the cellular repair and integrity that enhances the functioning of vital organs and glands should be emphasized. I focused on omega fats in part 1 of this "mini-blog.". Other considerations nutritionally for general health are antioxidants and trace minerals. These important nutritional aspects point to the need to shop frequently for fresh foods. Another viable approach consists of using vitamin and herbal supplements related to specific environmental stressors and events. For instance, using large doses of vitamin c, zinc and echinacea when one feels a cold or virus coming on. Or replenishing electrolytes after sweating profusely due to exercise, heat or illness. Or consuming garlic to fight off infection. Remedies such as this tend to be more effective when needed, as opposed to taking prolonged daily regimen.

Herbal Remedies for Depression

As I discussed earlier, there are many herbal remedies that are co indicated for anxiety and depression. One significant delineation that can be made between the two disorders is that remedies that tend to excite or stimulate the nervous system are effective in treating depression (especially during the active part of the day), while treatments designed to calm the nervous system are more effective in treating anxiety . Supplements that encourage falling asleep or staying asleep are helpful with both disorders. Here is a brief discussion of some popular herbal remedies used for depression.

St. John's Wort: This herb (the cultivated flower and leaf) has been the most bandied about depression remedies. It has been clinically confirmed to relieve mild to major depressive episodes and its efficacy is comparable or greater than SSRI medications. The chemicals
hyperforin and hypericin are thought to inhibit serotonin re uptake in a similar fashion to its pharmacological counterparts. Other chemicals in the leaf and flower may have a synergistic and buffering effect that help with its efficacy and deride potential side-effects. St. John's Wort has not been proven effective in treating dysthymia, a mood disorder with similar but less acute symptoms as depression that tends to be less episodic and have a longer duration of symptoms. Cognitive therapy alone can be successful in treating this disorder.

SJW is widely sold and quality greatly varies. A pill that contains at least 400 mg of
hyperforin should be sought so the minimum effective daily threshold of 1500 mg. can be easily reached.

Hypericin has a poisoning potential in high but easily ingested doses. This has been observed with grazing livestock. Sensitivity to light and a racing pulse are early signs of this poisoning. This supplement should therefore be secured in the household like any prescription medicine would.

There is a bit of an urban myth regarding combining SSRI's and SJW. The thought is that SJW creates a "serotonin dump," that increases the voracity of the inhibitors. There is, however, no clinical evidence that this increased neurotransmitter production occurs. As a CYA, I would say always consult your physician.

5-hydroxytryptophan: An amino acid, this is found in the seeds of the shrub Griffonia simplicifolia. It is a building block to the production of serotonin and is often used in combination with SJW. Like its chemically related cousin (it is a metabolite), L-tryptophan, it has a calming effect and helps induce sleep. L-tryptophan itself has been found to help treat jet lag, menstrual difficulties and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It helps increase melatonin production, which in itself is an excellent sleep aid.

S-Adenosyl Methionine: or SAM, is another amino acid. It has been tied to the successful regulation of all major neurotransmitters and helps people that have poor receptor site binding. It has obtained recent attention as a potential preventative for Alzheimer's disease, although there is very little research in this area. It has been found very effective in treating depression related to physical discomfort, as it has a role in lowering the brain's sensitivity to chronic pain in liver conditions, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.

The use of these remedies are a valuable resource for those seeking an alternative to prescription medications. Those who do not have medical insurance or are under-insured can rely on these cures as perhaps their only resource. They are also proven to have a lower incidence of undesirable side effects then prescribed meds, i.e. weight gain and male impotency.

Research indicates that herbal and pharmacological intervention is most successful when combined with talk therapy. Any chemically induced depressive treatment provides temporary relief and allows the person to "step-back" and examine profound thinking errors, increase coping mechanisms and problem solve. When this liberation occurs, a competent psychotherapist can help guide the process of healthy cognition and improved quality of life.

This, for now, concludes my dissertation on nutrition and mental health.

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