Depression, Neuro Transmitters and Receptor Sites
When it comes to depression, the two major chemical players in the brain are the neurotransmitters known as serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters, like all neurotransmitters, work in a similar way, to the way keys fit into locks.
On the one side there's the neurotransmitter, or the key, and on the other, the lock, is known as the receptor site. Every neurotransmitter has a specific receptor site that only it, or chemicals with similar structures "fit" into.
When a neurotransmitter is received at its receptor site, information is transmitted, whether it's a feeling of well being (serotonin, norepinephrine, et. al.), euphoria (opiates, for example), pain (acetaldehyde - i.e., the chemical metabolite of alcohol that yields the infamous "hangover"), a rush of excitement (epinephrine, also known as adrenaline), or some other chemical information.
Once a chemical is received, it is "eaten up" by another chemical called an enzyme. Monoamine oxidase is one of these enzymes.
Pharmacy drugs for depression
Drugs are produced to inhibit the breakdown of these chemicals in the brain, ensuring that their action is more prolonged. They may be either tricyclics, MAOI’s or SSRI’s. The SSRI’s impact only on serotonin reducing the likelihood of interactions.
Depression and our Immune System
The immune system may also have a role to play as viral infection can predispose some people to depressive disorders. The role of nutrition in regulating possible immune mediators could be very helpful. Fish oils (containing EPA) suppress some of these immune mediators while other oils such as safflower (containing linoleic acid) may increase them. Phenylalanine is possibly the most important amino acid in treating depression due to the various roles it plays within the nervous system.
Signs and symptoms of depression
If you experience any four of the symptoms below, for more than 2 weeks with moodiness, you may be classified as depressed.
Symptoms of Depression
- Emotional instability
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of energy or fatigue
- Lowered self esteem
- Thoughts of suicide
- Loss of interest or pleasure
- Difficulty in performing tasks
- Loss of weight or appetite
- Poor concentration
- Physical complaints
Common Side Effects of Prozac (fluoxetine)
- Anxiety, abnormal thinking
- Inability to fall or stay asleep
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Agitation, nervousness
- Impotence, loss of libido
- Sweating, tremors
- Lack or loss of appetite, weight loss
- Headache, dizziness
- Diarrhoea, sweating etc
Isn't it interesting how similar the symptoms of depression are compared to some of the common side effects of Prozac (fluoxetine)?
Nutritional treatment for depression
Correct any nutritional deficiencies – a multi vitamin is highly recommended here! Check for biotin, folic acid, vitamin B6, B2, B12 and C, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and potassium deficiencies as these nutrients can cause depression when deficient.
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids – DHA & EPA - Fish Oils: Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated oils that cannot be made by the body and are derived primarily from seafood. The fatty acid with most direct influence on brain development and function is DHA. Researchers found that omega-3 fatty acids, when fed to piglets, had the same effect on the brain as the antidepressant Prozac: They raised levels of a critical neurotransmitter, serotonin.
Previous studies have suggested that depressed people have lower-than-normal levels of a fatty acid known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which plays an important role in maintaining normal brain function. In a new study, people who added a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids to their regular antidepressant treatment had significant improvement in symptoms, including anxiety, sleeping problems, sadness, decreased sexual desire, and suicidal tendencies.
Avoid sugar, coffee and refined foods. Increase consumption of ginger, garlic and onions.
Check for food sensitivity, insecticides and solvent exposure, toxic metals or drug use. Allergic disorders are more common among depressive people. Treat these accordingly.
Rule out achlorhydria i.e. poor stomach digestion. Apple cider vinegar with meals may help. The "dosage" is 1 tablespoon in 100ml of tepid water. This is sipped with main meals. Do not use if you have a stomach ulcer.
Check for viral infections or general infections and treat accordingly. Olive leaf and the minerals Zinc and selenium are important natural considerations here.
Recommended supplementation for helping with depression
Multi Vitamin Essential for general nutritional wellbeing. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are associated with depression.
Considerations include Vitamin B Complex, B3, B6 & B12 - all necessary for normal brain function. B3 improves cerebral circulation. B6 acts as a co-factor in serotonin & dopamine production. B12 is especially important for vegetarians. B5 is also an anti-stress vitamin that may be helpful in depression.
L-Phenylalanine - Possibly the most effective amino acid in treating depression due to its action via 3 separate pathways.
L-Tyrosine - Tyrosine alleviates stress by boosting production of adrenaline and raises dopamine levels, which influence moods. Lack of tyrosine may result in mood disorders such as depression.
L-Tryptophan - Influences brain serotonin levels. You cannot purchase L-Tryptophan without a prescription in New Zealand.
Fish Oil, especially EPA.
Calcium and Magnesium - These minerals have a calming effect. Needed for the nervous system.
SAM-e - A powerful mood elevator which helps promote emotional well-being & assist with liver function. SAM-e helps our body make & regulate hormones, cell membranes & the neurotransmitters that affect mood.
5 HTP - 5HTP is the next step in tryptophan metabolism and is the precursor to serotonin (the happy chemical) in the brain. Soothes, calms & creates a feeling of contentment. Useful for partying, depression, insomnia, as well as jet lag. You cannot take 5 HTP if you are already taking an anti depressant from your doctor or specialist.
Herbs to help in depression
In Europe and especially Germany, St. John's Wort is prescribed twice as often as standard antidepressants for depression. (Some information states 8 times as often). Users of St John's Wort enjoy the same or better level of relief from depression when compared to traditional pharmaceutical agents, but without the annoying side effects.
However, as this herb may interact with some medications it is important to notify your health care practitioner of any pharmaceutical medicine you may be taking. “…long-term administration of St John’s wort may result in diminished clinical effectiveness or increased dosage requirements for at least half of marketed medications”.
Prescription medication for depression
The main complaint with modern anti-depressant therapy is that of undesired side effects. The best, the "clean", or specific drugs, the SSRI's, have a whole host of their own side effects as well: agitation, insomnia, loss of libido, and impotence are among them. In fact, the list of side effects has an amazing similarity to the condition the medication is attempting to treat (see above).
If self-prescribing, please check first with your health practitioner, if you are already taking anti-depressant medication.
Nutritional Almanac, Gayla and John Kirschmann
Prescription for Nutritional Healing, James and Phyllis Balch
The Physician’s Handbook of Clinical Nutrition, Henry Osiecki