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Dealing with Depression

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Dealing with Depression

Depression is much more than simply a case of the blues. It is a medical condition that can range from mild to severe, with a significant impact on quality of life.

Depression is much more than simply a case of the blues. It is a medical condition that can range from mild to severe, with a significant impact on quality of life.

More than 1.4 million people in Canada deal with depression, and it is the second leading cause of long-term disability among workers. Conventional treatment of depression focuses on prescription drugs and psychiatric counselling. While prescription drugs play an important role in the treatment of this disease, many people can’t tolerate the side effects and high costs.

Medication Mishaps

Antidepressant drugs are divided into two major categories: tricyclic anti-depressant drugs and the more commonly prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). While these drugs help some people, they are often overprescribed, that is, given out too easily to those without true depression.

In addition, these medications are associated with numerous side effects, such as nausea, weight gain/loss, headaches, anxiety, insomnia or drowsiness, diarrhea or constipation, sweating, tremors, and sexual dysfunction. Furthermore, antidepressant drugs are not effective for everyone; some estimates show that one-third of individuals taking these drugs will not be helped or are unable to tolerate the side effects.

Natural Alternatives

The good news is that there are several nutritional supplements that have been clinically studied and found beneficial for depression, without all the side effects seen with prescription drugs.

Do not stop taking your medication unless advised to by your health care provider. Abruptly stopping anti-depressants can cause withdrawal symptoms. Discuss natural alternatives with your doctor.

S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) (pronounced “sammy”) is naturally produced in the body and involved in numerous biochemical reactions. SAMe increases the action of several brain neurotransmitters. It also has antioxidant properties, protecting brain tissues against damage from free radicals. Together, these actions support brain health and may help alleviate depression.

Numerous clinical studies have shown SAMe to be safe and effective for depression. A report by the US Department of Health and Human Services, which reviewed 47 studies on SAMe for depression, concluded that “SAMe is more effective than placebo for relief of symptoms of depression” and “equivalent to standard therapy for depression.”

Unlike antidepressant drugs, SAMe is well tolerated. Side effects include nausea and upset stomach. While some antidepressants cause liver damage, SAMe has been shown to be liver protective. SAMe has a rapid onset of action. Effects are often noticeable within one or two weeks (compared to four weeks or longer for most antidepressants).

SAMe is not recommended for use by those with bipolar disorder (manic depression) as it can worsen the manic symptoms. Those who are taking antidepressant medications or are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult with a doctor before taking SAMe. The usual recommended dosage is 400 to 1,600 mg daily; start low and gradually increase if needed.

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a substance used by the body to make serotonin. A few small studies have shown that it is effective for depression and is well tolerated. In one study 5-HTP was found to be as effective as Prozac, with fewer and less severe side effects. Possible side effects include upset stomach. The usual dosage is 100 mg three times daily.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). Prior to the discovery of its numerous drug interactions, St. John’s wort was one of the most commonly used natural products for depression. It helps increase neurotransmitter levels, and studies have found it to be effective for mild to moderate depression. Benefits may be noticed in two to four weeks.

Side effects include stomach upset, fatigue, itching, sleep disturbance, skin rash, and sun sensitivity. St. John’s wort can also reduce the efficacy of many drugs, including oral contraceptives, blood-thinners, digoxin, immune suppressants, statins, and theophylline. Check with your pharmacist or doctor before taking this herb. The usual dosage is 300 mg three times daily.

Supportive Supplements

Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for the nervous system and support neurotransmitter function. Studies show benefits for depression, especially for those not getting adequate response to antidepressant drugs. Dosage: 3 to 9 g daily.

Theanine is an amino acid extracted from green tea. It reduces stress and anxiety without causing drowsiness or addiction and improves sleep quality. It has a quick onset of action (30 minutes to one hour) and no reported side effects. Dosage: 50 to 200 mg daily.

Final Thoughts

For optimal physical and emotional well-being, eat a healthy, whole foods diet, get adequate sleep, exercise regularly, and reduce stress. These lifestyle strategies can have a profound impact on emotional health. However, if you or someone you know is dealing with depression, seek professional help.

Depression is most often caused by a number of underlying factors.

Environmental: exposure to chemicals that disrupt brain chemistry (cigarette smoking, heavy metals, prescription and recreational drugs)

Nutritional: deficiency of vitamins (B12), minerals (magnesium), or essential fatty acids; food allergies

Situational: stress, trauma, injury

Biological: imbalance of neurotransmitters or hormone imbalance

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