Are you one of the many individuals looking to naturally relieve depression? We ask, one of the many, as depression effects an estimated 40 million Americans (about 18% of the population) over the age of 18.
Of those 40 million people, almost 14.8 million suffering from major depressive disorder, 7 million of them suffer from a general anxiety disorder (GAD), with 15 million suffering from social anxiety disorder, and 7.7 million affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.
The National Alliance On Mental Illness says that an estimated 16 million American adults (almost 7% of the population) had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
The World Health Organization reports that by the year 2020, depression will be the second most common cause of premature death worldwide.
We live a fasted pace lifestyle, working long hours, eating unhealthy food, breathing environmental pollutants, and dealing with financial and family pressures much more than was dealt with by past generations.
It’s not hard to understand why so many are affected and no surprise that the use of prescription antidepressants has skyrocketed.
Fortunately, prescription medications that come with potentially harmful side-effects are not the only way to combat the effects of depression or anxiety. And it’s very unlikely you will ever hear that from your doctor.
Before we discuss the ways to naturally relieve depression, let's learn what a depressive disorder looks like. And the conventional methods used to treat such disorders.
What Depression Looks Like
A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.
Depression that last more than two weeks can be considered a major depressive disorder or clinical depression. It can affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities. It can also affect your work, sleep, and your eating habits.
To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.
There are different forms of depression that differ from one another and they may develop under unique circumstances.
Persistent depressive disorder also referred to as dysthymia, is a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years.
Psychotic depression can be severe depression and is accompanied by some form of psychosis. Which includes having disturbing false fixed beliefs or delusions. Hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see, such as hallucinations. Psychotic symptoms typically have a depressive “theme,” such as delusions of guilt, poverty, or illness.
Seasonal affective disorder typically appears during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. This depression generally lifts during spring and summer months.
Characteristics of seasonal affective disorder can include, social withdrawal, increased sleep, and weight gain, This type of depressive disorder returns every year in the winter months.
Bipolar disorder is a different from of depression, as a person with this disorder can experience either extremely low moods or extreme high – euphoric or irritable – moods.
Not every individual who is depressed experiences every symptom. Some people may experience only a few symptoms while others may experience many.
It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away.
Depression can impact your health in other ways, including eating disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, sexual disorders, osteoporosis, weakened immune system, and sleep disorders.
Conventional Methods Of Treatment
Russell Blaylock, M.D. of Newsmax Health says that the pharmaceutical industry has turned depression and other psychiatric disorders (many only recently invented) into big business.
And it is no wonder, as the drug companies claim that more than 80% of depressed people can be successfully treated with antidepressants.
While it may appear that antidepressants like Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac may provide immediate relief, these same drugs also carry potentially serious side effects.
Common Side Effects From Anti-Depressants Include:
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Loss of sexual desire and other sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction and decreased orgasm
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Acne and Skin Irritation
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
Long-term use is controversial as well, and withdrawing from them can be as difficult as the disorder itself.
Even the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) states, “The benefit of antidepressant medication compared with placebo may be minimal or nonexistent…”
The human casualties include thousands of drug-induced suicides, mania, drug-exacerbated depression, drug dependence, and birth defects among many others harmful effects.
Professor Irving Kirsch – Associate Director – Program in Placebo Studies at Harvard Medical School says, “Depression is a serious problem, but drugs are not the answer.
In the long run, psychotherapy is both cheaper and more effective, even for very serious levels of depression.
Physical exercise and self-help books based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also be useful, either alone or in combination.”
How To Naturally Relieve Depression
Recovering from depression requires an integrated approach including dietary and lifestyle changes.
The use of pharmaceuticals to treat depression, as prescribed by your doctor, to ease the symptoms is a personal choice and may be very useful in severe cases.
However, rarely do conventional medications address or solve the root cause. The fact is, they only ease the symptoms.
Whose best interest is served when you are told to continuously rely on expensive pharmaceutical drugs for depression and anxiety?
Drug companies spend billions of dollars each year wooing doctors.
Are you one of the millions of suffering people forced to fill the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies with your hard earned money, just to feel better?
Wouldn’t a better solution be to find the root cause of your depression or anxiety and then work to regain your mental and emotional well-being?
The Role Of Serotonin
Biochemically derived from tryptophan, serotonin is primarily found in the gastrointestinal tract, blood platelets, and the central nervous system.
Serotonin has been implicated in the regulation of sleep, depression, anxiety, aggression, appetite, body weight, body temperature, sexual behavior, and pain sensation.
Abnormal serotonin levels are associated with fatigue, insomnia, depression, suicidal tendencies, OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder, alcoholism and increases in aggression and anger behaviors.
Maintaining Healthy Levels Of Serotonin
Like most other biological components in the body, a proper balance must be struck between serotonin and other chemicals and nutrients in the brain for optimum function.
There are many factors that can affect serotonin levels. The food you eat has the potential to temporarily raise or lower your serotonin levels. That is why the ingredients of a meal can have an impact on the way you feel after you eat.
Melissa Reagan Brunetti, CNC a nutritonal health coach at Embrace Balanced Health, says that our brain has very high energy and nutrient requirements.
And nutritional deficiencies and dietary patterns can affect its function, and alter brain chemistry and the formulation of neurotransmitters—chemicals in the brain that can stimulate and calm.”
To understand this relationship you need to know a little more about an amino acid called L-tryptophan (pronounced trip-toe-fan).
Your body is unable to produce serotonin without the presences of L-tryptophan (LT). The absorption of tryptophan from the foods you eat is absorbed into the blood stream through the digestive tract, metabolize into a chemical form called 5-HTP that allows tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier and stimulate the production of serotonin.
However, eating foods that contain either serotonin or LT do not significantly increase serotonin levels.
Cells outside the brain, such as blood platelets and some enterocytes, make and also use serotonin. For the cells in the brain to make use of serotonin it must be synthesized within the neurons, as serotonin cannot cross the blood-brain barrier.
Therefore, the synthesis of serotonin is heavily dependent upon the availability of LT within the central nerves system (CNS).
The production and subsequent transport of LT from the bloodstream into the CNS requires the use of a transport molecule to cross the blood-brain barrier. And several amino acids compete for this same transport molecule.
The presence of these competing amino acids, which are tyrosine, phenylalanine, valine, leucine and isoleucine, can and do inhibit the transportation of LT into the brain.
The question is, how can you get more LT to cross the blood-brain barrier?
How 5-HTP Supplements Can Naturally Relieve Depression
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) unlike LT, is absorbed directly into the brain. 5-HTP is a metabolite or end product of LT that naturally increases production of serotonin in your body.
5-HTP is found in some foods in trace amounts, such as in turkey, chicken, milk, potatoes, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, turnip and collard greens, and including seaweed.
But according to some scientific studies, as little as 1% of LT from your diet actually crosses the blood-brain barrier.
Therefore, therapeutic use or supplementing of 5-HTP by passes the conversion of LT into 5-HTP by the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase.
Tryptophan hydroxylase can be inhibited by numerous factors, including stress, insulin resistance, vitamin B-6 deficiency, and insufficient magnesium.
It performs much like an antidepressant and is often recommended for generalized forms of depression and anxiety, without any potentially harmful and unpleasant side-effects.
5-HTP can also help to manage stress more effectively, improve quality of sleep, and possibly lose weight.
Supplementing with 5-HTP is well absorbed from an oral dose, with about 70% ending up in the bloodstream
Because 5-HTP has a very short life-span in the body, a sustained release formula greatly increases absorption.
Warning: Always check with your doctor prior to taking 5-HTP in combination with any SSRI antidepressant drugs.
Possible Side Effects
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use 5-HTP without first talking to your health care provider.
People who are taking antidepressant medications should not take 5-HTP without their provider’s supervision. These medications combined with 5-HTP have shown to cause serotonin syndrome, a dangerous condition involving mental changes, hot flashes, rapidly fluctuating blood pressure and heart rate, and possibly coma.
Some antidepressant medications that can interact with 5-HTP include:
SSRIs: Citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluvoxamine (Luvox), paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft)
Tricyclics: Amitriptyline (Elavil), nortriptyline (Pamelor), imipramine (Tofranil)
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): Phenelzine, (Nardil), tranylcypromine (Parnate) Nefazodone (Serzone) Carbidopa
Taking 5-HTP with carbidopa, a medication used to treat Parkinson disease, may cause a scleroderma-like illness. Scleroderma is a condition where the skin becomes hard, thick, and inflamed.
Tramadol (Ultram), used for pain relief, and sometimes prescribed for people with fibromyalgia, may raise serotonin levels too much if taken with 5-HTP. Serotonin syndrome has been reported in some people taking the two together.
Taking 5-HTP with dextromethorphan (Robitussin DM, and others), found in cough syrups, may cause serotonin levels to increase to dangerous levels, a condition called serotonin syndrome.
Taking 5-HTP with Meperidine (Demerol) may cause serotonin levels to increase to dangerous levels, a condition called serotonin syndrome.
5-HTP can increase the risk of side effects, including serotonin syndrome, when taken with these Triptan medications: Naratriptan (Amerge) – Rizatriptan (Maxalt) – Sumatriptan (Imitrex) – Zolmitriptan (Zomig)
Much of the published research on 5-HTP has to do with its use in the treatment of depression. Since the early 1970s, at least 15 studies have evaluated the clinical effects of 5-HTP on depression .
A 6-week study found equal benefit between using 300 mg of 5-HTP per day vs. 150 mg per day of fluvoxamine, a common antidepressant in the Prozac family. But 5-HTP caused fewer and less severe side effects than the drug (Cochrane).
A 1991 study reported in the journal Psychopathology, compared the effects of SSRI fluvoxamine (Luvox®) with 5-HTP.
At the end of the study, the researchers found the percentage of improvement from baseline to the final assessment was slightly greater for patients treated with 5-HTP.
The number of treatment failures was higher in the fluvoxamine group (17%) than in the 5-HTP group (6%). Side effects were found to be rare and generally mild, occurring during the first few days of treatment and then disappearing.
The researchers note: “Regarding tolerance and safety, 5-HTP proved superior to fluvoxamine as was apparent from a marked difference in side effects between the two compounds. The study strongly confirmed the efficacy of 5-HTP as an antidepressant.”
In a large open trial conducted in Japan 100 patients were given 50-300 mg/ of 5-HTP a day. Significant improvement was observed in 69% of the patients, and no significant side-effects were reported. The response rate in most of the patients was less than two weeks, which is interesting, as most antidepressant drugs take two weeks to a month to show benefit.
Clearly, 5-HTP has shown to affect serotonin levels and improve symptoms of depression.
According to Biotics Research, depending on conditions being addressed with 5-HTP, therapeutic doses range from 50 mg to 300 mg three times daily.
There is general agreement that the supplement can successfully treat depression taking between 150 to 300 mg daily, mood disorders taking up to 150 mg daily, and sleep disorders taking 100 mg to 300 mg before bedtime.
More Natural Options For Relieving Depression
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Researchers from the United States National Institutes of Health have consistently shown that greater fish and seafood consumption within nations is associated with lower rates of depressive disorders.
A large survey of Finnish adults found that depressive symptoms were significantly higher among those who infrequent consumed fish.
Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry reports that dietary deficiencies in essential omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from fish are associated with depression and that some fish oils may have therapeutic benefits.
The journal also states that there appears to be somewhat stronger support for EPA than for DHA in terms of antidepressant strength.
Though a Harvard Medical School study showed that a combination of EPA and DHA helped improve symptoms of bipolar disorder.
And another study concluded that geographic areas with high DHA consumption showed decreased rates of depression, indicating that using DHA to treat minor depression should be considered.
Whatever the studies may conclude, they have all shown EPA and DHA to each have a link to mental wellness.
L-theanine is an amino acid known for its calming effects. It is found naturally in tea leaves. Although all types of tea contain the nutrient, it is most commonly associated with green tea and this was the first know source of the compound. It is also found in small amounts in Bay Bolete mushrooms.
A patented enzymatic process known as Suntheanine helps synthesize 100% pure L-theanine.
Suntheanine is not an extract of green tea, but rather is produced via a patented fermentation process that mimics the natural process in green tea leaves, resulting in a 100% pure L-isomer-theanine.
And Suntheanine goes directly to the brain where it helps promote relaxation, ease restlessness, and reduce the anxiety and depression.
Clinical research suggests that 50 – 200 mg of Suntheanine stimulates activity in the brain known as alpha waves, which are associated with a relaxed but alert mental state.
Additional human clinical research suggests that Suntheanine may have application in improving the quality of sleep, diminishing normal symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), improving learning performance, heightening mental acuity, promoting concentration, reducing negative side effects of caffeine and supporting the immune system.
Unlike other stress reducing supplements, Suntheanine does not cause drowsiness. It has been consumed in beverages, foods and supplements since 1994 with no indication of adverse reactions or contraindications.
The affects of supplementing with sintheanine are immediate, often within 30-40 minutes of taking it.
Melatonin is a pineal hormone that regulates the circadian rhythm, and may be closely linked to mood. The hormone is normally released in higher amounts at night and lower amounts in the morning to coincide with the sleep-wake cycle.
Changes in the sleep-wake cycle have been found in those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), bulimia, schizophrenia, panic disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD.
The journal Maturitas reports that constant application of benzodiazepine (a drug used to treat insomnia in patients with anxiety disorders and depression), reduced the production of natural melatonin in rats, supporting the evidence that long-term application of benzodiazepine in humans does not restore sleeping habits but reduces natural sleeping habits even more.
The journal reported finding low melatonin levels in women with bulimia or neuralgia and fibromyalgia. Supplementing with melatonin reduced pain, sleeping disorders, and depression in women with fibromyalgia and bulimia.
Researchers have also found that melatonin can help reduce anxiety.
Deficiency of Magnesium has been linked to depression. And medical experts estimate that 2 out of 3 Americans are deficient in magnesium.
Several studies reported by Eby Research Institute demonstrate that intake of magnesium resulted in rapid major depression recovery.
The dosage used ranged from 125 to 300 mg of supplemental magnesium. In a controlled, randomized trial involving elderly patients with depression and type 2 diabetes, the researchers tried to compare magnesium and an FDA-approved antidepressant.
The investigators found that both options were equally effective in decreasing the symptoms of depression.
It may be beneficial to increase magnesium intake to reduce the risk of depression and other symptoms of certain conditions. It is worth mentioning that magnesium deficiency has not only been linked with depression, but also other health conditions.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center inadequate magnesium appears to reduce serotonin levels in the brain. One study found that magnesium was just as effective as an antidepressant drug in treating depression
Supports relaxation – promotes rapid onset of sleep – Improves quality of sleep. Youtheory Sleep offers the possibility of quicker, deeper and more refreshing sleep. This fast-acting drink mix provides broad-spectrum support for occasional sleeplessness. It features relaxing Amino Acids, calming Magnesium and a physiological dose of Melatonin (to replicate the level normally produced by the body each night).
For example, vitamin B-6 helps convert tryptophan to serotonin and a deficiency in this important vitamin can result in lowered levels of serotonin.
Similarly, vitamin B-12 and folate deficiency have been linked to depression and mood disorders. The Journal of Psychopharmacology reported on a study that concluded with the following on vitamin B-12 and folate deficiency:
- Both low folate and low vitamin B-12 status have been found in studies of depressive patients
- Populations of Hong Kong and Taiwan who eat the traditional Chinese diet rich in folate, have very low life time rates of major depression
- Low folate levels are linked to a poor response to antidepressants, and treatment with folate is shown to improve response to antidepressants
The study concluded saying that there is now substantial evidence of a common link between depression and low levels of folate and vitamin B-12.
On the basis of current data, the medical researchers suggest that oral doses of both folate (800 microg daily) and vitamin B-12 (1 mg daily) should be prescribed to help improve treatment outcome in depression.
Folate is a water-soluble vitamin B. This means it is not stored in the fat tissues of the body. Leftover amounts of the vitamin leave the body through the urine.
Because folate is not stored in the body in large amounts, the body’s blood levels will get low after only a few weeks of eating a diet low in folate. Folate is found in green leafy vegetables and liver.
Contributors to folate deficiency include:
- Diseases in which folate is not well absorbed in the digestive system – such as Celiac disease or Crohn’s
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Eating overcooked fruits and vegetables – as folate is easily destroyed by heat
- Hemolytic anemia
- Certain medicines – such as phenytoin, sulfasalazine, or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole
- Eating an unhealthy diet that does not include enough fruits and vegetables
Source: Medline Plus
In brief, L-Tryptophan was discussed earlier in the article. But with respects to depression and insomnia we thought this study was worth noting.
A double blind study compared L-tryptophan with amitriptyline (a tricyclic antidepressant) over a three-month period among 115 outpatients diagnosed with mild or moderate depression. Based on scores on the Hamilton Depression Scale and a global rating of depression L-tryptophan at a dose of 3 grams per day was more effective
than placebo as effective as amitriptyline, and produced significantly fewer side effects.
Chromium and Selenium
Deficiencies in chromium and selenium may produce symptoms of depression and anxiety which can be eased by replenishing them.
Chromium has been found to improve depressive symptoms in those with atypical depression where low serotonin levels may be linked to insulin sensitivity.
According to Medical Hypotheses, selenium is required for the thyroid to function properly. And deficiency of selenium can adversely affect psychological conditions because of its role in thyroid function.
The journal also states that patients who show a combination of depression and hypothyroidism are at an increased susceptibility to viral infections because of selenium deficiency.
While pharmaceutical therapies may be necessary to treat more serious and clinically-diagnosed mental health issues.
But to naturally relieve depression, most people will find that a healthy diet, exercise, and a high quality supplement regimen will improve symptoms of depression.
Plus, with these natural holistic alternatives, you may be able to avoid the need for pharmaceutical therapies altogether, which can have serious side effects and long-term use health issues.