Depression is a serious medical condition with psychological
consequences. For decades, western medicine has treated
depression with psychoactive drugs to lift the mood with varied
results. In more recent years, research has pointed more and
more to the fact that depression often has an underlying
physical, chemical or nutritional cause. Over the past two
decades, many mental health professionals have begun to include
dietary and lifestyle changes in their recommendations to treat
depression and related disorders with excellent results. It is
now generally accepted that depression often has an underlying
physical cause, and that without treating the physical cause,
therapy is ineffective in alleviating depression.
Depression is a serious mood disorder that affects nearly 17
million Americans. It can occur as single or recurring
episodes, or become chronic (lasting more than two years). It
affects Americans of all ages, from childhood through the
elderly, and ranges from mild to severe. Depression is
diagnosed when feelings of anger, irritation, sadness and loss
interfere with normal daily life. There are a number of
different classifications of depression, including major
depression (with five major symptoms lasting more than two
weeks), mild depression (five symptoms present for less than two
weeks), dysthmia (chronic mild depression), post partum
depression (occurring after the birth of a child), premenstrual
dysphoric disorder (depression that happens approximately a week
before menstruation) and seasonal affective disorder, which
affects about 5% of the population and is at its worst during
the autumn and winter.
Depression interferes with the ability to enjoy life, and in
severe cases may impair a personís ability to function.
Depression may manifest with outbursts of anger, hopelessness
and despair which lead to problems holding a job, maintaining a
place to live and maintaining healthy relationships. In worst
cases, depression may lead to attempts to harm oneself, or death
as a result of suicide. Depression affects the perception, and
may lead to drug and alcohol abuse as an attempt at
Depression is diagnosed when five or more of the following
symptoms are present for two or more weeks.
Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much) are major
symptoms of depression. Nearly 90% of all those diagnosed
with depression report a sleep disorder.
Change in appetite Ė either loss of appetite or excessive
appetite, which may lead to weight loss or gain without a
Nagging fatigue without physical cause
Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate or excessive guilt for
Agitation and restlessness
Lethargy, inactivity and withdrawal
Feelings of hopelessness
Recurrent thoughts of suicide or harming oneself
decades, doctors and scientists have believed that depression
stems from emotional and psychological imbalances. Itís only
recently that western medicine has begun to recognize that the
factors that lead to depression are far more complex than a bad
personality or difficult upbringing. Itís now recognized that
in many cases, depression has hereditary, chemical, nutritional
and environmental causes. The confusion and mood swings,
feelings of worthlessness, sleep disorders and other symptoms
may all have a root in a chemical imbalance, a nutritional
deficiency, an environmental factor or even a drug interaction.
The effect that drugs used to treat various health conditions
can have on the mood and mental well-being, particularly when
they are taken in combination, is an often overlooked cause of
depression and symptoms of depression. The most commonly
identified causes of depression include:
Heredity Ė Recent research has uncovered the SERT gene,
which helps regulate the levels of serotonin in the brain.
Serotonin levels have been linked to depression by several
Chronic stress, as from abuse, loss or deprivation in
childhood. Stress and the bodyís attempts to deal with it
can draw on supplies of particular nutrients, amino acids
and other chemicals.
Amount of exposure to light has been implicated in at least
SAD (seasonal affective disorder). We know for certain that
levels of vitamin D in the body are linked to exposure to
the sun. There may be other chemicals that need sunlight to
activate them for proper use by the body as well.
Sleep disorders often accompany depression, and may be a
Deficiencies of vitamin B9 (folate) and omega 3 fatty acids
have been implicated in depression. In one study conducted
at McLeanís Hospital in Massachusetts, patients who were
given a fish oil supplement (an important source of omega 3
essential fatty acids) showed such a dramatic improvement in
their condition that the study was ended early in order to
offer the treatment to the control group.
Depression may stem from serious medical conditions, such as
cancer or heart disease.
Medications used to treat high blood pressure, high
cholesterol and irregular heartbeat may cause depression.
Treatments for Depression:
Historically, treatment for depression includes psychotherapy,
often accompanied by prescription drugs. It has been noted in
many studies that the effects of therapy are greatly enhanced in
many cases by the correction of an underlying imbalance. Among
the nutritional supplements that are supported by research are:
studies have linked low levels of folate with depression, with
15% to 38% of diagnosed depressed patients showing lowered
levels of folate in the blood. Because folate deficiency is so
linked with depression, many mental health practitioners
prescribe a multivitamin with B9, or a B-complex supplement that
includes folate along with B6 and B12.
repeated studies ranging from broad-based population based
studies to double blind controlled placebo studies, researchers
have found evidence to strongly support the role of sufficient
DHA, an essential omega 3 fatty acid found in fish and fish oil
supplements in maintaining mental health. Omega 3 fatty acids
are a basic building block of all the neurological cells,
including brain cells and those that make up the neuropaths for
chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. When the diet is
deficient in omega 3 fatty acids, the body substitutes the more
plentiful omega 6 fatty acids. The resulting cell formation may
lack the ability to transmit chemicals and electrical ability
properly. Because those suffering from depression often exhibit
low levels of omega 3 fatty acids and high levels of omega 6
fatty acids, many doctors now suggest that taking a fish oil
supplement to restore the proper balance of omega 3 and omega 6
may be helpful to alleviate the symptoms of depression.
the research samples are small, several studies suggest that
inositol, a chemical that occurs naturally in the brain, may
decrease the symptoms of depression.
studies suggest that a traditional herbal remedy for depression,
St. Johnís wort, may be as effective in relieving the symptoms
of depression as commonly prescribed chemical tricyclic
antidepressants. Itís strongly suggested that anyone considering
treating depression with St. Johnís wort consult with a health
professional, as it may conflict with other prescribed
traditional medical community has come to accept the importance
of proper nutrition in helping to combat the effects of
depression. Correcting dietary and nutritional imbalances can
pave the way for more effective treatment of depression, and in
many cases BE the most effective treatment for depression.
Because providing the body with all the essential materials for
building neural pathways is so important, many specialists in
treating depression recommend health supplements that include
the full complex of B-vitamins including B9 (folate) as well as
a pharmaceutical grade fish oil supplement to help combat the
underlying symptoms of depression.