- Alternative & Natural Medicine
Depression - A Natural Approach
Neurochemistry of Depression
Discussion About and Causes of Depression
Depression hardly needs description, but can be described as “low mood”. Depression varies in severity from just that to disabling incapacity to do anything. Depression can be a perfectly normal response to unhappy events in one’s life, such as losing one’s job, a loved one or a treasured family pet. In a case like this, one could argue that no action is necessary to help depression. However, depression sometimes arises for no obvious cause or continues for an unusually long time when there was a cause. In such a case, depression can become a medical problem that needs attention.
At one time it was thought that depression is a mental illness entirely psychological in origin, and treatment varied from psychotherapy to electroconvulsive therapy. It is now fairly obvious that this is not the case.
The causes of depression are usually biochemical in nature. They include hormonal imbalances and also imbalances in brain neurotransmitters. These types of problem can overlap, because several compounds in the body are both neurotransmitters and hormones. The compounds involved include serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline. They are also known as monoamines. D and L-phenylalanine and tyrosine are precursors to dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline. (Adrenaline and noradrenaline are known in the USA as epinephrine and norepinephrine.) Imbalances in other body hormones can lead to symptoms of depression; they include the sex hormones in both sexes and also insulin and glucagon, the two hormones involved in controlling blood sugar level.
The reason for glucose imbalances causing depression is simply that the brain needs large amounts of glucose (about 25% of the body’s total requirements) to function in normal circumstances. (After a long period of starvation the brain becomes able to use substances derived from fat known as ketone bodies as fuel, but never functions at full capacity in this mode.) A brain without enough glucose for energy can’t carry out its normal functions properly, and these include the production of neurotransmitters.
Imbalances in brain neurotransmitters can be caused by lack of various nutrients, including some of the amino acids from protein and also several of the B vitamins. Vitamin C deficiency can cause depression as well, partly because the adrenal glands need vitamin C for proper function.
Internally produced or externally introduced toxins such as solvents, alcohols including the well-known ethanol, and the various toxins produced by Candida albicans can also cause depression.
Depression can be related to bipolar disorder which was formerly known as manic depression. (The manic phase does not always appear in this disorder.) If this is behind your depression, you need professional, specialist help.
Finally, depression can be caused by either lack of light or lack of the right wavelengths of light. This form of depression is called seasonal affective disorder or SAD, a strangely appropriate acronym.
Natural Remedies for Depression
These can be split into four types; dietary, nutritional, botanical and holistic.
As is usual in the natural response to any health problem, it is necessary to clean up the diet; eat less junk and packaged food and more lightly-processed natural and preferably organic food. But specific changes apply particularly to dealing with depression; these include reducing caffeine, sugar and refined carbohydrates (which lessens the strain on the adrenal glands and blood sugar control system) and also reducing alcohol, which is a nervous system depressant in its own right and also leaches out B vitamins particularly thiamine (vitamin B1).
Over-the-counter and especially illegal drugs also ought to be reduced; the same may well apply to various prescription drugs, but see your doctor about this first!
¨ B vitamins: A minimum of 75mg strength of the B complex per day. Folic acid: 400mcg per day. Would be included in a good B complex.
¨ Vitamin B12: 500mcg per day.
¨ Vitamin C: 1000mg three times per day.
¨ Magnesium: 500mg per day.
All these additional nutrients are taken to support the production of hormones and neurotransmitters.
Various herbs known as adaptogens can help with depression. The term “adaptogen” refers to herbs which help the body to adapt to various stresses. Each part of the world seems to have its own herb or herbs with this effect; some of them are ginseng, suma, schisandra, ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng, and Rhodiola rosea otherwise known as “Russian root” or “Arctic root”. (It grows in far northern Europe and the subarctic areas of Russia.)
These include various massage therapies including aromatherapy. One approach which may well be called holistic or complementary, but is also used even in hospitals, is phototherapy. This very simple approach basically consists of sitting in front of bright lights, which are designed to have a spectrum as close as possible to sunlight, for an hour or so per day. A less technical form of this approach is to simply go outside when it’s sunny. Admittedly, during winter in northern Europe (or places with similar climate) this may be difficult. Exercising outdoors also helps in other ways.
One point worthy of note is that for some reason this sort of therapy works much better if the eyes are exposed to the light without spectacles in the way. This may well be because the component needed to help depression is ultraviolet, which spectacles usually block.