Depression affects up to 20% of people at any one time. It is an illness characterised by inappropriate feelings of sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness, with sensations of guilt and foreboding or anxiety. There is often associated fatigue, appetite changes, sleep disturbances, pessimism and paranoia. A person may have suicidal thoughts.
In people with true depressive illness, rather than feelings of sadness which follow a bereavement or loss, there are disturbances in the levels of some chemical transmitters in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Getting depression is therefore, not a sign of weakness. There are no particular ‘personality types’ that are more at risk than others. However, some risk factors have been identified, these include inherited (genetic) factors, such as having parents or grandparents who have suffered from depression and non-genetic factors such as the death of a parent when you were young.
The causes of depression are not fully understood. Stressful life events, such as losing a job or a relationship ending, may trigger an episode of depression, but it can also be triggered by some physical illnesses, drug treatments and recreational drugs.
It is often impossible to identify a cause in many people and this can be distressing for people who want to understand the reasons why they are ill. However depression, like any illness, can strike for no apparent reason. It is clear that there are definite changes in the way the brain works when a person is depressed:
Depressed people tend to have higher than normal levels of stress hormones. Various chemical systems in the brain may not be working correctly including one known as the serotonin or 5-HT system.
Antidepressants are usually prescribed to help reverse these changes, however, as with all drugs they have side effects, one of which is anxiety.
Stress can lead to you to feeling ‘down’ and ‘miserable’. In a true depressive illness these feelings last for weeks or months, rather than days. In addition to feeling low most or all of the time, many other symptoms can occur in depressive illness (though not everybody has every one).
Typical symptoms of depression include:
- Being unable to gain pleasure from activities that normally would be pleasurable.
- Losing interest in normal activities, hobbies and everyday life.
- Feeling tired all of the time and having no energy.
- Difficulty sleeping or waking early in the morning (though some feel that they can’t get out of bed and ‘face the world’).
- Having a poor appetite, no interest in food and losing weight (though some people comfort eat and put on weight).
- Losing interest in sex.
- Finding it difficult to concentrate and think straight.
- Feeling restless, tense and anxious.
- Being irritable.
- Losing self-confidence.
- Avoiding other people.
- Finding it harder than usual to make decisions.
- Feeling useless and inadequate – ‘a waste of space’.
- Feeling guilty about who you are and what you have done.
- Feeling hopeless – that nothing will make things better.
- Suicidal thoughts
Nutritional Supplements that could help. (Refer to the individual supplement for cautions in use.)
|Supplement/Herb||What it does||Dosage|
|5-HTP||As a precursor of serotonin , 5-HTP can be an effective way to increase serotonin levels and therefore to be helpful in depression.||100 – 300mg per day (away from food)|
|D-L-Phenylalanine (DLPA)||Phenylalanine is a precursor to the mood elevating compound dopamine (which is found to be low in some depressed patients). It also enhances other mood enhancing chemicals such as PEA and endorphins. DLPA is converted into tyrosine before eventually becoming dopamine and tyrosine may be preferred in some cases – see below.||500 – 1000mg per day (away from food)|
|L-Tyrosine||Tyrosine is a precursor to the mood elevating compound dopamine. A number of studies conducted in the 1970’s demonstrated tyrosine’s ability to lessen symptoms of depression. The most impressive results were seen when tyrosine and 5-hydroxytryptophan were combined. DLPA is a precursor of tyrosine and may be preferable to tyrosine in some cases – see above.||500 – 1000mg per day (away from food)|
|Rhodiola||Rhodiola’s enhances the transport of serotonin precursors (tryptophan and 5-HTP) into the brain, leading to a significant increase in brain serotonin activity. Rhodiola has also been shown to reduce the degradation of mood-elevating neurotransmitters. As stress accelerates the depletion of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, the adaptogenic (anti-stress) effects of rhodiola may be additionally valuable.||250 – 750mg daily|
|St John’s Wort||Research has shown that St John’s Wort can relieve mild to moderate depression, anxiety and related sleep disturbances.||300 – 600mg per day|
|B Vitamins||Various B vitamins play a major role in maintaining proper brain chemistry, particularly relating to the activity and metabolism of neurotransmitters.||As directions|
|Fish oil for Omega 3 Fatty Acids||An essential part of the neuronal cell membranes, consumption of omega 3 fatty acids correlates with a decreased incidence of depression.||1000 – 5000mg daily|
Diet and Lifestyle Factors
Reduce or preferably completely avoid:
- All caffeinated drinks as they stimulate the release of stress hormones.
- Environmental toxins which stress the system.
- Alcohol as it is a depressant.
- Allergens (e.g. wheat, dairy) Identify potential food allergies – these are common in depression
- Trans/hydrogenated fats which are often found in refined and processed foods.
Increase your intake of:
- Oily fish, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, fruit, vegetarian protein sources, whole foods
- Take regular gentle exercise as this helps to release serotonin, the “feel good” hormone.
- Consider light therapy if depression is associated with low light levels (SAD)
- Consider counselling
- Reduce the impact of stress – support adrenal function if necessary
Homoeopathic Remedies which may help. (Refer to the individual remedy for guidance on the one that is most appropriate for you.)
- Arsenicum album
- Calcarea carbonica
- Kali phos
- Natrum mur
Suggested further reading:
- Depression explained
- Self help