Sadness. Irritability. Anxiety. Fatigue. Apathy. Worthlessness. Hopelessness. Desperation. Despair. We have all felt these words from time to time. Some of us live these words every day and don’t understand why. All of those words are used to describe depression. It is constant and it is real. Millions of Americans live with depression and many of those people have tried conventional treatments with little or no success.
But there is hope. Natural medicine offers alternative options – combinations that address the whole person, not just one tiny mechanism in the human body. The causes of depression are complex. They can include biochemical, socioeconomic, genetic and situational reasons. Many of these reasons cannot and will not be answered by a pill alone. However, using the right combination of nutrients and herbs can give you the foundation and support you need to work through whatever it may be that brought you to this point.
Vitamins, especially certain B vitamins, are fundamental in regulating mood and sub-optimal levels of these vitamins could contribute to depression. Both vitamin B12 and folate are involved in the metabolism of a compound called S-adenosylmethionine, SAMe for short. SAMe is required for the formation of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, epinephrine and dopamine.
All of these neurotransmitters play a role in mood regulation. Low levels of SAMe in the central nervous system results in lower levels of these neurotransmitters. Studies have shown that many people suffering with depression are either deficient in or have low levels of folate and vitamin B 12. By supplementing with vitamin B12 and folate, the body is provided with foundational nutrition to support healthy SAMe levels in the body, among the many other metabolic reactions in which these vitamins participate.
Vitamin D is another nutrient that impacts mood. Deficiencies in this vitamin are common in western countries. Receptors for vitamin D are present throughout the brain, which suggests its importance in brain health. Recent research has shown that people with a vitamin D deficiency had a higher likelihood of having depression than those with healthy vitamin D levels.
Amino acids are another group of nutrients that are essential in mood regulation and neurotransmitter production. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is an amino acid that is a direct precursor to serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter. 5-HTP has been studied for decades for its benefits in depression and mood regulation.
These studies reveal that supplementation with 5-HTP effectively increases the production of serotonin in the central nervous system. These studies also show that the speed of response to this amino acid is on average 2 weeks, compared to 4 weeks or longer with conventional antidepressants. One of the most important aspects of 5-HTP is that it has a very low incidence of side effects. L-tyrosine is another amino acid required for the production of neurotransmitters – norepinephrine and dopamine. Norepinephrine plays a role in focus and motivation, while dopamine is involved in the complex reward system of the brain.
The synthesis of these neurotransmitters is dependent upon the presence of L-tyrosine. L-tyrosine is directly metabolized to dopamine, which in turn is a precursor to epinephrine. Several military studies show that supplementation with L-tyrosine improved memory and cognitive performance and reduced fatigue.
Stress is a normal physical and psychological reaction to negative or positive situations in life. Chronic, unrelenting stress can lead to depression. Controlling stress and coping with stress is important to overall stress. But if a person is already in the throes of depression, it is likely that he or she cannot cope and it may be one of the causes of depression. Coping skills obviously aren’t provided in a pill. Learning these skills takes time.
Luckily, there are herbs that help the brain and body adapt to stress. These herbs are fittingly called adaptogens. Adaptogens are plants that help the body adapt to stress, support normal metabolic functions and help to restore balance in the body. They increase the body’s resistance to emotional, physical and environmental stress; they even provide defenses against chronic stress.
Holy basil, Ocimum sanctum, is a sacred plant in India. In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, it is classified as a rasayana, an herb that nourishes the path to health and promotes life. It is treasured for its ability to bring about goodness and joy in humans. Schisandra chinensis is an adaptogen derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine. The berries of this plant are said to have all five flavors found in Traditional Chinese Medicine – sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty. Because it has all of these tastes, it said to have benefits throughout the body.
Modern research shows that it has a very unique effect on the central nervous system. While it is able to mildly stimulate the central nervous system by enhances reflexes and mental activity, it simultaneously calms and helps to relieve anxiety.
By combining a foundation of adaptogens to uplift the spirit and provide a platform for the body to control and regulate the stress response with vital and essential nutrients to directly impact brain chemistry, more complete support can be offered to those suffering with depression.
By Stacey Littlefield, Chief Formulator