Depression is a mood disorder that can affect a person’s daily life. This article addresses the possible physical causes of Depression, but does not go into detail about psychological causes. If you believe that you may be suffering from Depression, a visit to your health care practitioner is strongly recommended. Depression, chronic or acute, is not an incurable condition, and realizing that you may be suffering from depression is the first step to relief from its symptoms.
Nearly one in four individuals experiences some degree of clinical depression or mood disorder, at least once in their lifetime. The rates are higher in women than men, but men are beginning to catch up. Depression, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association in it is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-111), is diagnosed according to eight primary criteria:
- Poor appetite with weight loss, or increased appetite with weight gain
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Physical hyperactivity or inactivity
- Loss of interest in pleasure in usual activities, or decrease in sexual drive
- Loss of energy and feelings of fatigue
- Feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach or inappropriate guilt
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
The presence of five of these eight symptoms indicates depression; the individual with four is probably depressed. According to the DSM-111, the depressed state must be present for at least one month to be called depression. In many cases, depression is appropriate to a life event, and specific medical treatment is not needed.
It is important to recognize that nutritional, environmental, and lifestyle factors, have a much broader scope of therapeutic application than just to depression, they also contribute to mood disturbances. The biochemistry of mood and behavior has started to become better understood. Many conditions once thought of as only having a psychological or sociological cause are now being shown to have a physiological or biochemical basis as well.
Possible Causes of Depression
Currently, there are four basic theoretical models of depression:
- The aggression-turned-inward construct, which, although apparent in many clinical cases, has, as yet, no substantial proof.
- The loss model, which postulates that depression is a reaction to the loss of a person, thing, status, self-esteem, or even a habit pattern.
- The interpersonal relationship approach, which utilizes behavioral concepts, i.e., the person who is depressed uses depression as a way of controlling other people (including doctors).
- It can be an extension and outgrowth of such simple behavior as pouting, silence, or ignoring something or someone. It fails to serve the need, and the problem worsens.
The biogenic amine hypothesis, which stresses biochemical disorder characterized by imbalances of amino acids. Which form neurotransmitters a compound which transmits information to and from nerve cells. When an individual’s depression is defined by one of the first three theories presented above, counseling should be the primary therapy. These individuals also may benefit from supportive nutritional treatment.
A glance at the scientific details of hormonal problems and depression
The biogenic amine hypothesis has become the primary treatment approach for many practitioners – psychiatrists, allopathic, and naturopaths alike. Many of the anti-depressant drugs and the nutritional treatments employed by physicians are designed to help correct or lessen suspected imbalances in the biogenic amines (serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline). These compounds are also known as monoamines. The amino acid tryptophan serves as the precursor (definition: In biological processes, a substance from which another, usually more active or mature substance is formed. And to serotonin (low serotonin levels are associated with depression) and melatonin. While phenylalanine and tyrosine are precursors to dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. As with most diseases, a general approach to the whole individual must be undertaken before specific therapy is utilized. The approach to a person suffering from any chronic illness is to determine what nutritional, environmental, social, and psychological factors are involved in the disease. After a diagnosis of depression has been made by a physician, it is important to rule out the simple organic factors which are known to contribute to the depression. i.e., nutrient deficiency or excess, drugs (prescribed, illicit, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, etc.), hypoglycemia, hormonal imbalance, allergy, environmental, and microbial factors.
Virtually any nutrient deficiency can result in depression. Many behavioral changes are typically associated with specific vitamin and mineral deficiencies, (a few are, Folic Acid-the most common nutrient deficiency in the world, vitamin B12, Thiamin (vitamin B1), Niacin (vitamin B3), and Pyridoxine (vitamin B6).
Helpful Hints on Minimizing Depression and Mood Swings
Take B complex vitamins
- Take B12, sublingual (under the tongue) (1,000 mcg.)
- Essential fatty acids (e.g., Primrose Oil) – helps lift the spirits because it produces prostaglandins hormone like substances which are key to many chemical processes, including those responsible for depression
- Vitamin C is highly recommended, as it increases resistance, reduces anxiety, and combats fatigue.
- Bioflavonoids enhance the use of vitamin C and similarly treat depression.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains-also can include tofu, beans, and seafood for adequate protein.
Serotonin is a very important brain biochemical and must be present at optimal levels to prevent depression. One natural way of increasing serotonin in the brain is to take the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in high amounts in fish, meat, dairy products, eggs, nuts, and wheat germ. Foods that contain preformed serotonin and help the uptake of tryptophan are bananas, walnuts, and pineapples.
Food allergies, candida infection, parasites, and heavy toxic metals may all have harmful effects on digestion, and hence, tryptophan absorption or utilization. Taking digestive enzymes with meals is a very important step in helping your digestive system break down cooked and processed foods.* A periodic colon, parasite, and liver can dispel toxins, wastes, parasites, pesticides, and heavy metals out of our systems.* Our body can then begin the healing process by assimilating nutrients from foods and supplements more efficiently. Cleansing the body’s organs of undesirable substances can take the stress off specific organs of the body, allowing them to perform their important functions more efficiently.
Depression is often a side effect of drug usage, particularly of substances not often considered drugs, i.e., oral contraceptives, caffeine, and cigarettes (tobacco products or inhalants). Other common medications associated with depression include corticosteroids, beta-blockers, and other blood pressure medications. All these drugs disrupt the normal balances between the monoamines in the brain. The intake of caffeine (coffee, tea, colas, and over-the-counter drugs), stimulants, and analgesics have been positively correlated with the degree of mental illness in psychiatric patients.
The brain is highly dependent on glucose (blood sugar) as an energy source. A drop in blood glucose levels results in the release of hormones, which increase blood sugar levels, i.e., adrenaline, glucagon, cortisol, and growth hormone. It appears that only adrenaline produces the physical symptoms of hypoglycemia -sweating, tremors, increased heart rate, anxiety, and hunger. If the onset of hypoglycemia is sudden, these symptoms predominate. If, however, the beginning is gradual, this solid phase may not be recognized. Instead, symptoms such as dizziness, headache, clouding of vision, blunted mental activity, emotional instability, confusion, and abnormal behavior predominate. Depressed patients do have a higher incidence of hypoglycemia. Correction of any underlying disturbance in glucose metabolism is the first step in treating psychiatric patients.
Hormonal factors in depression
Many hormones are known to influence mood; however, it is beyond the scope of this article to address all of them. Instead, we will only mention some effects of the thyroid and adrenal hormones.
Thyroid function – Low thyroid function and depression are closely tied, but whether the low thyroid function is a result of depression or the depression, a result of small thyroid function remains to be definitively determined. It is probably a combination. Depressive illness is often a first or early manifestation of thyroid disease, as even subtle decreases in available thyroid hormones are suspected of producing symptoms of depression. Depressed patients should be screened for Hypothyroidism, particularly if they complain of fatigue as well.
Adrenal function – Like the thyroid gland, dysfunction of the adrenal gland is closely associated with depression. The psychological effects of the increased adrenal release of cortisol mirror the effects of orally administered corticosteroid drugs – depression, mania, nervousness, insomnia, and schizophrenia. The effects of corticosteroids on mood are related to their shunting of tryptophan away from serotonin synthesis.
The idea that food and environmental allergy can produce psychological symptoms is not a new one. However, Allergies is an idea not generally well accepted by orthodox medical practitioners and is discussed more extensively in lay publications. A few controlled studies document the evidence.
Many environmental factors can produce psychological symptoms, particularly chronic exposure to solvents, pesticides, and heavy metals (i.e., lead, mercury…). Hair mineral analysis is a fairly accurate method of detecting these toxic substances.
Exposure to numerous solvents, such as those used in paints, furniture making, and boat building, has been reported to produce psychological symptoms, including depression. Virtually any toxic chemical or environmental exposure is capable of producing psychological symptoms or mood disorders. The diagnosis of an environmentally induced depression rests largely on a detailed medical history.
Much attention has been focused on the intestinal overgrowth of the yeast Candida Albicans. Virtually every symptom imaginable has been purported to be the result of candidiasis. It may be the causative factor in a wide variety of illnesses, or it may be representative of a deeper disorder, possibly of the immune system or liver. Candida is believed to induce a wide variety of mental and neurological manifestations. These may be due to disturbed intestinal flora or reduced hepatic (liver) cleansing of candidal antigens and by-products.
Monoamine metabolism and precursor therapy in depression
The use of monoamine precursors has offered a more natural way of influencing monoamine metabolisms than prescribed antidepressant drugs like monoamine oxidase inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants. The amino acid tryptophan serves as the precursor to serotonin and melatonin. While phenylalanine and tyrosine are precursors to dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenalin. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in high amounts in fish, some meats, dairy products, eggs, nuts, and wheat germ. People who have trouble digesting high protein foods may not be getting the tryptophan they need from their diets. As a result, brain serotonin levels may get low and lead to depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, mania, anxiety, insomnia, PMS, and eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and obesity. If you take tryptophan, make sure it is balanced by other amino acids (always safer to take low-dosages of amino acids). Tryptophan is made more effective by also supplementing vitamins B3 (niacinamide), B6, and C (including bioflavonoids). Its’ uptake in the brain is enhanced by taking it with a highly complex carbohydrate meal (whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and legumes). Foods that contain preformed serotonin also help brain uptake of tryptophan -these include- bananas, walnuts, and pineapples.
If digestion is poor, digestive enzymes and probiotic supplementation may be beneficial.*
The value of some exercise programs in the therapy of depression cannot be overstated. Exercise has been demonstrated to have a tremendous impact on improving mood and the ability to have a tremendous impact on improving mood and the ability to handle stress. In a recent study, it was found that increased participation in exercise, sports, and physical activities is strongly associated. With decreased symptoms of depression (feelings that life is not worthwhile, low spirits, etc. anxiety, (restlessness, tension, etc.) and malaise (rundown feeling, insomnia, etc.). It appears that exercise, sports, or physical activities, is a critical component of a happy as well as a healthy life.
Dealing With Depression
As is obvious from the above discussion, a full understanding of the causes of depression has not yet been achieved. However, many important, potentially controllable factors have now been identified, and most individuals can be helped. Males are just beginning to identify and understand depression. Never feel shameful about depression. Everyone has bouts of feeling low during their lifetime.
Unnecessary time is wasted by not addressing our depression and dealing with the underlining cause(s). For instance, in some people, an anniversary of a significant emotional trauma can trigger a recurring bout of depression. Depression can begin after returning to work after the holidays, or during the dark, cold winter days, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Sometimes depression is a result of buried feelings of grief or anger that need only be expressed to re-establish balance and dispel depressive moods. A strong sense of duty and responsibility, or perfectionist and controlling tendencies, can cause a burden that becomes too heavy to bear. In the elderly, depression can be particularly problematic, since many factors combine to cause it. These include multiple griefs related to the death of loved ones, isolation, and the inability to be self-sufficient, combined with a typically unhealthy diet and over medication. Many symptoms of depression will occur if the body is struggling to function under extreme fatigue, whether it is due to exhaustion, physical illness, or auto intoxication (the reabsorption of toxins in the body)