Nutrition and Diet
Some amino acids have properties similar to neurotransmitters. This makes them useful in treating anxiety and depression.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is a natural antianxiety chemical and is often found in low levels in depressed people. L-tryptophan is a precursor to the synthesis of serotonin, and so it too is vital for combating depression and maintaining emotional balance. Tyrosine is a precursor of norepinephrine and dopamine, two neurochemicals that are involved in mood. D-phenylalanine is another important amino acid that has been associated with depression.
DLPA, or phenylalanine, is an amino acid found to be effective for treating depression. It is a precursor (directly on the formative pathway) to nor- epinephrine, one of the main neurotransmitters that govern mood.
In one study, more than 75 percent of people with severe depression showed rapid improvement while taking supplements of phenylalanine and vitamin B6. Food sources for this are: sunflower seeds, black beans, watercress and soybeans.
Recommended dosage: Begin with 500 mg (one capsule) two times daily, on an empty stomach with juice. This can gradually be increased by 500 mg per day to two or three capsules, three times daily.
For maximum effect, it is best to take 50 mg of vitamin B-6 at the same time, as well as niacin, 500 mg per day, and one gram of vitamin C. Vitamin B-6 is particularly important in regulating the absorption, metabolism, and utilization of amino acids.
Caution: With both DLPA and L-tyrosine (described below.), you need to be watchful for increased blood pressure, headaches, or insomnia. These side effects are indications that an excessive stimulation of the nervous system has occurred. Do not take these amino acids if you are currently taking standard antidepressant medications. Do not take these amino acids if you are suffering from any of the following conditions: phenylketonuria (pKU), hepatic cirrhosis, or melanoma.
Melatonin is helpful for some cases of seasonal affective disorder. Some experts believe the body's melatonin mechanism is involved in this form of depression. Melatonin can also be helpful if you are having problems with insomnia.
Dosage: Take 3 milligrams each evening, between one-half hour and two hours before retiring for the night.
S-adenosyl- L-methionine (SAM or SAMe)
SAMe is an excellent supplement for depression. This amino-acid derivative is comparable to prescription antidepressants in their action, but without the side effects.
SAMe has been studied for decades internationally and is approved as a prescription drug in Spain, Italy, Russia and Germany. More than 1 million Europeans have used it, primarily for depression and arthritis. It is often touted as a depression remedy that is nontoxic, without side effects, and better and faster than traditional medications.
SAMe is produced in the body from methionine, a sulfur- containing amino acid, and the energy- producing compound adenosine triphosphate (ATP). SAM-e ranks with ATP as a pivotal molecule in living cells. It is distributed throughout the body; but it is most concentrated in the brain and liver.
SAM is involved in the methylation of monoamines, neurotransmitters, and phospholipids such as phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine. Normally, the brain manufactures all the SAM it needs from the amino acid methionine. However, SAM synthesis is impaired in depressed patients.
Supplementing the diet with SAMe in depressed patients results in increased levels of serotonin and dopamine and improved binding of neurotransmitters to receptor sites. This causes increased serotonin and dopamine activity and improved brain cell membrane fluidity, resulting in significant clinical improvement.
The results of a number of clinical studies suggest that SAMe is one of the most effective natural antidepressants. SAMe is also better tolerated and has a quicker onset of antidepressant action than tricyclic antidepressants.
A recent study compared SAMe to the tricyclic desipramine. In addition to clinical response, the blood level of SAMe was determined in both groups. At the end of the four- week trial, sixty two percent of the patients treated with SAMe and fifty percent of the patients treated with desipramine had significantly improved. Regardless of the type of treatment, patients with a fifty-percent decrease in their Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HDS) score showed a significant increase in plasma SAMe concentration. These results suggest that one of the ways in which tricyclic drugs exert antidepressive effects is by raising SAMe levels.
Folate, B12 and B6 are necessary for efficient use of SAMe. SAMe has been effective for treating major depressive disorder in 13 trials comparing it to placebo and 19 trials comparing it to tricyclic antidepressants, with more than 1,400 patients studied.
No significant side effects have been reported from the use of oral
Treatment for severe depression requires higher doses. Unipolar patients are given 800 mg or 1600 mg per day.
Caution: Do not take SAMe if you suffer from bipolar (manic) depression. Because of SAMe's antidepressant activity, individuals with bipolar depression are susceptible to experiencing hypomania or mania. This effect is exclusive to some individuals with bipolar depression.
Research has found that TMG is converted into SAM in the body. TMG is less expensive than SAM.
Tyrosine is an important amino acid that stimulates the production of norepinephrine, a hormone that is essential to the central nervous system. This nutrient is especially important for the depressed individual who is feeling excessive fatigue. The B-complex vitamins, particularly vitamin B6, allow the body to metabolize amino acids.
Foods containing tyrosine include eggs, green beans, lean meat, peas, seafood, aged natural cheese, seaweed, skim milk, tofu, whole wheat bread, and yogurt.
Dosage: 1,000 to 3,000 milligrams of the amino acid L-tyrosine first thing in the morning (on an empty stomach), followed by a B-complex vitamin supplement 30 minutes later, with breakfast.
Warning: If you are taking a monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor drug or antidepressant, do not take supplemental tyrosine. A dangerous elevation in blood pressure may result when they are used in combination. Also do not take St. John's Wort with this amino acid.
Serotonin and Tryptophan
Serotonin is a very important brain biochemical and must be present at optimal levels to prevent depression.
Tryptophan supplementation increases the levels of serotonin and melatonin in the brain. Many depressed individuals have been found to have low tryptophan and serotonin levels. European studies have shown that L-tryptophan is of value in relieving depression. Unfortunately, other studies have given mixed results as to the effectiveness of tryptophan in depression.
Tryptophan is only modestly effective in the treatment of depression when used alone. In order to gain any real benefit from tryptophan, it must be used along with vitamin B6 and the niacinamide form of vitamin B3 to help block the kynurenine pathway to provide better results. Tryptophan manufacture is susceptible to contamination risk. The use of 5-HTP is more effective than the use of tryptophan for depression.
Tryptophan is found in certain foods, such as milk, turkey, chicken, fish, cooked dried beans and peas, brewer's yeast, peanut butter, nuts, and soybeans. Eat plenty of these foods together with a carbohydrate (potatoes, pasta, rice), which will ease the brain's uptake of tryptophan. Foods such as bananas, walnuts and pineapples are a good source of serotonin.
Recommended dosage: For depressive symptoms, take 2 grams (2,000 mg) of tryptophan two or three times daily. It should be taken between meals, with fruit or juice (simple sugars) to improve its utilization. It should not be taken with a protein meal, because tryptophan competes poorly with other amino acids for absorption. To convert tryptophan to serotonin, the body must have adequate levels of folic acid, vitamin B-6, magnesium, niacin, and glutamine.
5-HTP is one step closer to serotonin lineage than tryptophan. Hence, it is preferred for the treatment of depression (versus tryptophan).
Advantages of 5-HTP over Tryptophan
Numerous double-blind studies have shown that 5- HTP has equal effectiveness compared to drugs like Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressant drugs like imipramine and desipramine in terms of effectiveness.
Advantages of 5-HTP over antidepressants
Dosage: 100 to 200 mg twice daily between meals.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
An insufficiency of omega-3 oils in the diet has been linked to depression. Scientists believe that a lack of essential fatty acids (particularly the omega-3 oils) combined with an excess of saturated fats and animal fatty acids can lead to the formation of cell membranes that are much less fluid than normal. This will disrupt the cell's ability to control its internal environment.
Studies have shown that the physical properties of brain cell membranes, including their fluidity, directly influence:
All of these factors have been implicated in depression and other psychological disturbances.
Evening primrose oil
The essential fatty acids in evening primrose oil provide additional nutrients to cope with depression. Evening primrose oil lifts the spirits because it produces Prostaglandins, hormone- like substances which are key to many chemical processes, including those responsible for depression.
Dosage: 1,000 mg three times daily.
Other effective nutritional antidepressants include lithium, rubidium, phenylalanine, and tryptophan.
Hypoglycemia and Depression
Depression can result from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), a condition characterized by fluctuating emotions from extreme highs to extreme lows. Hypoglycemia is caused by too much sugar in the diet. To balance this extreme surge of blood sugar the pancreas overproduces insulin. This drastically lowers the blood sugar level, causing fatigue, depression, and anxiety .
If you suffer from hypoglycemia, avoid sugar, alcohol, coffee, and fruits with a high sugar content. Fresh vegetables, whole grains, miso soup, sprouts, and seaweed are excellent foods that balance the above substances.
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