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Experiencing More Depression? Here Are 5 Natural Approaches to Fight It

By Melissa Anzelone, ND

In this article:


Depression is a mood disorder where people experience feelings of sadness, loneliness, and loss of interest for long periods. In the world, as many as 1 in 10 people report symptoms of depression or depressive moods.

‌‌‌‌Symptoms of Depression

Depression can lead to many symptoms including:

  • Loss of Interest in Normal Activities 
  • Feeling Sad
  • Changes in Appetite
  • Feeling Guilty
  • Reporting Daily Activities "Take A Lot Of Effort" 
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Sleeping Too Much 
  • Irrational Reactions 
  • Angry Outbursts
  • Difficulty Concentrating or Making Decisions
  • Unexplained (Nonphysical) Pain

‌‌‌‌What Causes Depression?

There are many contributing factors to depression. Some people with depressive symptoms could have physical changes in their brain, perhaps from a stroke, long-term alcohol use, or traumatic brain injury from an accident.

Changes in hormones may also contribute to symptoms of depression, an increase or decrease of thyroid hormone, sex hormones, glucocorticoids like our stress hormone cortisol, or insulin/glucagon—the hormones that manage how we break down sugar for energy.

Life changes can also trigger depression. For example, the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, financial stress, or trauma are all common events know to trigger these symptoms. If a close relative has depressive episodes, you may have a genetic predisposition to developing depressive moods as well.

Chemical imbalances may also be to blame. Your brain's function is carefully controlled by a balance of chemicals known as neurotransmitters. These chemicals carry signals through your brain and into your body. If the levels of these chemicals change, symptoms of depression may occur.

Natural Approaches to Depression

Researchers have studied numerous herbs, supplements, and vitamins to determine if they can benefit people with depression.

‌‌‌‌1. St. John's Wort and Depression Management

Hypericum perforatum (St. John's wort) is a shrubby herb with yellow flowers. It grows wild through Europe, parts of Asia, parts of Africa, and the western United States. St. John's wort has been used for centuries and may support a variety of different health conditions, including the management of depressive symptoms.

The chemical composition of St. John's wort has been well-studied, and current research supports the traditional use of the plant. Properties of this botanical may include antidepressive, antiviral, and antibacterial effects.

These properties are attributable to chemical compounds like hypericin and flavonoid constituents. Hyperforin is one of the major components of St. John's wort that may be responsible for its antidepressant activity. Hyperforin has been shown to be an uptake inhibitor of neurotransmitters like 5-HT, dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA. This supports the chemical balance in the brain, addressing one of the causes of depressive symptoms.

The flowers are used to create the supplement, and it often comes in the form of teas, tablets, and capsules.

‌‌‌‌2. SAM-e and Chemical Balance

S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM-e) is a compound made naturally by the body that plays a role in many vital functions. In the brain, SAM-e helps produce neurotransmitters serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that can help to regulate mood, happiness, and anxiety.

This compound is found in every living cell of the body and is formed from an essential amino acid or protein building block, methionine, and adenosine triphosphate. SAM-e has many functions, including methylation, which is how it controls the synthesis of neurotransmitters.

Methylation in the body is a chemical process by which a chemical group consisting of one carbon and three hydrogen molecules is added to another chemical group. SAM-e is the donor of that methyl group. Imagine SAM-e is the parent dropping off its kid (methyl group) to the chemical compound (bus). Once the methyl group has been dropped off, it is attached to a chemical compound that becomes a neurotransmitter, or it can deactivate neurotransmitters. These SAM-e-dependent methylation reactions are also required in the synthesis and inactivation of neurotransmitters (such as noradrenaline, adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, and histamine). 

In other words, SAM-e can support the chemical balance in the brain.

‌‌‌‌3. 5-HTP and Brain Serotonin Levels

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a chemical the body makes from tryptophan, another amino acid, or protein building block. Tryptophan is found naturally in some foods like turkey, chicken, milk, seaweedsunflower seeds, turnip and collard greens, potatoes, and pumpkins. The body takes this amino acid from food and turns it into 5-HTP.

5-HTP is the precursor to the essential amino acid L-tryptophan, which is key to the synthesis of serotonin. The enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase converts L-tryptophan into 5-HTP. Tryptophan hydroxylase can be inhibited by numerous factors, including stress, improper sugar regulation, and vitamin B6 or magnesium deficiencies. 

So if any of these factors are present, the body may have a difficult time making serotonin. Decreased levels of serotonin, or an imbalance in the chemicals of the brain, may lead to depression. 

5-HTP may help to raise your brain's serotonin levels, helping to support the chemical balance in the brain. 5-HTP is also available as a supplement made from the seeds of the Griffonia simplicifolia, an African plant.

‌‌‌‌4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Energy

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, meaning they contain more than one double chemical bond.

Omega-3 fatty acids are scarce in most diets. Factory farming of domesticated animals (including fish) has led to changes in the animal diet composition, creating products with lower omega-3 fatty acid contents than those produced earlier.

Omega-3 fatty acids are known to be essential for healthy metabolism or proper breakdown of our food for energy. There are other types of fatty acids, besides Omega-3, including omega-6. For the ideal function, the omega-6 to omega-3 fat ratio must be 4:1. The average diet, high in processed foods, will increase someone's omega-6 intake, pushing the ratio to 10:1, or even as high as 50:1. This may affect the chemical balance and normal function of the brain.

Omega-3 fatty acids supplements can come from plant or animal sources. When omega-3 fatty acids are sourced from fish, they are called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The omega-3 fatty acids derived from plant sources are called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids are most often recommended for people with depression.

‌‌‌‌5. Vitamin D and Depressive Symptoms

Vitamin D has been tied to many health benefits, including bone, immune, and cardiovascular fitness. Your body makes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to UV light. Most people are vitamin D deficient as technology and computer-centered jobs and activities keep us indoors.

 You can also get vitamin D from foods like dairy products, sardines, and eggs. Supplementing with vitamin D is an easy way to obtain this essential nutrient. There have been correlations with low levels of vitamin D and depressive symptoms.

The imbalance of chemicals in the brain associated with depression is correlated with an increase in calcium ions (charged particles) inside neurons of the brain. When calcium ions are high, this prevents the release of certain neurotransmitters. Vitamin D is theorized to reduce the number of calcium ions, allowing levels of neurotransmitters to rebalance.

While depressive episodes are common all over the world, we luckily can support those struggling in a healthy, natural way.

References:

  1. McCarter, T. Depression Overview. Am Health Drug Benefits. 2008 Apr; 1(3): 44-51.
  2. Barnes, J., Anderson, L.A., and Phillipson, J.D., St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum): a review of its chemistry, pharmacology and clinical properties. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2001;53(5):583-600.
  3. Teodoro, B. S-Adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe): from the bench to the bedside—molecular basis of a pleiotrophic molecule. Am Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2002; 76(5): 1151S-1157S.
  4. Birdsall, T.C. 5-Hydroxytryptophan: A Clinically-Effective Serotonin Precursor. Altern Med Rev. 1998;3(4):271-80.
  5. Wani, L. Ahmad, S., Bhat, I et al. Omega-3 fatty acids and the treatment of depression: a review of scientific evidence. Integr Med Res. 2015; 4(3): 132-141.
  6. Berridge, M.J. Vitamin D and Depression: Cellular and Regulatory Mechanisms. Pharmacol Rev. 2017;69(2):80-92.

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