A look at how antidepressants work, why we get depressed and what can be done with natural supplementation.
At the same time Tom Cruise was fighting with Matt Lauer on NBC concerning the value of psychiatrists and antidepressants, the FDA was quietly issuing a labeling directive that supported at least part of Tom’s position. (It will be interesting to see if Matt Lauer ever mentions it.)
In fact, the FDA has finally recognized the hazardous effects of antidepressants and has recommended manufacturers of every kind of drug — from Paxil to Prozac to Zoloft — add warning labels on their products. The new warning label in packaging will read:
“Antidepressants increased the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in short-term studies in children and adolescents with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and other psychiatric disorders. Anyone considering the use of [Insert established name] or any other antidepressant in a child or adolescent must balance this risk with the clinical need. Patients who are started on therapy should be observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, or unusual changes in behavior.”
This is major news — we all know how difficult it is to force most pharmaceutical companies to add any additional warnings on their products. The FDA should be congratulated for finally taking this step. However, one might ask why they didn’t act 10 years ago when the evidence was just as compelling. How many have needlessly died over the last 10 years because the FDA, and in fact the governmental agencies of most countries, failed to buck the pressure applied by the pharmaceutical companies to downplay the risks associated with antidepressants.
The topic of antidepressants is particularly important in terms of overall public safety because the violent side-effects caused by some of these drugs impacts more than just those on the drugs. An example is when you have children on antidepressants killing teachers at school and/or their own family members. Although this obviously does not occur in all cases, and it does not suggest that anyone on an antidepressant will kill their loved ones, there are nevertheless enough cases to cause concern, especially with children.
Let’s look at the studies that led the FDA to take action
The new warnings were the result of several placebo-controlled studies that involved 9 antidepressant drugs (SSRIs and others) in children and adolescents with major depressive disorder (MDD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or other psychiatric disorders (a total of 24 trials involving over 4400 patients). As a side note, SSRIs are “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors,” a specific type of antidepressant that pharmaceutical companies have developed to “manage the symptoms” associated with stress and depression. You might know them as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox, Celexa, Effexor and Serzone.
The combined results gave conclusive evidence that patients on antidepressants were at greater risk of suicidal thinking or behavior (suicidality) during the first few months of treatment than those on the placebo. In fact, the risk of suicidal behavior when taking the drugs was double compared to a placebo!
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What the FDA pointedly avoided studying was the well documented relationship between the use of antidepressants and violence toward “others.” The following is just a sampling of some of the more “infamous” stories you might recognize:
- July 2004 – Emiri Padron was on Zoloft when she smothered her 10-month-old daughter with a stuffed animal and then stabbed herself.
- April 1999 – Eric Harris, while on Luvox, an SSRI, masterminded the killing of 12 students and a teacher in Columbine. He and his partner then shot themselves.
- June 1998 – Brynn Hartmann, the actor Phil Hartmann’s wife, was on Zoloft when she shot her husband and committed suicide.
- May 1998 – Kip Kinkle, age 15 living in Oregon, was taking Prozac when he killed four people, including his own parents, and wounded 22 more.
- March 1998 – Matthew Beck went on a bloody rampage at his office, the Connecticut Lottery Corp. headquarters, killing four senior lottery officials before committing suicide. He was on 2 antidepressants, including Luvox.
- Oct 1997 – Luke Woodham was also on an SSRI, when he killed three people, including his mother, and wounded six others.
These horrifying stories are only a fraction of the incidents reported monthly. Supporting evidence shows a trend. One study showed that antidepressants cause mania and delusions of grandeur in one out of every 25 children taking these drugs. Even more shocking, in 70% of all murder/suicides involving women and children, the women were on SSRIs. And keep in mind, those drugs are supposed to “enhance” mood! (I guess it all depends on what your definition of enhance is.) With many children under the age of 3 already on Prozac, we may have only seen the barest hint of where this problem is truly headed. Oh yes, and now you can even buy special kid-friendly “flavored” antidepressants. “What a world! What a world!”
To be objective, antidepressants are important for some people in special cases such as those diagnosed with severe schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other severe mental disorders — or those who refuse to take any other steps to correct their problems. These mental illnesses are so debilitating that the risks associated with the drugs may be worth it. But for the majority of us who suffer from the typical daily disappointments in our lives, short periods of depression are common and can usually be eliminated through various remedies with minimal side effects. At least, we should think twice before we simply pop a pill. To brag that we are a “Prozac Nation” is not only sad; it’s dangerous.
Why do we get depressed in the first place?
Depression is the body’s way of forcing us to recognize that something is wrong. For a simplified explanation, if you set your hand on a hot burner, it burns the skin and sends painful signals to the brain, reminding us to remove our hand. Similarly, when we suffer a deeply emotional trauma or situation, the brain tells us to fix the problem and sends your brain “alerts” through a series of emotion reactions, one being depression. If the alerts continue, one can fall deeper into a depressed state until action is taken to prevent further emotional trauma.
It seems, however, that today’s psychiatric community is too “impatient” to encourage us to go through this process naturally. According to health experts, they now define “major depression” as someone having “the blues” for more than two weeks. Right!! If anyone has had a death in the family, a major illness, a mid-sized financial set-back, or an emotional break-up — which includes the entire population — then according to health experts, all of us should be on antidepressant drugs at some point in our lives. (Geez, that should be good for sales.) The bottom line is that getting over a major life-altering situation in just two weeks is the exception rather than the rule.
Hey, if any of you are on antidepressants, or were at some time, it’s not hard to understand why. Doctors and the mass media scare us with their statements such as “depression is associated with abnormal functioning of the brain.” We are then bombarded with all the details about the deficient neurotransmitters in the brain and our dysfunctional synaptic cleft. Ahh! “Sounds like brain damage. Sure, give me some pills…quickly!” Wait a minute. They forgot to explain that we still have no conclusive evidence as to why people have the chemical imbalances in the first place. Did our brain just suddenly change or were there outside circumstances that caused it? Did our thoughts, reactions, and emotions cause the imbalance? Were nutritional factors involved? Did we suddenly experience a major hormonal change such as PMS or Post Partum Depression? If so, nine times out of ten there are other remedies available besides drugs — remedies that do not share the devastating side effects associated with those drugs.
Instead of automatically popping a pill when we are sad, perhaps we should find ways to correct the underlying problem in our bodies so it can heal itself. It may take a true leap of faith, especially when the mind wants to focus on the negative, but the success after the fight of making ourselves content might be worth it. As some say, being happy is a choice! The more you work at it, the better you get.
I want to reiterate that this does not mean we should look at any problem as insignificant or that ignoring a feeling of sadness, confusion, exhaustion, or lack of interest in daily activities is going to make the feelings go away. Actually, ignoring depression could simply exacerbate the problem. An emotional injury is like a physical injury: it takes time and attention to heal. A walk on the beach, a laugh with a friend, or simply taking a deep breath can go a long way. We can also follow certain, more natural remedies to help our bodies heal. These include dietary modifications, daily exercise, supportive treatment with vitamins and minerals, and selective supplementation.
Vitamin and Mineral Therapy
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause depression and correcting these deficiencies is often a safe, fast, and inexpensive way to relieving depression. Note: alcohol, smoking, stress, and excess sugar accelerate the depletion of many key antidepressive vitamins and minerals from the body, as does depression itself. Isn’t that a kick in the head: depression begets depression? Deficiencies in any of the following vitamins and minerals can contribute significantly to depression:
- Vitamin B6
- Folic acid
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Trace minerals
Supplementing with amino acids is also a way to help relieve depression. These include:
- SAMe. S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine (SAMe) is a naturally occurring amino acid found in every cell of the body. It has a wide range of benefits including protecting the liver and cardiovascular system. In addition, it has antidepressant action equal to and faster than FDA-approved drugs, and is essential for the synthesis of melatonin. It also assists with sleep disorders, particularly those which are induced by the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs.
- Phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is an amino acid that is used by the body to make the neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is believed to be in short supply in the brains of people who are depressed. There is some evidence that taking in extra phenylalanine allows the brain to make more norepinephrine. There are several studies that indicate that phenylalanine may work as well as antidepressant drugs. Although the studies are inconclusive, the anecdotal evidence is strong, and there are virtually no known side effects, so it’s worth trying.
- Theanine. Anxiety is a close cousin to depression, and the two often go hand in hand. Many people report that L-theanine works as well as prescription anti-anxiety medications, but L-theanine is not addictive or habit-forming.
- 5-HTP. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is an amino acid that occurs naturally in the body and is the final step in the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. 5-HTP is special in that it can cross the blood brain barrier. It is extracted from the seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia, an African tree that is grown mostly in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The extraction process uses alcohol and produces an oily solid. The oily extract is then purified into a dry solid. 5-HTP can also be made synthetically in the laboratory. The final product is the same as the one made by the body. 5-HTP has gained huge popularity in the treatment of insomnia, depression and obesity (among other uses). Today, 5-hydroxytrptophan is considered a safe and effective treatment for these conditions.
For the vast majority of people bothered by stress or depression, a well designed herbal formula made from high quality herbs can prove remarkably effective. Look for an herbal formula that contains herbs such as:
- St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) as a standardized extract and is licensed in Germany and other European countries as a treatment for mild to moderate depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. Sometimes called “Nature’s Prozac,” St. John’s wort helps relieve stress, anxiety, and tension. In Germany, it is the most popular antidepressant, outselling Prozac 3-1.
More than 20 clinical studies have been completed using several different St. John’s wort extracts. Most have shown antidepressant action equal to standard prescription antidepressant drugs, without the side effects. St. John’s Wart is now being studied in the first U.S. government-sanctioned clinical trial, a three-year study sponsored by the Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, based in Washington, D.C.
Probably the greatest testament to its efficacy is how it has been attacked in the press as “dangerous.” The case against it is that it seems to heighten the dangers associated with MAO1 inhibitors, if you are currently using such drugs. But this is a marvelous piece of propaganda double-speak that transfers the danger from the antidepressants, where they belong, to St. John’s wort, which merely brings those dangers to the fore. George Orwell would be proud!
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) extract is currently being used as an alternative for elderly patients with depression resistance to standard drug therapy. This is because depression is often an early sign of cognitive decline and cerebrovascular insufficiency in elderly patients. In one study, 40 patients, ages 51 to 78, with a diagnosis of resistant depression, were randomized to receive either Ginkgo biloba extract or placebo for eight weeks. Patients in the ginkgo group received 80 mg of the extract three times daily. During the study, patients remained on their antidepressant drugs. In patients treated with ginkgo, there was a decline in the median Hamilton Depression Scale scores from 14 to 7 after four weeks. This score further reduced to 4.5 after eight weeks. There was a one-point reduction in the placebo group after eight weeks. In addition to the significant improvement in symptoms of depression for the ginkgo group, there was also a noted improvement in overall cognitive function. No side effects were reported.
- Valerian root. For centuries, Valerian has been used to treat nervous tension and panic attacks. A wonderful herb, Valerian is calming and quieting to the nervous system.
- Kava kava is the herb of choice to relax the body, relieve stress, to combat mild to moderate anxiety, and for relief from headache and back pain. Kava is now recognized by many doctors as an alternative to drugs like Xanax and Valium. (And, as might be expected for something that works so well, Kava kava is under false attack.)
- Lobelia is an extremely powerful anti-spasmodic and a sedative. It helps improve breathing dramatically by dilating the bronchial tubes — great for asthmatics.
- Passionflower is remarkably effective as a sedative to calm nerves that get on edge.
- Black Cohosh. First used by the American Indians, Black Cohosh works to soothe the body by reducing the rapidity of the pulse. Black Cohosh also works internally to help soothe any nervous disease or spasm.
- Skullcap, Hops, and Catnip. Three herbs that have a long history as marvelously effective herbal tranquilizers, sedatives, and sleep aids.
- Mulungu. Researchers have validated the traditional use of Mulungu for anxiety and stress, where it was shown to alter anxiety-related responses.
And let’s not forget about hormones.
This is particularly important since women experience clinical depression twice as often as men. Over the years I have been recommending progesterone crème to women, it has picked up the nickname from many of them: “The Happy Crème.” Any time progesterone levels drop such as during the monthly cycle, immediately after giving birth, or all the time if you are in a state of estrogen dominance, depression is a likely result. Using a good progesterone crème can provide an almost instant turnaround in attitude.
And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about post partum depression. It’s real. During the weeks leading up to birth, progesterone levels have soared to levels 10-20 times normal. No wonder women seem to glow during pregnancy. But immediately after birth, progesterone levels plunge to almost zero. No wonder so many women experience extreme, even psychotic levels of depression. Simple supplementation with progesterone crème will resolve the depression over 90% of the time. In fact, any doctor who recommends antidepressants for post partum depression without trying progesterone crème first, should be named as an unindicted co-conspirator since they truly share the blame for any psychotic incidents that may result.
A growing body of evidence suggests that testosterone levels drop as much as 40% in men between their early 40s and early 70s. And for 10 to 15 percent of all men, those levels will dip below normal even as early as their 30s if there is stress, depression, personal life changes or medications. This in turn causes a decrease, not only in sexual desire and performance, but also in the competitive drive to succeed and accomplish in life — which is frequently experienced as depression. In women, excessive estrogen in the body causes a reduction in testosterone levels, which leads to a similar decline in sexual desire and performance and a similar reduction in “life drive.” Again, frequently experienced as depression.
In conclusion, depression can be common, but should not be taken lightly. A good, healthy program of daily exercise (which stimulates endorphins), low sugar foods, replacing depleted vitamins and minerals, and proper supplementation can go a long way to helping us feel better. And, it is not a bad idea to tell friends and family who have kids on antidepressants that simple dietary changes and supplementation may be all that’s needed. Lastly, the mind is a powerful tool, and for those who are going through hard times, and if you haven’t already done so, you might want to read Chapter 15 of Lessons from the Miracle Doctors (you can download a free copy at www.jonbarron.org/detox/book-free-lessons-miracle-doctors) to see how you can reprogram the mind so that it more positively affects your body. And no matter what happens, remember: bad times eventually pass!