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Articles on Anxiety & Depression

Depression, Hormones & Brain Chemistry

Are you depressed?  Are you tired of taking antidepressants?  Do you wonder am I really depressed? Am I just hooked on antidepressants?  Are these drugs really the solution for me?  I deeply relate to this topic.  I have talked to so many women all over the United States and actually over the world, and depression in women has become almost epidemic. Many of you, men and women, but particularly women have ended up taking antidepressant drugs.  As a matter of fact, there is a specific drug that became a $2.66-billion industry in the United States alone and that was in 2008.  So, we know that today it is probably worse. What’s going on?

Sometimes we are depressed because we have a legitimate reason to be depressed.  Our child has been in an accident, we have lost our job, our house has gone into foreclosure, a divorce, financial worries.  Sometimes women will get very depressed when their children have left for college.  And if you have a reason that you are depressed and you specifically know this is why I'm depressed, then perhaps your can realize that this is going to pass and maybe I don't need to go on a drug that's going to cause me significant side effects.  However, we notice in our experiences with women all over the U.S., if you go to a doctor and tell him or her that you are depressed you will most likely receive a prescription for an anti-depressant. We know because everyday we talk to at least one woman where this has happened.

Mild depressive symptoms ebb and flow.  Major depressive symptoms spiral downward.  You keep going down, down, down.  There is never any ebb.  You are never having a glimmer of light and you can get very dark thoughts, and for those people prescription drugs can be extremely important.  However, a lot of depression in women over the age of 20 is hormonal and can be helped with hormone balance. 

Former Chief of Staff Karl Rove, on a major talk show, was talking about his mother who committed suicide when she was in her 40s.  And the interviewer said, "Well, Karl what do you think happened?"  And he looked at the interviewer and he said, "I don't know.  I think she just didn't have any hope."  Think about. She was young, she was in her 40s.  What if that was hormonal and could have been helped?  

You could be feeling depressed because your hormones are low or your serotonin levels are low or both!  Also, many prescription drugs can actually cause depression in both men and women.  Environmental influences can also cause depression; specifically toxins in the environment.

You are not alone if you are suffering from depression, but, ironically, that is one of the isolating factors.  You think you ARE alone which makes you feel worse.  Guess what? The World Health Organization estimates that 5% to 10% of the entire population is depressed at any given moment.  So, the moment  that you are depressed, 10% of the rest of the people in the world are also going through depression.  Does that mean we all need to be on a potent antidepressant drug or does it mean that maybe the environmental toxins are affecting us in the way we eat and our stress that is affecting us?  If that is what it is, it can be helped naturally.

There are some really, really popular drugs  for depression and we know how many of you are on them.  Billions and billions of dollars  are being spent.  Here's how it seems to work, especially with women.  You don't feel right, something is off, You don't have your joy for life, you feel that when you get up in the morning you do not have the energy to even face the day. You are crying at the slightest thing, for no real reason.  You just want this feeling to end and if a pill will do it, I will take the pill. 

This is a story that might help you. My sister, who had turned 50,  called me and said, "Barb I just can't get going anymore.  I have just lost it.  I think I am just getting old and I am tired of life.  I am so depressed.  She is only 50 years old.  She is a baby in God's eyes.   I said, "It may be that you  need to get your hormones adjusted."  She lives in New York and she made an appointment to see a doctor about her hormones. She told the doctor that  she was depressed and she thought it was her hormones.  She called me  when she came home, and guess what, she was given a choice of Effexor or Lexapro.  And I said, "Well, what about your hormones?”  She said, he did not mention anything about them, I guess I will try these.  I went to the drug store and I filled them."  So, this is the mindset of the medical community: the doctor has  a woman in front of him or her who is feeling depressed, not feeling right, crying.  They want to fix it. They do want to help you, but the first line of defense in many cases is to give  the antidepressant.   Why else would this industry be so prosperous?  So, off my sister went.  She took the pills for a year.  She was in New York, I am  in California, and I am putting cold compresses on my head that my sister is on antidepressants for what I believe is hormones.  Eventually, she got tired of them; said she felt like a zombie, tired all the time.  She finally got on bioidentical hormones and she got better!  So that is something that possibly could be happening to you. 

There is also an area of controversy as to whether antidepressant drugs really work for mild to moderate depression. Many have been done that show that antidepressant drugs are no better than a placebo in these cases. In a very detailed analysis published in a British medical journal concerning the efficacy of antidepressants in adults, the experts concluded that the drugs did not have a clinically meaningful advantage over the placebo. 

You can find these studies yourself on the internet.

There is hope for those of you who are saying "I do not want to be on the drugs, but I guess they are my only choice.”  There is hope that other things can work for you.  It is common knowledge that people who are depressed most often have low levels of serotonin.  The symptoms of  low  serotonin are depression, impatience,  short attention span, craving sweets and high carb foods, and insomnia.

The vast majority of antidepressants are called SSRIs; drugs which help to keep the serotonin levels that you already have in your brain active. It recycles them.  So, you keep going round and round with the same serotonin that you already have.  The drugs do not do anything to raise the serotonin levels, but they do keep your serotonin at a somewhat even keel. 

If you begin an SSRI antidepressant, here are  the common side effects: Nausea, headaches, anxiety and nervousness, insomnia, drowsiness, diarrhea, dry mouth, loss of appetite, sweating and tremor, and rash.  A very, very common side effect which is not often told to you prior to being given the drug is WEIGHT GAIN!  I believe that the reason we are not told is that women would then not take the prescription.  Many would say, "I'd rather be depressed than gain 20 pounds." 

The most popular drugs, in case you do not know if your drug is an antidepressant are Prozac, Celexa, Paxil, Lexapro, Zoloft, Effexor, Cymbalta, and Wellbutrin.  However, you do not need to boost your serotonin levels with a drug if the reason you're depressed is low serotonin levels.  You can boost that naturally!

There is a supplement called 5-HTP, (5-hydroxytryptophan) which has been shown to produce significant benefits for depression. It is also good, by the way, for weight loss, headaches, and fibromyalgia. The recommended starting dose is 50 mg one 3 times per day. If you are already on an antidepressant, you cannot just add 5-HTP because you can get what we called serotonin poisoning wherein serotonin levels become  too high.  So, you would have to wean somehow off your antidepressant according to your doctors instructions. If you are not already taking an antidepressant and feeling depressed, you can take 5-HTP.

New research shows that the hormonal supplement DHEA could help relieve mild to moderate depression in middle age individuals. A small study with DHEA treatment resulted in a 50% reduction in depression symptoms in half of the participants. Researches say that in “in 50% of depressed outpatients who do not respond to first-line antidepressant treatments, or those unwilling to take traditional antidepressants, DHEA may have a useful role in the treatment of mild to moderate severe midlife-onset major and minor depression.”

What else is good? Essential fatty acids are proven to help depression.  L-theanine is also proven to help depression and that is found in green tea.  So, you could just sip green tea all day long or take a supplement with L-theanine in it.  Another step you could take to lift your spirits is to  eliminate sugar!  And another supplement that is very, very good  is called St. John's Wort.  In Germany doctors give  St. John's Wort out for depression eight times more frequently than Prozac. As a matter of fact, several double-blinds studies have shown it is more effective for moderate cases of depression.  SAM-e is also excellent for depression.  For depression coupled with anxiety, GABA can be very helpful.  Also, increasing the protein in your diet can alleviate depression!

What about hormones? 
Hormonal imbalance can making women feel depressed in their 20s!  Studies on PMS show that a woman’s serotonin levels are lower in the two weeks prior to her period.  So, now, she is depressed and she is going to go in and tell her doctor, "There is something wrong with me."  Well, the doctor will often prescribe an antidepressant, and as we discussed, those have side effects.  Now, you've got a 25-year-old girl who can't sleep, who is gaining weight, who has got dry mouth, and by the way, one of the saddest side effects of the very drug that is supposed to make you feel better, bring back your joy, make you live a normal life, is loss of libido.  So, now, you're on an antidepressant, you're walking around, not quite feeling yourself and you have lost your desire for your spouse. Balancing estrogen and progesterone levels can often restore the sense of well being that you are seeking.

Here are a couple of other things that you can do. First, proper sleep is very important.  Second, you've got to manage your stress. Put some of the things that you are doing to the side.  Break your large task into small ones, set some priorities, do what you can do, and stop at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, whatever time it is that you set for yourself. You are going to stop because that is your “done” time.  Do not work up to 9 o'clock at night, trying to get the laundry done. Stop and do something enjoyable.  I want you to do some mild exercise, even if you just walk.  I'm a naturopath;  I'm probably  supposed to be out there  with those medicine balls and those free weights and the treadmill. Instead, I just walk, and actually, I walk on the slow side.  So, let's just get outside and walk.  You can go to a movie.  One of the most fun things I did when I actually went through a depression:  I went to a ball game.  I put on a T-shirt and jeans, a little ball cap, and I went and sat in the stands and cheered on the home team, and I tell you, that was like a tonic.  I really felt fantastic after that.  How about church?  How about a women's group?  I joined a book club.  I mean that was fun.  My assignment was to read.  Well, that was fun, to have that as your assignment, and then I went and sat and talked about the book with other ladies and it was inexpensive.  I did it at the local center and it was perfect for me.

Here's another important thing.  Give it time.  Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately.  Feeling better takes time.  Take the pressure off yourself    Find a way to have your needs accommodated by people around you.  You shouldn't feel that you have to do everything for everybody.