Nutritional and hormonal imbalances may be the culprit
Everyone at one time or another experiences feelings of guilt, irritability or sadness—this is normal. Severe chronic depression for no reason is another matter. If you suffer from bouts of depression, the standard medical treatment involves hours of psychoanalysis and/or mind-altering drugs. Believe it or not, electric shock therapy is making a comeback, with an estimated 250,000 people still undergoing this brutal procedure each year.
Hormones and chemical imbalances in your body make it increasingly difficult to deal logically with everyday stressful situations. It becomes almost impossible for a depressed person to separate situations they have control over, from those they don’t. He or she begins to feel frustrated, worried and even guilty for situations they can’t change. Correcting hormonal or biochemical imbalances helps them “see more clearly.” Many patients compare it to a fog lifting—no longer do they feel like a zombie walking around in a daze.
There’s no lack of evidence that physical and chemical problems can lead to depression. Rarely is it “all in your head.” Thousands of people have been able to breathe a sigh of relief once they discovered they weren’t losing their minds; but instead, they were suffering from nutritional or hormonal imbalances that could be easily corrected. Like all health conditions, finding the exact cause is often more difficult than correcting it. As always, I suggest working with your doctor.
As usual, I’ll start with the more common problems linked to depression which also are often the easiest to correct. Just because the correction of constipation doesn’t seem as glamorous or miraculous as some exotic trace mineral, don’t discount its importance. A cavalier attitude about so-called "normal everyday" ailments (constipation, hypoglycemia, etc.) has the health of our society in jeopardy today. You and I may realize the power of proper diet and nutrition, but don’t think it’s widely accepted in the medical community.
One of the major jobs of the liver is to breakdown and detoxify waste material absorbed from the intestine. With constipation, more waste and toxic materials are continually being absorbed into your system. Food that stays too long in the colon becomes poisonous and rancid. Your colon doesn’t recognize this fact. It just continues to do its job of absorbing and reabsorbing. The extra toxins can overload the liver and prevent it from its other duties, one of which is to break down extra hormones circulating throughout your body causing uncontrollable mood fluctuation.
The very first thing you must do to conquer depression is make sure the bowels are working properly. Other substances like alcohol, medication, marijuana, caffeine and fried foods can also cause liver congestion. Red beet, papaya and black radish juices are excellent liver cleansers. The plant, milk thistle, can help clean and rebuild the liver. Milk thistle extracts can be found as herbal preparations in most health food stores. Freeze-dried preparations seem to work best.
One of the most common conditions associated with depression is an underactive thyroid. Thyroid hormones regulate your metabolism or how much energy you have. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include: constant fatigue, inability to lose weight, poor circulation to the hands and feet, and dryness as well as disease of the skin. Often an underactive thyroid will respond successfully to proper nutritional substances without the need for hormones and medications.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can be equated with an emotional roller coaster. Moods fluctuate, short-term energy boosts are followed by fatigue and depression. Addictions to alcohol, drugs and sweets are a natural progression of blood sugar problems. Other symptoms include dizziness when standing too quickly, swelling in the ankles, hands or feet, allergies and shakiness among others.
Food sensitivities have been found to trigger depression as well as headaches, fatigue and an inability to think clearly. Oftentimes, the foods you enjoy the most and eat frequently are the problem. Eliminating one or two suspect foods for a week or so could alert you to the problem. If you actually feel worse for the first two or three days after you discontinue a particular food, it’s a pretty sure bet that it’s the culprit.
The most common problem foods are milk and wheat. Tomatoes, eggs, soybeans, peanuts and potatoes may also be on the list. (If a long list of foods cause problems, look under the discussion on zinc.)
After your body becomes more balanced nutritionally and hormonally, most likely, you can reintroduce any offending foods back into the diet. Rarely, have I found foods to be the sole source of depression problems (with the exception of sugar). Food sensitivities, however, can contribute to many of the other problems discussed here.
Zinc deficiencies have been linked to depression. If you happen to be sensitive or “allergic” to a list of foods as long as your arm, you may be low on zinc. (Don’t forget digestive enzyme problems either.) Supplementing the diet with 15 mg of zinc, taken three times a day before each meal, can often remedy the food sensitivity problem rather quickly. In a round about way, it is one mineral necessary to defeat depression.
Lithium is one of the trace minerals of which the body needs very little to function properly. As with many trace minerals, we still don’t fully understand its complete role in helping us stay healthy. For decades, the drug industry has produced the medication lithium carbonate for treating manic depression. The usual maintenance dosage of this highly refined product is 900 mg per day. The side effects are many—heart, kidney and thyroid damage, diarrhea, eventual blindness, diabetes, and a list of nerve, skin and urinary problems that could fill this page.
Recently, there have been reports from several doctors getting excellent results without the side effects by using a very low dosage of natural lithium products. There is a product called Lithinase made from natural vegetable concentrates of millet, buckwheat, lentils and peas. It contains 50 mcg of naturally-occurring lithium per tablet. One tablet, taken with each meal for about 10 days, has been reported to eliminate depression and return emotional stability. Blood tests indicate that a dosage of 50 mcg three times daily doesn’t cause toxicity problems. (Remember, the medication dosage is 900 mg daily [NOT mcg].)
If you currently take lithium carbonate for depression or are interested in a natural, low-dosage lithium supplement, check with your doctor about this new, nonprescription product. (As always, never stop taking medication without a discussion with your doctor first.)
Copper levels, when too high, can cause depression. Blood levels can be excessive for several reasons. Drinking water from copper pipes, chronic stress or illness, low amounts of zinc, manganese or molybdenum from the diet can all be the problem. Excessive copper has also been linked to high blood pressure, ringing in the ears, premature baldness, joint pain, insomnia and pigmentation of the face.
Bringing copper levels to normal can usually be done naturally with additional zinc and vitamin C, but it can be tricky, so it’s best to work with a doctor familiar with the technique.
Light levels can affect depression. Depression has been found to be common in the winter months where bright light is often absent. We’ve discussed the value of sunlight before, but one recent study shows even bright fluorescent lighting may help. When eight depressed patients were exposed to bright light daily between six and eight a.m., the depression subsided. The patients sat at a 45 degree angle to high light fixtures containing eight 40-watt, 4 ft long fluorescent lamps. They were instructed to scan their eyes across the fixture every few minutes. They sat about 3 ft away from the lights. Researchers found that for the lights to work, the patients had to have exposure in the morning hours. Exposure in the evening was not successful. (Science 87;235:352.)
Special lighting fixtures may seem like a lot of trouble when most of us can make a point to spend several minutes each morning in the sunlight to get the same results.
Exercise can help depression. Even mild exercise like walking can be of help. Numerous studies show regular daily exercise, for 15 to 30 minutes, promotes a strong sense of well-being and accomplishment. More vigorous exercise, like jogging, actually releases chemicals called endorphins into the bloodstream. Endorphins are responsible for the “runner’s high,” the euphoric feeling runners experience after about 30 minutes of strenuous running. Many researchers now feel endorphins or similar chemicals released during exercise can reduce depression, anxiety and stress.
Chronic depression can be caused by various imbalances like those I’ve described. Before submitting yourself or a loved one, to mind altering drugs or even more drastic treatment like electric shock therapy, investigate the alternative causes. As time passes, I have no doubt history will judge our current psychiatric procedures as a very brutal way of dealing with simple chemical imbalances.