Tag Archives: depression relief

How Your Diet Affects Your Mood

Depression and Bipolar

Food is fuel.  The fuel we put into our body determines how efficiently it runs.  It’s a pretty simple concept yet when it comes to brain function there is a disconnect for many physicians.

When people come to me for help with various conditions, dietary changes are almost always part of the program.  They are especially important if someone if suffering from a mood disorder.

If a poor diet can lead to poor function of the heart, gall bladder, immune system, pancreas, intestines, etc., then why couldn’t it lead to poor brain function? It can, but it’s always overlooked by traditional medicine.  Let me explain.

The Basics

Remember, food is fuel.  The neurons in your brain consume up to 40% of your circulating blood sugar at a resting state.  That figure can jump up to 80% when your brain is working hard like studying for a test or doing your taxes. Your blood sugar is the fuel your brain needs to keep going.

Low blood sugar occurs when people do not eat frequently enough or in an amount that satisfies the demands for energy of the entire body, including the brain.  Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, causes mood to change.  Most notably, people experience irritability. This irritability is relieved by simply eating food and allowing your blood sugar to rise back to a normal level.  Next time you’re feeling irritable and you haven’t eaten in a few hours, try eating a healthy snack.  It might just be the fix you’re looking for.

If something as simple as low blood sugar can alter your mood, what else can?

Alcohol

Alcohol is consumed the world over mainly for one reason and one reason only – it has mind altering properties. Let’s face it; alcohol does not taste good in the way that ice cream does.  People are not consuming it solely for the taste. The per capita consumption of ethanol in the United States is 2.31 gallons per year.  That means, on average, every American over the age of 15 consumes 2.31 gallons of pure alcohol per year.  This is equivalent to 702 beers, 410 glasses of wine or 197 shots per year, per person.

Alcohol works on the brain by affecting the neurotransmitter GABA.  GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.  Initially, consuming alcohol elevates mood and reduces anxiety and stress.  As a matter of fact, most current pharmaceuticals aimed at reducing anxiety work by acting on GABA.

However, continuing to consume alcohol has a downside.  When consumed to excess, moods begin to go down and depression is often the consequence.  It also causes sleepiness which illustrates alcohol’s powerful depressive effects.  Always remember, alcohol is a depressant and it’s this way because it acts on the inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA.

How Foods Affect Our Neurotransmitter Levels

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about neurotransmission and how getting your neurotransmitters measured is a good way to assess your mood status and possibly change it for the better.  I went into the details of some neurotransmitters and it would be good to read before continuing to read this post.  Click here to view it.

The neurotransmitters in our brain allow one nerve to talk to the next.  It is the level of these neurotransmitters, to a large extent, that govern how we feel.  Low levels of some neurotransmitters lead to anxiety while others may lead to depression.  The interplay between all of them is complex and a problem with mood is often due to more than low levels of a single neurotransmitter but there are primary players to blame in each mood disorder.

Carbohydrate Heaven

Many people have noticed that when they eat a meal that is high in refined carbohydrates they notice an elevation in mood.  So much so that people can often become addicted to this type of food just to feel good.  This is for one very real physiological fact – eating refined carbohydrates increases serotonin production in the brain.

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that most of the anti-depressant drugs like Prozac and Paxil work on.  They work by tricking the brain into thinking it has more serotonin than it actually does.  Consuming refined carbohydrates works by actually increasing serotonin levels.  Here’s how.

There is a barrier between our brain and our blood.  It prevents things from getting into the brain that should not.  It is very effective.  However, it also prevents necessary nutrients from getting in as well.  They need a special pass to  get in.  This includes the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is what the body uses to make serotonin.  If one consumes a diet very low in tryptophan, serotonin levels are likely to be low.  Tryptophan is found in foods that contain protein.

In order for tryptophan (an other amino acids) to get into the brain a transporter system exists.  It is called the large neutral amino acid transporter or the LNAA.  Competition for the LNAA is fierce.  Tryptophan is a weak competitor.  It is often left out of brain except when refined carbohydrates are consumed. When refined carbohydrates are consumed high amounts of insulin are secreted.  Insulin sends free amino acids out of our blood into our muscles when it is circulating.  Because tryptophan is a bound to albumin it is left unaffected by this process.  It is now free to circulate up to the brain where competition for the LNAA is now low and it gets into the brain more easily.  It also allows more serotonin to be produced.

Now, I hear what you’re saying.  I am not suggesting you go eat tons of refined carbohydrates to feel good!  As a matter of fact you should avoid them because they just lead to a blood sugar crash later in the day resulting in irritability.  Now you’re irritable and depressed – not a good combination!

What you should do is make sure you eat foods that are high quality proteins.  This includes mostly animal products like meat and eggs.  Also, supplementing your diet with 5-HTP is helpful.  This is the direct precursor of serotonin and is in fact a type of tryptophan. It passes into the brain freely and does not compete for the LNAA.

Not Enough B6

Vitamin B6 is an essential vitamin in many ways.  In terms of brain health, it is essential to allow the conversion of the neurotransmitter glutamate into GABA.

Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain.  When levels are too high seizures are known to occur.  At lower levels anxiety occurs.

GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter.  At very low levels seizures occur and when levels are slightly decreased anxiety is the result.

Glutamate ——–> GABA – GABA is converted from glutamate and B6 is required to do this.

A diet that is low in B6 will cause glutamate to build up in the brain and GABA levels will be low.  This may result in anxiety.  Foods that are highest in B6 are:

  • Spinach
  • Bell peppers
  • Turnip greens

Consuming these on a regular basis may help if your problem is the conversion of glutamate to GABA.  You may also have to supplement with B6.  This is easy to find over the counter.

No Fish? No Happy

Omega-3 fatty acids have been touted to help everything from heart disease to pain and inflammation.  Research also points to another aspect.  Brain health.  People who have the lowest level of a particular omega-3 called DHA report depression as a problem significantly more than people with the highest levels of DHA.

DHA is important for growing babies, but research is starting to show that it is important for overall brain health for adults as well.

Just how it wards off depression is not clear.  One theory suggests that because DHA is important for the insulation surrounding the nerves, low levels may prevent neurons from communicating effectively.  Whatever the reason, the research is pretty clear that low levels are not good for optimal brain function.

Consuming fish regularly is a good step.  However, more people will not be able to consume enough fish to get enough DHA.  Consider supplementing with a fish oil that is high in DHA.  Most nutrition companies now make fish oil that is high in DHA.  This may help ease your depression and prevent further episodes.

This list could go on and on.  The moral of the story is that what you eat can have a significant impact on how you feel.  If you want to feel good, inside and out, you must eat a healthy diet.  Hopefully some of these tips have helped.

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Anxiety or Depression? Test the levels of your neurotransmitters to guide therapy.

Depression

Image via Wikipedia

Happy New Year!  A new era began at the Vreeland Clinic on January 1st this year.  Dr. Carrie and I would like to thank all of our friends and family for their well wishes.  We looked forward to continuing to serve the community for years to come!

Today I’d like to touch on something that has revolutionized the way I practice.

People come to me for many reasons.  Some people come to my clinic for weight loss or to get more energy.  Others for help with a chronic condition that hasn’t responded to traditional care.  Still others come to see me for a wide range of neurologic conditions.  These include things like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, depression or anxiety.  It is the last two that I’d like to focus on today.

Anxiety and depression are extremely common in America.  Millions of Americans suffer from anxiety, depression or both.  These conditions may have many etiologies but one theory is a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Just what is this chemical imbalance?  When someone states that they have a chemical imbalance they are referring to an imbalance in the neurotransmitter system of the brain.  These neurotransmitters are really just proteins that each nerve in the brain uses to communicate with its neighbors.  Sometimes people can have too little of a certain neurotransmitter or too much of another.  This is problematic because it alters the way the brain functions.  It may cause anxiety and/or depression.

The pharmaceutical industry has figured that out and makes a large class of drugs that alters neurotransmitter function in the brain.  These are drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin and Lorazepam to name a few.

Neurotransmitters are broken down into two categories – they are either excitatory or inhibitory.  That means they either tell the brain to go or tell the brain to stop.  The complexities of the neurotransmitter system are extensive and there is much more to it than “go” and “stop” but that basic principle holds true in most cases.

Examples of neurotransmitters include serotonin, GABA, epinephrine, norepinephrine, glutamate and dopamine.  Serotonin and GABA are inhibitory while epinephrine, norepinephrine, glutamate and dopamine are excitatory.

If you have anxiety and depression often times an imbalance exists in the levels of these neurotransmitters.

For example, high levels of glutamate may cause anxiety or seizures.  Low levels of GABA may cause anxiety.  Low levels of serotonin may cause depression.  Same goes for norepinephrine.

So how do you tell which neurotransmitters are low or which are too high?

Measuring Neurotransmitters

Measuring your neurotransmitters with a urine test is the best way to estimate your levels of neurotransmitters.  We do this routinely in our office for many patients.  It is incredibly insightful and directs our care for patients with anxiety, depression and many other conditions.

The measurement of neurotransmitters in the urine has been around for many years.  I’ve read studies dating to the 1960’s of scientists using similar methods to evaluate neurotransmitter levels.

Until relatively recently, perhaps the last 10-15 years, it has not been used frequently in clinical practice.  Now, through specialized laboratories, it is available to the general public and it is very affordable.

The knock on urinary neurotransmitter testing is that it does not correlate with brain levels of these hormones because the urine test is in fact testing whole body levels of neurotransmitters.

The very neurotransmitters that exist in our brain to make us happy exist outside the brain to serve the body in other ways.  So, yes, it is true that checking urinary neurotransmitter levels is technically a check of the entire body’s store of neurotransmitters.  But, through hundreds of thousands of tests these specialized labs have shown with high correlation that when neurotransmitter levels are abnormal certain psychiatric and neurological conditions are much more common.

Clinically, I have seen an almost one to one correlation in my patients with certain conditions an alteration in their neurotransmitter system.

The lab that I use will test all of the basic neurotransmitters plus a slew of metabolites of these neurotransmitters.  It provides a wonderful window into the neurological system.

If I find that serotonin is low, I supplement with something called 5-HTP.  If dopamine is low, I like to use L-tyrosine or an herb called mucuna pruriens.  The list can go on and on.

Once someone has been on a program for 6-8 weeks we recheck their neurotransmitter profile to gauge our therapy and adjust it if necessary.  We find that once a person’s profile returns to normal, their symptoms resolve.

If you have anxiety or depression, consider seeking out someone who does this kind of testing to improve your outcomes.  The brain is incredibly complex.  It never hurts to have a little extra information to guide your therapy.

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Fighting Depression Naturally

Depression

Image via Wikipedia

Depression is a huge problem in the United States.  The numbers are quite amazing. Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder. Depression is not just a disorder for adults, however. As many as one in 33 children and one in eight adolescents have clinical depression.

Depression is characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. Unipolar depression, the most common mood disorder in the U.S., was first described by Hippocrates in the 5th century B.C. He believed that depression was caused by an imbalance in the four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.  Excess black bile caused depression according to Hippocrates. In fact, the Greek term for depression, melancholia, means black bile.

This view may seem far fetched, but the fact that depression is a physical process is correct. Even Freud wrote of the various presentations of depression which range from mild and cognitive, to severe and somatic.
There are several ’causes’ of depression.  I put ’causes’ in quotes because no one really knows for sure what ’causes’ depression.  There are many theories.  In my opinion, an imbalance in the neurotransmitter system is a scientifically sound explanation as to how a person could develop a mood disorder.  I also like to consider that if a person is not in good general health, depression is more likely to take hold.  This is a view that is also supported by the research.
So if these are two ’causes’ of depression, how can we effectively treat it?  Good question.  See my answers below.

Get Healthy

First and foremost a person that is depressed must make every effort to get healthy.  This includes exercise and dietary changes.  Junk in equals junk out.  Period.  If all one eats is McDonald’s value meals they are very unlikely to be healthy and much more likely to develop depression in my opinion.  Did you ever see the movie SuperSize Me?  A documentarian decides to eat nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days to see what happens.  Not only did he fall apart physically but he developed depression! Now, this is just one case and is a bit anecdotal, but the result confirmed the  hypothesis I made before I even saw the movie.

You must eat a healthy diet in order for your body to work properly and be healthy.  For some reason modern medicine has separated the health of our body from the health of our minds.  It is widely understood that to have a healthy body we need to eat nutritious foods.  It is far less accepted that to have a healthy mind we need to have a healthy diet.  Why is this the case?  The food that we eat provides fuel to our bodies and to our brains. The same food nourishes our entire system, not simply our physical bodies.

Exercise is unbelievably critical.  In fact, research has shown that the #1 cure for depression lasting less than 7 years is exercise.  Exercise does many things for the body. It improves blood flow, is a great stress reliever and changes the chemical balance in the brain to name just a few.  If you feel as if you suffer from depression and you do one thing for yourself this should be the one.  It has long lasting benefits in terms of depression and helps get the rest of your body healthy as well.

Supplements to take

There are several supplements that have been shown to reduce depression.  I would not suggest trying them all at once.  And I would suggest you consult a physician that is trained in functional medicine before you start a program.

5-HTP

If your problem is low serotonin this may help you.  5-HTP is short for 5-hydroxytryptophan.  5-HTP is the direct precursor in the body for serotonin.  Taking it may increase your serotonin levels and improve your mood.

St. John’s Wort

This is an herbal product that is used here in the U.S. to help with depression.  It acts by affecting the serotonin system.  I have found that it helps some, but not all depressed patients.  It’s a popular depression treatment in Europe.

SAMe

Short for the chemical name S-adenosylmethionine, it is pronounced “sammy.”  This has worked well in my practice for many people.  It is available over the counter in the U.S., but it’s used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Diets higher in omega-3 fatty acids are known to protect people from depression.  It also appears that consuming more omega-3s reduces the symptoms of depression.  Consuming more in one’s diet is not likely to be enough.  Most people will have to supplement their diet with the oil or capsules to gain the most benefit.

This is just a small sample of the things that one can do to naturally ease depression.  People are most successful when combine exercise, diet and supplements together.  It will give you the best chance of improving your mood and feeling happier and more alive.

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Pregnancy, Depression and Drugless Relief

Up to a quarter of all women suffer from depression during pregnancy, and many are reluctant to take antidepressants. Now a new study suggests that acupuncture may provide some relief during pregnancy, even though it has not been found to be an effective treatment against depression in general.

The Stanford University study recruited 150 depressed women who were 12 to 30 weeks pregnant, and randomly assigned 52 to receive acupuncture specifically designed for depressive symptoms, 49 to regular acupuncture and 49 to Swedish massage.

Each woman received 12 sessions of 25 minutes each; those given acupuncture did not know which type they were getting. (In the depression-specific treatment, needles are inserted at body points that are said to correspond to symptoms like anxiety, withdrawal and apathy.)

After eight weeks, almost two-thirds of the women who had depression-specific acupuncture experienced a reduction in at least 50 percent of their symptoms, compared with just under half of the women treated with either massage or regular acupuncture.

There was no significant difference in the rates of complete remission — about a third in each group. The findings appear in the March issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The lead author, Rachel Manber, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, said the results suggested that some symptoms of depression during pregnancy might be related to physical discomfort that is alleviated by acupuncture.

Still, the results were striking, she said, adding, “It’s quite remarkable, especially since the prevalence of depression is highest in the third trimester of pregnancy, so it goes against the course of how you would expect depression to go.”

via Vital Signs – Pregnancy – Some Depression Relief, Without Drugs – NYTimes.com.

Dr. Court’s Comments

Taking any drug is dangerous during pregnancy.  The fact that acupuncture can provide some relief is wonderful news.  Tissues that are most likely to be affected by pharmaceuticals are tissues with high metabolic activity.  Every single tissue in a baby’s body is highly metabolically active because it is growing so fast.  What is particularly scary is that most doctors will say you must weigh the benefits of taking them against the risks, yet antidepressants have shown to be no better than placebo at helping depression! To expose a growing fetus to a drug that has little to no actual value should be criminal.

Below is a list of drugs that are approved for use to treat depression and their potential side effects on growing babies.

Citalopram (Celexa)

Risks: Has been associated with a rare but serious newborn lung problem (persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, or PPHN) when taken during the last half of pregnancy; has been associated with septal heart defects; has been associated with a birth defect that affects the brain and skull (anencephaly), a birth defect that affect sutures on the head (craniosynostosis) and a birth defect that affects the abdominal organs (omphalocele)

Pregnancy Category C (see below for key)

Fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem)

Risks: Has been associated with PPHN when taken during the last half of pregnancy

Pregnancy Category C (see below for key)

Paroxetine (Paxil)

Risks: Has been associated with fetal heart defects when taken during the first three months of pregnancy; has been associated with PPHN when taken during the last half of pregnancy; has been associated with anencephaly, craniosynostosis and omphalocele

Pregnancy Category D (see below for key)

Sertraline (Zoloft)

Risks: Has been associated with PPHN when taken during the last half of pregnancy; has been associated with septal heart defects; has been associated with omphalocele

Pregnancy Category C (see below for key)

Amitriptyline

Risks: Suggested risk of limb malformation in early studies, but not confirmed by newer studies

Pregnancy Category C (see below for key)

Nortriptyline (Pamelor)

Risks: Suggested risk of limb malformation in early studies, but not confirmed by newer studies

Pregnancy Category D (see below for key)

Phenelzine (Nardil)

Risks: May cause a severe increase in blood pressure that triggers a stroke

Pregnancy Category C (see below for key)

Tranylcypromine (Parnate)

Risks: May cause a severe increase in blood pressure that triggers a stroke

Pregnancy Category C (see below for key)

Bupropion (Wellbutrin)

Risks: No established risks during pregnancy

Pregnancy Category C (see below for key)

Key:

Category C:

Use with caution if benefits outweigh risks.  Animal studies show risk and human studies not available or neither animal studies nor human studies done.

Category D:

Use in LIFE-THREATENING emergencies when no safer drug available.  Positive evidence of human fetal risk.

The risks associated with these drugs is outrageous considering studies have shown they are ineffective for most people.  You should read category C very carefully.  It says to use with caution is the benefits outweigh the risks.  But the next line says that the studies that were conducted on animals showed that there was risk OR that animal or human studies have not been conducted.  In plain English that means one of the following:

1. The drug was studied in animals and was shown to have some serious risk or…

2. It was never studied in animals or humans.

Do you really want to risk your baby’s health on something that may or may not have been tested and if it was tested (on animals) it was shown to be dangerous?  You must understand that no matter how you look at it, these drugs have never actually been tested on humans while they were pregnant (thankfully!).  This makes them extremely unsafe, particularly when there is a safe alternative out there like acupuncture.

The pharmaceutical industry would love to tell you that their drugs are safe and can be taken by just about anyone.  What they fail to tell you is, in the case of antidepressants, is that they are ineffective wastes of money and the only affect they have is harmful.

If you happen to be pregnant and depressed, which is quite common, I would suggest a trial of acupuncture before you try any sort of medication.  They are no better than placebo therefor making the risks always outweigh the benefits.

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