By Ross Bishop
Depression is the most prominent psychological disorder in the western world. It is a socially driven condition, which is growing in all age groups, especially amongst teenagers. People born since 1945 are 10 times more likely to suffer from depression than their parents, and women run nearly twice the risk of depression as men.
By 2020, depression will be the second most disabling condition on the planet, ranking just behind heart disease. In the U.S. alone, about 10 million people suffer from significant depression each year, and we annually lose about $50 billion in human productivity as a direct result of it. In addition, a significantly high number of depressed people (15%), commit suicide. The losses through these secondary effects, especially teen suicide, are difficult to calculate, but they are considerable.
Living with depression is like living at the bottom of a sea of mud. The environment pushes against you from every direction and getting out is almost impossible. Even the simplest of life functions can be difficult. It is a living hell. Complicating the problem is that depression is a secondary condition – it overlays an originating set of troubling negative beliefs.
Let’s look at the way depression develops. The initial emotional challenge facing the person is difficult, and so the inner child starts out facing a painful circumstance. Adding significantly to this condition, and essential to the creation of depression, is the rejection of the inner child by the adult. In 25 years of private practice, every case of depression I have ever seen has hinged upon a reluctance by the adult to accept and address the pain that his or her inner child carried.
Other conditions like family history or exposure to certain chemicals or heavy metals (mercury in dental filings, for example) or the long-term use of certain drugs can create a predisposition to depression, but the direct cause comes, in my belief, from a failure between the adult and the inner child. Having been rebuffed by the world, and now by the adult, the defeated inner child retreats into a cave of isolation for protection. The despair and desperation that result from a seemingly impossible situation creates the condition that we know as depression.
Depression is a socially driven condition, unknown in many tribal societies. The theory is that the integrated nature of these communities brings personal concerns to the surface and does not allow them to get lost in the private hell of individual isolation. It is commonly believed that this is why the Amish in our own society do not suffer from depression. Unfortunately, modern Western culture puts up significant barriers to personal interaction and in many other ways creates a perfect environment for the creation of individual depression.
From the psychological perspective, dealing with depression is not all that different from dealing with a host of other psychological issues. It means going into the personal pain that a person has avoided all of their life. No sane person wants to hang out in his or her inner pain. It’s messy, it’s disruptive and it can hurt like the devil. With depression, the pain was totally overwhelming to the child and he or she will hold strong prohibitions against going back there. The unexpressed fear is, “If I go there I will die,” because that is how it once felt. So there is substantial negative pressure on the adult to not address the inner core of hurt and anguish that he or she carries. Because of this separation, the inner child is also often angry, frustrated and untrusting, adding further obstacles to addressing depression. Another complicating factor is that most depressed people are so accustomed to living under the dark cloak of depression that they have no idea what it feels like to be happy. They have no standard against which to judge the pain that has accompanied them their entire lives.
In this impersonal, stressful, non-spiritual culture of ours, I think most people suffer from some form of depression. And, there are a thousand shades of grey ranging from simply feeling blue to being hunched over in the corner of a darkened room, unable to move. So, one question to ask yourself is, ãAm I depressed?ä Take this test: During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling, down, depressed, or hopeless? During the past month, have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things? Everyone exhibits some of these symptoms from time to time. The question is how strong and persistent are these symptoms in your life? The rule of thumb used by the psychological community is that if you have five or more of the following symptoms, lasting most of the day for at least two weeks, you can be said to be experiencing a major depressive disorder:
· sadness or a depressed mood
· loss of pleasure in normal activities
· a change in appetite or weight
. insomnia or excessive sleep
· agitation or drop in activity
· fatigue and loss of energy
· feeling of worthlessness or excessive guilt
· difficulty in concentrating, thinking or making decisions
· recurring thoughts of death or suicide
Whether or not your disorder can be categorized as ãmajorä is of less importance than whether or not you are suffering from depression. Here is a similar list of depressive symptoms developed by Joan Larson that may be more helpful:
· Withdrawal from activity; isolating yourself
· Continual fatigue, lethargy
· Lack of motivation, boredom, loss of interest in life
· Feeling helpless, immobilized
· Sleeping too much; using sleep to escape reality
· Insomnia, particularly early morning insomnia (waking very early and being unable to get back to sleep)
· unresponsive to good news
· Loss of appetite or binge eating
· Ongoing anxiety
· Silent and unresponsive around people
· An “I don’t care” attitude
· Easily upset or angered, lashing out at others
· Inability to concentrate
· Listening to mood music persistently
· Self-destructive behavior
· Suicidal thoughts or plans
One problem with any list of psychological symptoms is that you can always see yourself reflected in it. But if you fit into a significant number of the symptoms listed above, it is something you want to pay serious attention to. Depression can wreak havoc on your psyche and your physical body. Men with heart conditions who are depressed are almost 5 times more likely to have heart attacks.
Further complicating many psychological problems, not just depression, is that the adult is often caught between the pain of their struggle and the benefit they derive from their inner wounding. Their hurt gets used as an excuse to not fully engage in life. These people withhold from partners and friends, pull back from life and do not fully engage with their own children. The false sense of security created through emotional distance is very unsatisfying, but some people live their whole lives that way. However, when their relationships fail or become stressful as they must, the failure reinforces the personâs existing feelings of unworthiness. They then spiral further downward, moving towards or into depression. Adding depression to the situation is like throwing a heavy, wet wool blanket over everything. If the depression is substantial, it can be almost impossible to get to the underlying causes. In that regard, (unfortunately) the depression is doing exactly what it was designed to do.
If depression were like other emotional conditions, I would suggest ways for you to work out your problems. And I will address those in Part III of this series, but depression is one of several emotional difficulties that have a substantial bio-chemical component. Although I am generally opposed to the use of treatment drugs, I have found that the neurochemical barrier presented by depression is so formidable that it is necessary to address the chemical imbalance directly in order to then get to the depressive structure and then eventually address the underlying, originating condition that is driving the personâs difficulties. Fortunately there are ways to do this without resorting to the severe drugs known as antidepressants, so heavily relied on by the psychological community. In Part II, I will present a safe program that uses dietary supplements to address the biochemical aspects of depression. If you struggle with depression, assuming that you will have begun a program to rebalance your neural chemistry from Part II, we will then address the emotional aspects of depression in Part III. You can begin with Part III if you wish, but I must tell you that in my experience itâs a difficult uphill fight if you do not deal with the neurochemistry first. In this first installment I will address some basic issues regarding depression and a bit about neural chemistry so that you can understand what is happening in the depressive state.
OK, so let’s talk about neural physiology. The body’s nerve communication process is complex, utilizing a number of amino acids, enzymes, cofactors and other substances to achieve optimum function. Although your neural system runs all throughout your body, medicine thinks the chemical aspects of depression primarily take place in the brain.
Nerve cells do not link directly with one another. Chemicals must carry impulses from one cell to another across the ãsynaptic gapä between them. The chemicals that carry these messages are a group of monoamines known as neurotransmitters or biogenic amines. The neurotransmitters primarily associated with the depressive process are serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine. People who suffer from depression have diminished levels of these chemicals in their brains. We know that the more negative or condemning self-messages a person creates and the fewer pleasure-giving activities they participate in, the lower their brain levels of neurotransmitters become. This would indicate that the brain is responsive to emotion, but there is much debate regarding causality. There are clear connections between hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, candida and depression, and these raise many questions about brain chemistry theories.
Each nerve cell has specific receptor sites that will accept only a particular neurotransmitter. When a neurotransmitter is received at a receptor site, information is passed, whether it’s a feeling of well-being (serotonin or norepinephrine, for example), euphoria (opiates), pain (acetaldehydes such as the chemical from alcohol that creates a hangover), excitement (epinephrine, also known as adrenaline), or other chemical information. Once a message has been passed over the synaptic gap, the neurotransmitter and its by-products are then removed by a group of enzymes. Monoamine oxidase is one of these enzymes. Think of these enzymes as brain and nerve cell clean-up crews.
Since depression is associated with reduced levels of neurotransmitters, it would seem logical to address the problem by simply boosting neurotransmitter levels in the brain. Unfortunately, this is not such a simple thing to do. The brain is separated from the rest of the body by a protective membrane called the ãblood-brain barrier.ä The barrier allows small ãbuilding blockä molecules like amino acids to pass, but obstructs larger, more complex molecules.
The brain synthesizes the more complex chemicals that it needs from the component parts that come through the barrier. For example, the body produces large amounts of the neurotransmitter serotonin, but serotonin cannot get through the blood-brain barrier. Only its precursor, the amino acid Tryptophan, will pass. Once the Tryptophan reaches the brain, it is then converted into serotonin. Some people have more “permeable” blood-brain barriers than others, making them more susceptible to food related mood changes (amino acids come from food, primarily from proteins).
Since the blood brain barrier prohibits simply introducing brain chemicals into the body, neurochemists have had to find other, more creative, ways to influence brain chemistry. One solution has been to slow down the bodyâs reabsorption process, leaving more neurotransmitters in the system. The drugs that do this are known as anti-depressants. The most well-known of these is Prozac. Prozac is one of a family of what are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Prozac doesn’t create serotonin, it slows down its reabsorption, inhibiting the bodyâs natural clean-up process.
Today we have a new family of antidepressants called serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which block reabsorption and also affect the balance between these two key monoamines. In contrast, many of the older antidepressants (SSRIs) work just as well as the newer drugs and are cheaper, but pose significantly greater risks. Some of the older drugs can have disastrous effects for example, if taken in combination with certain common foods. On the other hand, SSRIs are also safer when taken in overdose, which is important when treating depression since suicide is always a lurking concern.
In an interesting twist, and I think highlighting how little we understand about the process, studies have confirmed that serotonin neurotransmitter levels in humans can be linked to both inward and outward directed violence. One study consisted of three groups of men: men convicted of homicide, men who attempted suicide, and healthy males. The lowest levels of serotonin were found in both those who had either killed someone else or attempted suicide themselves, a seeming contradiction. Another study of “self-mutilators” found that not only did these people have lower serotonin levels, they also had more severe character pathology and had a greater lifetime of aggression, as well as being more antisocial, with greater impulsivity, chronic anger and anxiety. We have I think, a long way to go in understanding what is happening in depression.
Antidepressants are the nuclear weapons of pharmacology in the war on depression. They are very powerful drugs with powerful side effects. Itâs like trying to crack a walnut with a sledgehammer. You must do it very carefully for risk of damaging the nut along with the shell. Neuron receptor sites exist throughout the body, and when you take antidepressants you impact the entire body system, not just the brain. People can experience a host of serious side effects like serious weight gain, urinary retention, sleep disturbance, blurred vision, constipation, nausea, sexual dysfunction and as I mentioned, one of the most disturbing side affects of all, suicide. Some antidepressants can also create significant withdrawal issues, so even when you quit, you must be monitored carefully.
You may have read recently about the high incidence of teen suicide and SSRIs. After a good deal of political wrangling, the FDA, a long-standing ally of the pharmaceutical industry, is finally making drug makers put strong warnings on pill packaging against giving young people antidepressants.
The really unfortunate thing about antidepressants is that in addition to the risks they pose, antidepressants have a very high failure rate. They simply do not work in 30-40% of the cases. The high failure rate adds fuel to the argument that we are not addressing the cause of depression but simply its effects. Since antidepressants must be used and prescribed so carefully, I hate to see clients use them. Fortunately there is a good alternative with few side effects that is readily available, and as I said, I will address that in Part II.
We have been talking primarily about neurotransmitters, but the balance between essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, also plays an important role in depression. A lack of essential omega-3 fatty acids (found in cold-water fish such as tuna and salmon) and/or an excess of omega-6 saturated fats (found in certain vegetable oils, such as corn and soybean oils) and animal fatty acids, leads to the formation of cell membranes that are much less fluid than normal. This is especially important in the brain because it affects the function of serotonin and dopamine, leading to serious impacts on behavior, mood and mental function.
A study in London demonstrated that giving schizophrenic patients omega-3 fatty acids corrected membrane abnormalities and had a powerful impact on patientsâ mental states. The balance between the two omegas is important, and the typical American diet is disproportionately high in omega-6âs, primarily from processed foods. Regularly eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and reducing the saturated fat (meat) and hydrogenated oil content in our diets is a wise precaution.
Another cause for depression in a far smaller number of cases, is a genetic inability to manufacture enough prostaglandin, an important brain chemical that is derived from essential fatty acids. The problem is the result of a genetic deficiency. Alcohol stimulates the temporary production of prostaglandin and lifts the depression, which is why some researchers believe that there is a strong genetic component to some types of alcoholism. So, if your ancestry is more than one-quarter Celtic, Irish, Scandinavian, Native American, Welsh, or Scottish and you have a family history of alcoholism, depression, suicide, schizophrenia, or other mental illness, you are at an elevated level of risk for prostaglandin deficiency. Fortunately, a substance called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA–not to be confused with linoleic acid–LA) is easily converted to prostaglandin, and there have been remarkable recoveries from this form of depression within several weeks of treatment. Look for a dietary supplement called Efamol, which is usually made from evening primrose oil and vitamin E (and sometimes omega-3 and 6).
The last condition I will discuss is one that I would not have recognized if I had not diagnosed it within myself (fortunately a friend sent me an article about it). Some natural practitioners are beginning to pay serious attention to clients who are fighting an internal war with an overgrowth of a common intestinal yeast called Candida Albicans. This condition is rampant in our society, largely because of our diet, but also I believe, because of mercury dental filings and our historical heavy reliance on antibiotics. This condition is just beginning to get the attention by professionals that it deserves.
People suffering from what is called candida-related complex or CRC, are depressed, exhausted and anxious. They crave sugar and sometimes alcohol. Their mental retention is often impaired. Their immune systems are seriously compromised so that most foods cause them to bloat and produce allergic/addictive responses. These people can put on significant amounts of weight, or can be seriously underweight. The depression that results from CRC will not lift until the colonies of yeast are brought under control. I have had great success treating clients using caprylic acid, and a probiotic formula called “Primal Defense,” along with a tincture made from black walnut hulls in addition to dietary changes. Information about candida-related complex can be found on the internet.
After several years of struggling with clients to find the right drugs and dosages and deal with the side effects of antidepressants, I began a search for alternatives. My search took me to investigate amino acids, which are the fundamental “building blocks” of the hundreds of proteins and other chemicals in the body. What I found is that when properly supplemented, aminos have a powerful impact on all but the most severe depressions, with remarkably few side effects. Plus, they are considerably cheaper than prescription pharmaceuticals. Prozac now costs about $130 a month, other antidepressants can be much more expensive. I will present a program for working with amino acids and other supplements in Part II of this series.
copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016