Depression, Anxiety and Panic Attacks are a major disability. Many sufferers of these symptoms take SSRI type anti-depressant drugs such as (Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil etc.) and many are looking for an alternative because of adverse side effects, or perhaps the drugs are simply not working for them. In this article, we will take a look at what causes depression, the commonly used anti-depressant drugs and the natural alternatives.
Causes of Depression:
Depression is thought to be caused by a deficiency of a chemical neurotransmitter in the brain called Serotonin. The abundant presence of Serotonin in the brain promotes feelings of well being, calm, personal security, relaxation, confidence and concentration. Serotonin Deficiency, on the other hand, has been associated with depression, anxiety, alcoholism, insomnia, violence, aggression, suicide and compulsive gambling.
Serotonin is one of many chemicals in the brain which allow the brain cells to talk to each other, and without this chemical communication between brain cells or neurons, we would be unable to have creative thought.
Side effects of Anti-Depressant Drugs:
The SSRI type anti-depressant drugs work by helping increase Serotonin in the brain. The SSRI drugs can be very effective in the short term for depression and anxiety. However, they come at the cost of unpleasant side effects such as nausea, constipation, sexual dysfunction with loss of sexual desire, inhibition of orgasm, and impotence.
Another problem is that SSRI-type drugs are associated with violent or suicidal behavior. Peter R. Breggin, M.D., author of the book, Talking Back to Prozac, says that SSRI type drugs should not be prescribed to children under age of 18, because of suicidal behavior, suicide attempts or related behavior like self-harm, hostility, and aggression. A similar warning was issued in an August 2005 report from Europe’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use.
You might ask the simple question wouldn’t it be more logical to relieve depression by increasing the amount of Serotonin in the brain with a natural substance which has none of the side effects of the SSRI-type antidepressant drugs? The answer to this question is, Yes, this can be done very easily by oral ingestion of a naturally occurring essential amino acid called Tryptophan which is the immediate precursor to Serotonin in the brain’s manufacture of Serotonin.
Tryptophan is found in many foods, is safe and can be purchased at the health food store in the form of 5HTP (5-hydroxy-tryptophan) capsules. There are numerous medical research studies showing that 5HTP is safer and more effective than the SSRI-type antidepressant drugs. Dr Poeldinger compared the antidepressant effects of 5-HTP to a prescription Prozac-like drug, and he published his findings in 1991 in the Journal of Psychopathology. The 5-HTP patient group showed better treatment response than the Prozac-type drug group, yet had significantly fewer and less severe side effects.
Dosage and Safety of 5HTP:
There is a vast body of published scientific literature on 5-HTP showing its safety. The main side effect of 5-HTP is gastrointestinal (GI) upset gas, nausea, diarrhea, and cramping. The recommended 5HTP dosage is to start at a relatively low dose of 25 to 50 mg and increase gradually up to a maximum of 200 – 300 mg daily. The B vitamins are co-factors for the use of Tryptophan, so it is a good idea to supplement with B vitamins when taking 5-HTP.
***** There is one note of caution: Do not combine 5HTP with anti-depressant drugs unless you have medical supervision. Similarly, those wishing to reduce or eliminate their anti-depressant drugs with 5-HTP, should do so only with medical supervision.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum):
There is a large body of medical literature showing the benefits of this herb in the treatment of depression. A recent study by Dr Szegedi published in the March 5, 2005 issue the British Medical Journal, compared St Johns Wort to a SSRI antidepressant drug. One group of 122 patients received 900 mg of St. Johns Wort three times per day for 6 weeks and the other group received the SSRI drug.
At the end of the trial, Dr Szegedi concluded that St. Johns Wort extract (hypericum extract) had fewer side effects and was just as effective as the SSRI drug in the treatment of moderate to severe depression with fewer side effects.
Dosage, Side effects and Safety of St Johns Wort:
We don’t really know how St Johns Wort works, but it seems clear that it works very well. When you buy St. Johns Wort supplements, you should look for a label that says it contains at least 0.3 percent of Hypericin and Pseudohypericin. The usual dosage is 300 mg to 1800 mg per day of the 0.3 per cent extract. Side effects are mainly minor gastrointestinal complaints and mild allergic reactions like itching.
***** Because of possibility of drug interaction, St John’s Wort should not be used in combination with any other drugs or SSRI anti-depressants unless under medical supervision. The American Society of Anesthesiologists issued a warning in 1999 against taking St. Johns Wort just before surgery because of a dangerous interaction with anesthetics.
There are safe natural supplements that can chase away the “blues”. However,as usual, it is recommended that you work closely with a knowledgable health care professional.
Of all the natural remedies for depression perhaps one of the most effective yet least discussed is natural progesterone. How it does this is to support mood, primarily through the action of the enzyme monoamine oxidase and it helps elevate serotonin levels naturally.
Progesterone is particularly important for its influence in the metabolism of serotonin and dopamine, both known to play a role in depression. For many women the relaxing qualities of progesterone help with anxiety and sleep, but if depression is more severe then Dr Dach recommends using a combination hormone cream with both progesterone and oestrogen such as Wellsprings 20-1.
The book referred to in Dr Dach’s article is Talking Back to Prozac: What Doctors Won’t Tell You About Today’s Most Controversial Drug, by Peter R. Breggin, MD © 1994, St. Martin’s Press.