Q. I have been off and on several different antidepressants over the years. Do I have to stay on them forever? Am I addicted to antidepressants?
Possibly. Pharmaceutical antidepressants can be addictive. Especially for children. There are actually laws in place to prevent children from taking Paxil. People do not get addicted to natural anti-depressants. Some, like 5htp run the risqué of habituation, or becoming less effective over time, in limited cases, but, generally they are 100% safe and completely non addictive. This is because they work with the body to help it make the chemicals necessary to feel better. With the exception of St. John’s wort, natural antidepressants are not symptom based protocols. 5htp is a natural way to reduce feelings of depression, and carbohydrate cravings, and insomnia by converting into serotonin. SAMe is a natural substance that we make in our very own liver to detoxify it. It also happens to be a powerful joint rejuvenator and antidepressant. Our bodies make about 10 grams of SAMe per day. I personally take about a gram and a half per day, throughout the day. The body does not habituate to SAMe and it is a great way to boost other antidepressants, be they natural, (St. John’s wort, 5htp, HGH, Omega oils . . . ) Here’s a thumbnail sketch of what we know about the natural antidepressants.
St. John’s wort
St. John’s wort is probably the most studied natural supplements for depression. Study results for St. John’s Wort are strong. Several well-designed studies have demonstrated that St. John’s wort relieves feelings of depression at roughly the same level as the pharmaceuticals (Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin . . . ) 65 to 70%. St. John’s wort also happens to be an anti-viral, antibacterial so it is a good treatment fit for the winter months. It also has anti-oxidant properties that support the circulatory system. A review of 29 trials published in 2008 by the nonprofit Cochrane Collaboration concluded that St. John’s wort was better than a placebo and equivalent to standard antidepressants, but with fewer side effects. Pharmacologically St. John’s wort works with the serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine receptor sites. It has also been demonstrated to manipulate two of the GABA sites which probably explains its mild calming ability. St. John’s wort has been taken all over the world by people for protracted periods of time (up to 30 years) without side effect or habituation (not working any more) issues. It should not be taken with pharmaceutical protocols because they work too similarly so it would be redundant. St. John’s wort may be used in conjunction with 5htp, SAM-e, DMAE, or HGH.
The most natural of all antidepressants S-adenosyl-L-methionine, or SAM-e is needed to make key messenger chemicals in the brain. European scientists firs noted SAM-e’s antidepressant effects in the 1970s during arthritis studies. The SAMe compound has been used ever since. SAM-e became commercially available in the US in the late 1990s. Originally the compound was not very stable. It didn’t like moisture or heat and broke down very quickly. Newer, more stable versions of oral SAM-e are now available. SAM-e is probably the most powerful liver detoxifier known to man. One study found that oral SAM-e quickly reduced symptoms of depression in people infected with HIV. Another 2004 study reported SAM-e improved depression symptoms of major depression among those taking prescription antidepressants with little to no relief from the drugs alone. Last year, Harvard researchers reported a larger trial in the American Journal of Psychiatry in which 73 patients with major depression whose prescription antidepressants weren’t helping received either SAM-e pills or a placebo as an “add-on” treatment. After six weeks, patients who took SAM-e had a greater improvement in symptoms. Because it is not patentable research is moving very slowly. SAMe is not typically recommended for extremely excitable people as it can magnify this.
5-HTP or Tryptophan
These two serotonin precursors are immediately recognized in the gut (where there are almost as many serotonin receptor sites as in the brain) where it is sent up the vagus nerve to the brain where it enzymatically converts into Serotonin, one of the fundamental feel-good neurotransmitters. They work very quickly. Excellent for high anxiety situations. Very calming. Good for sleep. Good for carbohydrate craving. The body may habituate after a few months. Breaks recommended that being the case.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s already have a solid reputation as a heart-healthy protocol but they are so much more. Did you know that omega oils go to the cox2 receptor site like aspirin? They are one of the most powerful anti-inflammatories around today. Our brains are 70% fat and therefore love fish fat. Everything flows better with fish fat in the brain. This is why research on their fatty acids and depression are so popular in the research community. For more than a decade, since the seminal Harvard study on the bipolar afflicted, studies have pointed to an association between fish consumption and depression: Across the globe, rates of depression are lower in populations that eat more fish, particularly omega-3 rich fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel. Studies have also shown that omega-3 levels are lower in people with depression than in people without. These findings, in turn, have prompted hundreds of studies to determine whether omega-3 supplements can help treat depression. Two recent reviews analyzed the data from dozens of the most well-designed of these studies, and they came to a similar conclusion: Omega-3s appear most likely to help people with severe depression
Because they’re so safe, researchers are now beginning to study whether omega-3s might help treat depression in children. A couple of recent, small studies — one in Israel, one in Australia — showed a 40% to 50% improvement of depressive symptoms in children given omega-3s. Other scientists are looking at whether omega-3s might help conditions related to depression, such as anxiety. In a study published earlier this year, medical students who took a daily omega-3 supplement containing 2,085 milligrams of EPA and 348 mg DHA for 12 weeks had a 20% reduction in anxiety compared with students who took a placebo.
Given the vagaries of depression, the many forms (from situational, to post-partum to ontological, to drug induced, to bipolar . . . . ), if you are experiencing your first episode of depression, there is always a chance of a recurrence. This is why it is It is important that you consider several approaches to depression. The average child experiences episodes of 6 months. Young adults, 18 months. Older people seem to run 36 month cycles. For a first episode that has not been around long — say, less than three months — it is important that you stay on your medication for at least four to six months of being completely symptom-free. Of course you could be dysthymic in which you are persistent low grade and will always be on the verge of a mild depression. Then it is just a matter of supporting the body in making all of the feel good neurotransmitters and hormones that it requires to feel optimal.
The chance of recurrence goes up with each episode of depression and with increased duration of symptoms. Family history of depression or bipolar disorder also must be considered. For a second episode, the chance for a recurrence is 80 percent (and 90 percent for a third episode). That is why psychiatrists usually recommend ongoing treatment to prevent future recurrences. The chance that a future episode may be more difficult to treat also factors in to the decision.
Years of untreated depression puts one at an increased risk for brain shrinkage and dementia. One brain chemical, neurotropic factor (BDNF) decreases with stress, anxiety and depression. BDNF keeps nerve cells and their connections healthy. When BDNF is decreased nerve cells atrophy and die and the brain shrinks. This occurs especially aggressive in brain areas where memory and learning occur. Antidepressants reverse this decrease and help restore BDNF.
We at HBC feel that a more diverse approach should be taken in an attack on depression. St. John’s wort is gentile but takes about 6 weeks to ramp up. 5hpt takes less than two but if overused can habituate. SAMe works very quickly and doesn’t seem to habituate but is very expensive. DMAE works very quickly, can have you feeling focused in less than forty minutes but can habituate in a few months so you need to take a break from that; say with Piracetam. All of these protocols may be taken together, meaning at different points of the day. I like DMAE in the morning as it is the precursor to the feel good neurotransmitter acetylcholine. I also like SAMe in the morning as it is stimulating. Subtle St. John’s wort may be taken at various points during the day. I prefer 5htp and L-tryptophan for the evening as it promotes nice deep sleep. Of course there are other endocrine based options that will boost natural antidepressants. One of my favorites is homeopathic HGH as it supports depression from a visceral level, is non-addictive and very effective. Please feel free to click on the image below for more information.