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MagazineDecember 1996 (Vol. 7 Issue 9)Alternatives to ect

First of all establish whether you are suffering from depression or whether there is an underlying medical condition which is responsible for how you feel

First of all establish whether you are suffering from depression or whether there is an underlying medical condition which is responsible for how you feel. In his book Prescription for Nutritional Health (Avery, 1990), Dr James Balch believes that in most cases the elderly are merely suffering from physical problems related to their age. "Senility occurs in old age but is really not very common. . . Many of those diagnosed as senile are actually suffering from the effects of drugs, depression, deafness, brain tumours, thyroid problems, or liver or kidney problems. Nervous disturbances, stroke and cerebral dysfunction are considered symptoms of the senility syndrome. Often a nutritional deficiency is the cause."

Consider the following dietary measures:Irrational behaviour can sometimes be the result of food allergies (J Affective Disord, 1981; 3:291; Compr Psychiatr, 1976; 17:335). Individuals suffering from irritability, depression, hyperactivity, fatigue and anxiety need an immediate full medical physical check up and a complete test done to look for allergies which can cause mood changes.

Depression is a common symptom of folic acid deficiency (Biol Psych, 1989; 25(7): 867-72; Prog Neuropsy choparmacol Bio Psychiatry, 1989; 13(6): 841-63; Lancet, 1990; 336: 392-95). In addition to taking supplements of folic acid, supplements of vitamins B (Br J Psych, 1982; 141:271-2; Acta Med Scanda, 1965; 177: 688-9) and C (Am J Clin Nutri, 1971; 24: 432-3; J Orthomol Med, 1987; 2(4): 217-8) could help. Also deficiencies in calcium, iron, copper, magnesium, potassium and essential fatty acids have been implicated in depression. Blood tests and hair analysis can reveal if you are deficient in these substances.

A good wholefood diet will help the body manufacture serotonin and norepinephrine the important neurotransmitters (messenger cells which move between the nerve cells and the brain) which help to regulate moods. But these neurotransmitters are mainly derived from amino acids which it can be difficult for the body to manufacture in large enough amounts. You can try supplements of tryptophan (Psycho Med, 1978; 8: 49-58; Arch Gen Psych, 1990; 47: 411-8), L-phenylalanine (J Clin Psych, 1986; 47(2): 66-70) and the less widely available L-tyrosine (Adv Biol Psychiatry, 1983; 10:148-59). As you may require mega doses of these, they are best taken under the supervision of a nutritionist experienced in this area.

Thyroid problems either hypo or hyperthyroidism can often lead to mood swings which are swiftly but mistakenly labelled depression. Cutting down or eliminating iodized salt from your diet may produce results (see WDDTY, 1996 7(7): 2-5), as will cutting out caffeine and refined sugar.

Trace metals like lead cadmium and mercury in a person's system can also lead to behavioural disorders. Chronic bouts of depression are among the most common symptoms of mercury poisoning from dental amalgam, according to Hal Huggins (It's All In Your Head, Avery, 1993).

Therapy can help

There is plenty of evidence to show that "talking cures" can be an effective means of dealing with depression.

A recent survey showed that counselling with a view to problem solving was as effective as a course of antidepressants (BMJ, 1995; 310: 441-45).

Don't rely on your GP for this; seek out an experienced counsellor.

Exercise regularly

An hour of aerobic exercise three times a week has been shown to significantly improve levels of depression (BMJ, 1985; 291: 109).

Consider herbal medicines

Hypericin, a constituent of St John's Wort (hypericum perforatum) can boost the level of norepinephrine. In one trial of 15 women given a standardized extract of hypericin, all felt better and none suffered side effects (Arnzeim Forch, 1984; 34: 918). (See also BMJ, 1996; 313: 253-8).

Yohimbine, obtained from African tree bark, has demonstrated a positive effect on moods. One study of nine patients who had failed to respond to at least two anti depressant medication trials, which included fluvoxamine, were given yohimbine while continuing with the fluvoxamine.

Three of the patients experienced a marked improvement in mood. Side effects of insomnia and anxiety decreased as the dose of yohimbine was lowered (Biol Psychiatr, 1995; 38:765-7).


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