Depression happens to be one of the most common psychiatric disorders running a close second to anxiety. It often occurs after some traumatic experience particularly a recent loss. Fortunately, there are a number of botanicals and nutrients that you can take to help you through this rough spot. Exercise and proper diet also play a role in combating depression. Research suggests that an imbalance in the neurotransmitter serotonin may contribute to this condition. However, there are many factors within the body and brain that contribute as well such as hormone imbalances, vitamin deficiencies, genetic predisposition and synaptic membrane issues. Nevertheless, natural supplements are not meant for severe chronic depression but rather mild to moderate forms. If you’re looking for something to elevate mood, create a sense of well being (positive mental attitude), increase concentration and focus, there are certain ingredients you should look for.
Although there are a number of pathways involved with depression, serotonin is usually involved. The neurotransmitter serotonin is often referred to as the “feel good transmitter”. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, mood swings, eating disorders, obesity, and type 2 diabetes and other disorders. There are nutraceuticals or natural supplements you can take to restore balance. There are two things you can try to manipulate in terms of metabolic pathways to increase levels of serotonin in a safe and rapid manner. One is to take in precursors of serotonin and let your brain make more transmitter from the precursor and the other is to slow down reuptake of serotonin allowing it to remain in the synaptic cleft longer effectively increasing signal strength. You can supplement in such a way that you enhance both of these pathways producing an even stronger effect. Also, consider taking B vitamins to boost your energy levels and promote transmitter synthesis. It’s also a good idea to increase focus and concentration (short-term memory) and that can be done by taking in choline sources as choline is used to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine involved in short-term memory. Also, look for ingredients that increase blood flow to the brain to increase oxygen and nutrient levels. Beyond this, there are a number of other nutraceuticals that can help with depression that are involved in other pathways.
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and St. John’s Wort
First on the list of ingredients is 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) which is converted by the brain into serotonin. This is an amino acid that is easily absorbed by the gut and passes the blood-brain-barrier so it has high bioavailability. Tryptophan (an amino acid) can be taken instead as it is converted to 5-HTP and then 5-HTP is converted to serotonin. Either way, it works and is safe. This will increase your levels of serotonin thereby increasing signal transduction and elevate your mood and provide a sense of well being. To inhibit the reuptake of of serotonin in the synaptic cleft, consider St. John’s Wort. The active ingredient is hyperforin. This molecule is a strong inhibitor of selective serotonin reuptake proteins which allows serotonin to remain in the synaptic cleft longer. Hyperforin and 5-HTP can be taken together to give a double boost to serotonin levels.
Another molecule known as S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) is a powerful anti-depressant that works within hours of taking it. Depressed individuals have been shown to have low levels of SAM-e. These individuals were also found to be have low levels of B6, B9, and B12. These B vitamins are essential coenzymes and are involved in SAM-e metabolism.
SAM-e has the ability to raise the activity of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine amongst others by helping these transmitters bind to their receptors. It also boosts the production of phosphatidylcholine. Phosphatidylcholine is an important neuronal membrane component and is required for proper membrane function. Clinically, SAM-e has been demonstrated to work as well as some prescription drugs. It’s best if you are under a doctor’s care as you can easily overdose with this one and if you have bipolar disease (manic depression), SAM-e is not recommended. If your depression is associated with anxiety then 5-HTP would be better for you.
SAM-e’s mode of action is its ability to methylate proteins and DNA. Methylation deficiencies are linked to depression and other brain disorders. This chemical process of adding methyl groups to molecules is essential for maintaining active hormones, phospholipids, and neurotransmitters. SAM-e is also a powerful antioxidant protecting your mitochondria and cell membranes from oxidative damage and it increases the production of glutathione which is another powerful antioxidant your cells have the ability to make. SAM-e’s antioxidant properties make it a powerful anti-aging molecule as well.
B vitamin deficiencies have been demonstrated to linked to depression particularly B6, B9, and B12. Consider taking a supplement that has these 3 B vitamins or perhaps B-Complex which contains all the B vitamins. Your anti-depressant supplement may contain this and if not then take a multivitamin with it.
Tyrosine is an amino acid that is used as a precursor of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine and dopamine. Clinical studies demonstrate that oral administration of tyrosine works as well and in some cases better than prescription anti-depressants. You need to take vitamins B6 and C when taking tyrosine as these vitamins are used to convert tyrosine to norepinephrine.
Acetyl-L-carnitine is an amino acid and is reported to elevate mood acting as an anti-depressant. It is also used to generate energy in the form of ATP, increase mental clarity and increase physical stamina. It also has the ability to increase blood circulation to the brain. Alzheimer’s and Down syndrome patients are often administered acetyl-L-carnitine to boost short-term memory.
If you are an individual that experiences seasonal affective disorder (SAD) then you might want to consider taking vitamin D. Low levels of light in the winter time can bring about depression. Blood levels of vitamin D have been demonstrated to be low during this period and believed to be linked to depression.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Clinical studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acid administration relieves depression. Any source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is good. Better yet, take phospholipids such as phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine. These phospholipids (they contain omega-3s) have high bioavailability and are used by cells without any further metabolism. Phospholipids are major molecular components of your cell membranes and extremely important for neurons. Sources of omega-3s are available in fish oil form, krill oil, and flaxseed oil. You may need to take a separate supplement to get this as many anti-depressant supplements don’t contain them.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
CoQ10 is important for energy production in the form of ATP. Blood levels of CoQ10 have been reported to be low in individuals who are depressed. Studies indicate that oral administration relieves depression. CoQ10 is also known as ubiquitin. The name says it all in that it is found in every cell in the body. Whether you’re depressed or not, CoQ10 is something you should take. We have the ability to make this but production decreases as we age. This nutraceutical is lipid soluble and has high bioavailability.
Choline is an essential (must be consumed in the diet) nutrient that is required to make phosphatidylcholine (cell membrane lipid) and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. It is a member of the B vitamins. Choline will help boost focus and concentration enhancing short-term memory.
There are a wide range of botanicals that are good to take that can help with depression, anxiety, memory loss, oxidative damage and poor brain circulation. Consider Ginkgo biloba, Mucuna pruriens, Bacopa monniera, Gotu kola, Ginseng, Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, mushrooms (Cordyceps, Reishi), Vinpocetine, Huperzine A and the list goes on.