by Don Ellsworth, M.D.
If you ask most people what causes depression, they would very likely say a “chemical imbalance” and assume the answer to this presumed imbalance is a drug. The need for an antidepressant is implied by the very name, so most people incorrectly believe this is the best way to go in all circumstances when they are depressed. Is this true? We are not depressed because of a drug deficiency, and the actual presence of these imbalances, so-called chemical imbalances, is speculative.
Studies of antidepressants show they do little more than placebo to relieve depression, plus you get all their side effects, and these drugs are highly habit-forming. Special caution should be taken with adults under 25, as well as children and teens, since they have been shown to be at increased risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior when taking antidepressants. The risk of harming themselves or others is highest for about three weeks after starting, stopping or changing dosage. (Thus, never stop these medications on your own; they need to be slowly weaned under supervision. Read “The Antidepressant Solution” by Joseph Glenmullen).
So what are the real root causes of depression?
• Poor eating and exercise habits
• Poor gut (aka microbiome) health, i.e. leaky gut/yeast overgrowth/food sensitivities
• Negative thinking/perceptions
• Nutritional deficiencies
• Hormonal deficiencies
• Other toxins/trauma (Lyme disease, electromagnetic fields, heavy metals, head injury, etc.)
Effective treatments: What does work to fight depression?
Exercise: Walking daily for at least 30 minutes and more intense exercise 3x/week.
Get a healthy gut/microbiome: Our “second brain,” the “gut,” has a tremendous effect on our moods. To get a healthy gut, we need to avoid the common gut busters: regular use of nonsteroidal medications like ibuprofen, antibiotics (cause yeast overgrowth), steroids, birth control pills, excessive alcohol, food sensitivities, stress, exhaustion, inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.
Avoid sugar, high fructose corn syrup, gluten, GMO (genetically modified) and processed foods which often contain excitotoxins (MSG-like ingredients). You should also limit natural fructose intake, i.e. avoid too many sugary fruits like bananas and grapes.
Avoid food allergies/sensitivities: We find the most common severe reactions are due to grains, especially wheat, dairy, eggs, corn, and nuts. Testing for food allergies can often help determine what is keeping you down using a simple blood test.
Eradicate Candida/yeast: Yeast makes toxic compounds that can poison cellular metabolism and contribute to depression. The optimal eating program involves eating healthy along with a three-month program designed to eradicate Candida and replace the good bacteria, so you are left with a healthy gut.
Light up your life with light therapy: 45 minutes to an hour a day in front of a 10,000 LUX light therapy lamp has been shown to have better results than antidepressants. You can find these on Amazon.
Correct negative thinking/perceptions: We now know that negative thinking is a significant component of negative feelings. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on correcting our distortions in thinking which contribute to anxiety and depression. I recommend “Feeling Good” by David Burns which can be done on your own or working with a counselor. Interpersonal therapy (IPT) and problem-solving therapy have also been shown to be effective.
Vitamins and supplements: Probiotics (Probiotic Blend), SAMe (Ultra SAMe) and B-vitamins such as methylfolate (active folate), B6 and B12 are very useful for depression. Fish oil, 5-HTP, and zinc can also help.
• Thyroid: T3-containing thyroid products, i.e. desiccated pork thyroid, significantly improve mood. It is critical that the focus is on optimizing the cellular health, not the blood. We find this is best accomplished by using clinical symptoms, physical exam and using the free thyroid level to keep the level within range.
• Testosterone: It significantly improves mood and more, especially in men.
• Progesterone and Estrogen: Before menopause, progesterone alone may suffice, but as estrogen levels drop near and after menopause, most women need estrogen, too.
• DHEA (in men and women): Declines with age and replacing it can help improve mood.
To determine a solution for depression, we must first understand that it is often a symptom of an underlying condition. By addressing the cause, we can eliminate the depression, as well.