Depression: A Warning that Change is Necessary

by Michael B. Schachter M.D., F.A.C.A.M.

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Natural Awakenings Magazine, Rockland and Orange edition.

Evidence of depression is everywhere: feeling sad, excessive crying, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, appetite changes, sleep problems, negative thoughts (such as those of death and/or suicide), feeling worthless or guilty, low energy level and poor concentration. If a person experiences a few of these symptoms, he may be labeled "depressed". Once the person is so labeled, the label becomes the "cause" of the symptoms. He is doing a poor job or he feels guilty because he is depressed. Often the default solution for depression is prescribing antidepressants to control symptoms. So, we name it, blame it and tame it (Sidney Baker MD).

You can't watch television, listen to the radio or read a magazine without being barraged by commercials for one antidepressant or another. Just prescribing antidepressants often fails to address key questions relating to the actual causes of the symptoms. Why are these symptoms present and what can be done to make this person feel healthy again and to rekindle his life force?

What if, instead of trying to control the symptoms of depression, we look for sources of problems? The approach of the orthomolecular psychiatrist begins with assessing the patient's nutritional status, toxic exposure, hormonal imbalances, lifestyle characteristics (stress management, exercise and sleep patterns) and genetic propensities. These are all interrelated in what may be considered a functional web and each element affects all of the others.

Low Thyroid Function

For example, many symptoms of depression are also characteristic of a low functioning thyroid gland. Many physicians recognize this and order blood tests for thyroid function. If the tests come back within normal range (and they usually do), the person is told the thyroid is fine and that an antidepressant is necessary or that he should see a psychiatrist. However, blood tests for thyroid function have limited value for a variety of reasons and the person may actually respond to the right form of thyroid hormone. This low thyroid function may relate to a deficiency of iodine or selenium or to overexposure to bromine. So, we look for underlying causal factors and attempt to correct them.

A Healthy Diet

Diet is important when it comes to depression. In recent years, we have learned that what we eat and drink not only supplies the building blocks for all biochemical reactions in the body, but also affects how our genes are expressed (epigenetics). The standard American diet (SAD) contributes to poor health and to depression. A diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods helps to prevent and treat depression. Individual differences need to be considered. For example, many people are sensitive to gluten, a protein found in wheat and certain other grains. For them, a gluten-free diet may be crucial in preventing and treating depression.

Other Factors

Optimal hydration with pure water is necessary along with proper amounts of unrefined salt, sunlight, regular exercise, nutritional supplements (such as fish oil, amino acids, B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin K, minerals, iodine and herbal extracts) and bio-identical hormones. All may be relevant for a particular individual. Testing for nutrients, gluten sensitivity, hormone levels and toxic minerals (like lead and mercury) may also be quite helpful. Some depressed patients even benefit from nutritional substances given by injection.

Those that find themselves in a state of depression but don't believe that pills are the answer can rest assured that there are other options out there that will not only help alleviate the depression, but can lead to an overall healthier you.

2010 Michael B.Schachter, M.D.




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