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THE PHYSICAL CAUSES (AND
SOLUTIONS) OF DEPRESSION
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Depression is a universally understood condition of sadness and
despondency. Life has lost its luster and gloom prevails.
Some sadness is an inherent part of weathering life’s misfortunes.
People normally recover from such low points and carry on.
Other conditions of sadness may require lifestyle changes such as
resolving a rocky marriage, dropping bad habits, or removing oppressive
factors from one’s life.
Still other situations may require the counsel of a good friend or
priest or minister – someone one can trust and discuss his or her
However, sometimes people don’t recover from life’s setbacks. Or
they become depressed over insignificant matters or for no reason at all.
The feelings of sadness may simply slow them down or can debilitate them
to the point where they weep continuously, cannot function in life, or may
Looking for a Medical Cause
When a person remains depressed despite normal efforts to remedy the
problem, a physical source of the depression should be considered. This is
particularly true in the case of debilitating or suicidal depression.
Physiological causes of depression are so common, in fact, that the
American Assn. of Clinical Endocrinologists states, "The diagnosis of
subclinical [without obvious signs] or clinical hypothyroidism must be
considered in every patient with depression."
Physical sources of depression include:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of sunshine
- Candida (yeast infection)
- Poor adrenal function
- Other hormonal disorders including:
- Cushing’s Disease (excessive pituitary hormone production)
- Addison’s disease (low adrenal function)
- High levels of parathyroid hormone
- Low levels of pituitary hormones
- Food Allergies
- Heavy metals (such as mercury, lead, aluminum, cadmium, and
- Selenium toxicity
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Sleep disturbances
- Dental problems
- TMJ (Temporo Mandibular Joint) Problems
- Infections including:
- Syphilis (late stage)
- Viral hepatitis
- Viral pneumonia
- Medical conditions including:
- Heart problems
- Lung disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic pain
- Chronic inflammation
- Brain tumors
- Head injury
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Temporal lope epilepsy
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Liver disease
- Drugs including:
- Tranquilizers and sedatives
- Antipsychotic drugs
- Amphetamines (withdrawal from)
- High blood pressure medications
- Birth control pills
- Anti-inflammatory agents
- Corticosteroids (adrenal hormone agents
- Cycloserine (an antibiotic)
The Importance of Exercise
A Duke University study points out the remarkable connection between
depression and one’s physical condition. A group of 156 elderly patients
diagnosed with major depression were divided into three groups, including
one whose only treatment was a brisk 30-minute walk or jog three times a
week. After 16 weeks, 60.4% no longer met the criteria for a diagnosis of
Duke University psychologist James Blumenthal
published the results of his team's study in the Oct. 25, 1999, issue of The
Archives of Internal Medicine. "One of the conclusions we can
draw from this," he said, "is that exercise may be just as
effective as medication and may be a better alternative for certain patients.
Daily 30-minute walks are even better and
faster-acting, according to a German study.
A particular note should be made about nutritional deficiencies and
their relationship to depression. According to the Encyclopedia of
Natural Medicine, "A deficiency of any single nutrient can alter
brain function and lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental
However, some nutritional deficiencies are more common than others.
Vitamin B2 deficiency is not common but can be created,
ironically enough, by certain antidepressant drugs called tricyclics. This
can lead to further depression.
Vitamin B6 is commonly very low in people who are depressed.
This is particularly true in people taking birth control pills or estrogen
in other forms. Those who are deficient in this vitamin normally do well
with B6 supplements.
Vitamin B9 is called folic acid and is the most common
deficient vitamin. Studies have shown that 31-35% of depressed patients
have folic acid deficiencies. The most common symptom of folic acid
deficiency is, in fact, depression.
Vitamin B12 works along with folic acid in a number of
biochemical functions. Deficiency becomes more common over the age of 50.
One study showed deficiency rates as follows: Between the ages of 60-69,
24%, ages 70-79, 32%, over 80, nearly 40%. Supplementation of folic acid
and B12 often produces dramatic results in people who are
depressed because of deficiencies.
Vitamin C deficiency is not particularly common but can occur people
with very poor diets or nonexistent intake of fruits and vegetables.
Symptoms of a mild deficiency include fatigue, irritableness and "the
blues." If not remedied, scurvy symptoms can develop.
Magnesium is a critical mineral used in sending messages along your
nerves. By some estimates nearly 75% of Americans do not take in enough to
meet minimum requirements. Magnesium deficiencies can result in muscle
weakness and irritability.
Another deficiency can occur with amino acids, the building blocks that
make up protein. One form of the amino acid methionine is called SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine).
SAMe levels tend to be low in the elderly and in depressed people. SAMe
supplements have been effective in alleviating depression. A common
dosage of SAMe is to start with 1,600 mg a day - either 800 mg twice a day
or 400 mg four times a day - for about two or three weeks, or until you
start to feel the antidepressant effects. Then one gradually reduces
the dosage to 800 mg or even 400-mg a day, based on one's depressive
Tryptophan is another amino acid that affects depression. Many
depressed people have low tryptophan levels. One supplement, 5-HTP, which
contains a form of tryptophan, has been shown in numerous studies to be as
effective as modern antidepressants (such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil)
for less cost and with fewer and much milder side effects. A standard
dosage of 5-HTP is 50-100 mg once or twice a day with meals.
Low fat diets can lead to depression if they are deficient in a
specific fatty acid (the building block of fats) called omega-3. Omega-3
is common in certain seeds, canola oil, soybean oil, egg yolks, and
cold-water ocean fish. Population studies in different countries have
shown that decreased consumption of omega-3’s correlates with increased
rates of depression.
A significant ingredient in fish oil and other
oils is EPA (ethyl-eicosapentaenoate). A study in the October 2002
issue of Archives of General Psychiatry found that depression was
reduced significantly when volunteers took fish oil supplements
containing a gram of EPA for 12 weeks. You can determine how
much EPA is in each fish oil capsule by reading the label on the
More information on the role of nutritional problems in depression can
be found at http://www.gsdl.com/assessments/finddisease/depression
A study reported in the Feb. 28, 2000, issue of Archive of Internal
Medicine revealed that, of more than 25,000 people given blood tests,
9.9% had thyroid problems they probably did not know about. Another 5.9%
were being treated for thyroid problems. This means nearly 16% of the
population had thyroid dysfunction. Depression is a common symptom of poor
Dr. Broda Barnes, author of Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness,
estimated that as many as 40% of the public may have low thyroid function,
much of which is not detectable by modern blood tests. He recommended a
simple and more reliable body temperature test.
Dr. Barnes' self thyroid test, discussed in his book, is as follows:
You take an old-fashioned mercury-type thermometer and shake it down
and put it on the nightstand before going to bed (if you're going to do it
on yourself - on someone else just shake it down below 95 degrees before
you take the temp). In the morning on awakening, before arising or moving
around, the person puts the thermometer snugly in his armpit for 10
minutes by the clock. If the temp is below 97.8, the person likely needs
thyroid or, if they're on thyroid, they need more thyroid. The temp should
be between 97.8-98.2. Dr. Barnes recommended Armour Thyroid which is
natural. Most doctors don't use this test but alternative doctors do. You
can get a list of them who will prescribe thyroid based on this test at the
Broda Barnes Foundation at 203 261-2101.
Extensive information on signs and treatment of thyroid problems is at http://thyroid.about.com.
A Note on Depression in the Elderly
A staggering number of the elderly are on
antidepressant drugs because depression is rampant among the aged. While
many factors can be involved – loss of loved ones, poor health,
retirement, etc. – a primary cause of this epidemic is nutritional
deficiencies. Not only do they eat poorly but they have trouble absorbing
a number of vitamins (e.g. B12) as their age increases.
Thyroid problems, as determined by blood tests, have been estimated to
affect up to 20% of women over 60.
Lack of exercise, a common problem with seniors, can, as noted above,
be a major source of depression.
Nutritional deficiencies, thyroid disorders, and enough exercise should
be a top concern in any population of elderly people with
A host of physical ailments can lead to a condition of sadness,
tearfulness, and hopelessness. These should be suspected and looked for in
anyone who is depressed and has a known physical ailment or who
experiences severe or unresolving depression.
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