(Holistic) Prozac Nation
Natural alternatives to prescription antidepressants
by Wendy C. Smith
Everybody gets the blues at one time or another. Sometimes they show up for no reason and disappear just as quickly. Other times, they can be connected with an event and hang around for a while. Occasional sadness is part of everyday life, but real depression is a serious problem and much more than a brief “blue” period. People who are clinically depressed are incredibly miserable and are often unable to function normally.
The exact causes of depression are not fully understood, though it appears that a combination of events such as stress, physical illness, environmental factors and social factors may cause depression to set in. Other times depression can be linked to trauma, a chemical imbalance in the brain, or family genes. Depression can cause excessive worry, anxiety and sadness. Either way, clinical pathological depression is a very grave illness and requires the care of a trained physician.
The remedies for depression and its associated symptoms are usually therapy and prescription drugs such as Zoloft®, Prozac® and Valium®. All of those drugs can have serious side effects. For example, Prozac is often described as numbing and Valium can cause an addiction. Those drugs all use synthetic chemicals to attach to receptors in our brains that help tell us how we feel.
From a more holistic viewpoint though, there are some natural substances that may make a big difference and solve the issue or help the issue without drugs. St. John’s Wort is probably the most common of the herbal blues remedies. It has been used in Germany, in particular, for a long time, where most of the current research on it is being done. St. John’s Wort is often referred to as “nature’s Prozac,” and there is evidence that this herb can help with mild depression and raise serotonin levels.
Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter synthesized by the central nervous system. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression, irritability and poor sleep. Zoloft, for example, is a psychotropic drug that is often prescribed for anxiety. It uses artificial means (synthetic chemicals) to raise serotonin levels. Women generally have lower levels of serotonin than men (and suffer from depression more often than men) and diets that are low in C & B vitamins make it difficult for the body to produce serotonin.
Theanine is another amino acid that aids in relaxation and thus might help curb depression and anxiety. Theanine is a substance found in green tea. It has been found to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. It also raises the levels of dopamine and serotonin, both of which promote relaxation and increased mental activity (alpha wave activity). Theanine can produce a feeling of relaxed alertness and counterbalances the small amount of caffeine of green tea.
5HTP (5 Hydroxy-tryptoohan) is another serotonin-enhancing supplement. This metabolite of the amino acid tryptophan is a highly absorbable type of typtophan and the precursor with which the brain produces serotonin. St. John’s Wort, Kava Kava and
Holy Basil all contain 5HTP. Speaking of Holy Basil, it is a very interesting herb that has the effect of greatly mellowing out the people who take it. Some people describe its effect as a gentle “high.” Others say it gives them a general feeling of well-being. A side benefit is the reduction of cortisol which will help reduce fat around the mid-section.
SAM-e (toysylate disulfate) has been hailed as a natural anti-depressant because it raises the levels of many neurotransmitters. It was originally given to older people to help stop memory loss but was found to also benefit osteoarthritis. SAM-e is said to promote sleep, elevate the mood and help with depression and stress. Omega-3s (fish oil, flaxseed oil) have been used since the 1800s to help level moods and keep the mind sharp. These essential fatty acids have also been used to alleviate the symptoms of schizophrenia, manic-depression and ADD/ADHA.
Zen Mind is a supplement that contains theanine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA bonds with the same receptors as valium and produces a feeling of relaxation. Interestingly enough, compounds in chocolate and certain mushrooms also bond with those same receptor sites.
Although people who take anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs might want to stop and go a more natural route, it is never wise to stop taking any anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drug without the guidance of one’s physician. Depression is a severe condition, and any efforts to remedy it must be done with careful consideration. Because the cause of depression is not fully understood, the “cure” is not either. However, herbal and natural substances have been effective in this area. Nobody wants to be sad or worried, and if a natural way of dealing with the blues is appropriate for the situation, why not try it?