Most people will feel depressed at some point in their lives. It is a natural reaction to difficult life situations and results in sadness and despair. Most of the time depression is temporary and will subside eventually. However, some individuals suffer from chronic depression that makes it difficult to function, leave the house, or interact with others including family. People who don’t understand chronic depression often advise the depressed to “snap out of it,” or tell them it is all in their head. However, chronic depression is caused by a combination of factors including genetics, environment, biology, and psychology.
Feeling sad isn’t, in and of itself, a definitive symptom of depression. Anyone is susceptible to a bad day. Symptoms of chronic depression can vary between patients but often include sadness, anxiousness, and emptiness. They may also have a tendency toward hopelessness and be consistently pessimistic. They may not have any self-worth or feel helpless in their daily lives. They have decreased energy, insomnia or excessive sleeping, loss of interest in favorite activities, or difficulty concentrating and making decisions. It could affect their appetite either causing them to overeat or not eat at all. Physical symptoms such as pain or aching that doesn’t respond to medication is also common. Some people with depression even have thoughts of suicide.
Chronic depression isn’t something to take lightly. Nearly 7% of adults in the U.S. experience depression at this level. Women are 70% more likely to become chronically depressed than men. While it is more common in adults over thirty, over 3% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 also struggle with depression.
The most important thing for someone with chronic depression is to find the right treatment. All too often traditional medicine focuses solely on the symptoms. Medications are fine if they are supplemented with a holistic approach to treat the entire patient. Good nutrition, exercise, mental health care, and more all add up to a better-rounded treatment plan for someone dealing with the effects of depression.
New research on supplements
Supplements have a curious history within the medical industry. Some opponents believe that they are pseudoscience and not worth using to treat chronic conditions. However, medical researchers have been studying the effects of various supplements for a number of conditions, including depression, and have found some very compelling evidence. Let’s take a look at two recent studies.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Frequently, depression is triggered by another chronic pain condition. This study, conducted in October by Elsevier, demonstrated that individuals with inflammatory pain conditions leading to depression benefited from adding omega-3 fatty acids to their treatments. Omega-3s, most commonly taken as a supplement in fish oil, are beneficial for a number of health reasons including lowering the risk of heart disease.
To determine the effects that fish oil had on patients with the inflammatory condition hepatitis C, researchers recruited patients undergoing treatment and divided them into three groups. Using two of the components of fish oil and a placebo, each for a third of the group, they were able to evaluate which of the three was most effective in battling depression.
Patients treated with the acid EPA, one of the components of fish oil, showed a decrease of hepatitis-C treatment induced depression. However, patients taking the other acid, DHA, or the placebo did not. The study is just one of many that seem to indicate that a supplement of fish oil can help augment traditional treatments for depression.
From Dr. Carmine Pariante from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London:
“The study shows that even a short course (two weeks) of a nutritional supplement containing one such omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (EPA) reduced the rates of new-onset depression to 10%.”
A holistic approach to treating depression does advocate an entire person approach. This may include better nutrition practices, which should incorporate omega-3 fatty acids.
In April of this year, researchers at Mt. Sinai Medical Center released a study that showed the anesthetic ketamine could have a positive, rapid effect on individuals suffering from depression. However, this treatment is not without its drawbacks. Ketamine has also been linked with drug abuse over the years so using it to treat depression is a careful science that requires low-doses and professional care.
The controlled study showed that intranasal ketamine provided rapid effects within 24 hours for depressed patients who were unable to find relief from any other treatment. In the double blind study, twenty random patients seeking treatment for major depression were given either ketamine or saline. Patients receiving the intranasal ketamine met the study’s response criteria with minimal dissociative effects. Additional outcomes included a reduction of anxiety and a change in the reporting of depression symptoms.
Dr. James W. Murrough from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai indicated:
“There is an urgent clinical need for new treatments for depression with novel mechanisms of action. With further research and development, this could lay the groundwork for using NMDA targeted treatments for major depressive disorder.”
The study hopes to initiate more research into the use of intranasal ketamine to see how it can affect patients dealing with major, chronic depression who are unable to find relief through other means of treatment. The team of researchers wants to examine the mechanism and doses, and use functional brain imaging to determine more about the use of ketamine as a treatment for depression.
Other supplements that help with depression
Of course, omega-3 fatty acids and ketamine are not the only things that can work to augment treatments for depression. Other supplements may include:
- B-complex vitamins: These vitamins help the body produce more serotonin that can help fight depression and anxiety.
- 5-HTP: Short for 5-hydroxytryptophan, this supplement is a serotonin pre-cursor and can sometimes help when depression medications can’t.
- Theanine: This amino acid is commonly found in green tea and can be used as a supplement as well. It helps relax the body and calm anxiety.
If you or someone you know battles chronic depression, it is important to seek out professional help to guide your treatment in the right direction.
Have you had experience with taking supplements to help curb depression?
Image by Steven Depolo via Flickr