Chemical Causes of Depression

letting-go.jpegSometimes we feel depressed when there doesn't appear to be any outside reason for it. We just feel down. Modern medicine would tell us that this is a deficiency of certain neurotransmitters, serotonin or perhaps dopamine. So, their answer is to try and increase levels of these neuotransmitters with drugs. We can do the same thing with supplements, which is a lot safer.

For instance, 5-HTP directly increases levels of serotonin and dopamine. Yet, I view this approach as a band-aid. Low serotonin and dopamine are symptoms, not causes. To fix the causes, we need to look deeper.

If you study traditional Western medicine, you'll find that melancholia (the traditional term for depression) was thought to be an excess of “black bile.” When the liver is toxic, the bile is very dark and often colors the stool black. (Some of you may have noted the dark smelly stools you've passed at the beginning of a cleanse. That's the liver dumping toxins or “black bile.”) So, in modern herbal lingo, we would say toxins, instead of black bile, but the concept is the same.

In the 1980s, I read Dr. Rudolph Ballentine's book, Diet and Nutrition: A Holistic Approach. Dr. Ballentine explains that the liver takes the burden of filtering the blood and removing any toxins that might damage the system, including pesticides, food additives, drugs, environmental pollutants, xenoestrogens and so forth. When the liver is functioning poorly, it can't do this and the excessive wastes circulating in our body give us an overall sense of heaviness and achiness. This can create feelings of apathy, lethargy and often depression. He then states, In fact, it has been suggested by some authors that the primary cause of most depression is liver dysfunction.

I've personally experienced the feelings of heaviness, lethargy and depression that accompany a congested and overburdened liver. For example, several years ago I broke my leg. After my leg started to heal, there were several occasions when I felt extremely depressed, even though I was on the mend. I finally realized it had nothing to do with my attitude. I was experiencing a detox reaction to the painkillers and drugs I'd been given in the hospital.

When I did some liver detoxing therapy, the depression and heaviness immediately lifted. In a similar manner, I've experienced an instant clearing of the mind and lightening feeling when I've done a colon cleanse or have had a colonic.

So, I believe that a major reason many people are chronically depressed is because their system is burdened down with chemicals. If you've seen the documentary,  Super Size Me, about the guy who ate three meals a day at McDonalds for a month as an experiment, you may recall that one of the problems he started to experience was lethargy and depression. The appearance of these symptoms coincided with abnormal changes in liver function. (If you haven't seen the movie, rent it and watch it.)

NSP introduced its Chinese herbal line about one year after I read about the depression/liver connection in Diet and Nutrition. I could immediately see why Mood Elevator (originally called AD-C) worked. It was designed to relieve feelings of heaviness and sagging chi or energy. It works by helping to normalize colon and liver function.

In recent years, Dr. Hugo Rodier, MD, has introduced me to the gut brain concept, which helps further explain why traditional medicine was right. It seems there are more serotonin receptors in the intestines than in the brain. So, when we're “full of it,” of course, we feel depressed.

St. John's wort is often recommended for depression, and herbalist Matthew Wood feels discusses that it is an important remedy for the nerves feeding the digestive system.  This may be part of the reason it works.  However, I don't find St. John's wort near as effective for most cases of depression as Chinese Mood Elevator.

There are many other herbs that are beneficial for combating depression.  For instance, I find black cohosh effective for depression associated with periods, the aftermath of childbirth or menopause.  It is also helpful for depression where a person feels trapped and wrestling with darkness.  They have a sensation of a dark cloud hanging over them or feel entangled in some way that they cannot escape.

There are numerous other herbs that can help depression depending on the cause.  Depression can be associated with low thyroid, in which case Liquid Dulse, kelp and other iodine-rich seaweeds may be helpful.  Thyroid Support or Iodoral are even better choices.

Depression can be associated with low levels of reproductive hormones, too.  This can also be associated with low levels of cholesterol, which is needed to make reproductive hormones.  Damiana is a good antidepressant for reproductive hormone related depression.  Ginseng and other reproductive tonics may also be helpful.

For depression associated with sadness or grief lemon balm may be a useful herb.  David Winston makes a formula called Grief Relief, which may be helpful.  It contains an herb called mimosa, which is a mood elevator in traditional Chinese medicine.