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Depression is a feeling of intense sadness that persists for a long period of time (more than a month).  After anxiety, depression is the most common psychiatric disorder.  Women are twice as likely to experience depression than men although the reasons are not clear.

Depression can be caused by emotionally upsetting events, especially those involving a loss.  It also tends to run in a family (heredity).  Certain drugs and medical conditions can cause depression directly by affecting hormone levels or indirectly by having a negative impact on the quality of life.

There are two major classifications of depression, the unipolar and bipolar depression.  Unipolar depression is depressive disorders recurring in a person's lifetime. Bipolar depression is also called maniac depression with alternate symptoms of maniac and depression.  A very common type of depression is called dysthymia.  It is a low-grade depression recurring over a long time.  The depressive symptoms may not be disabling but can affect a person's enjoyment of life and social activity.  Seasonal affective depression (SAD) is also a common type of depression. Some people become more depressed in the winter when the days are shorter and darker.

The levels of neurotransmitters in the brain are extremely important in controlling depression.  These substances carry impulses between nerve cells.  Low levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin can lead to depression and anxiety.  Other substances such as norepinephrine and dopamine are also involved.  

The symptoms of depressions include: feeling of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt; recurrent thoughts of suicide; poor appetite or increased appetite; insomnia or hypersomnia, poor sleeping quality; being hyperactive or inactive; loss of interest in usual activities; decrease in sex drive; loss of energy and feeling of fatigue, inability to think and concentrate.

Depression is often treated with drugs, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs),  tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO inhibitors), sedatives, etc.  They all have mild to severe side effects including agitation, anxiety, insomnia, tremors, headaches, nausea, sexual dysfunction, dry mouth, drowsiness, weight gain, low blood pressure.  Depression can also be treated with psychotherapy with or without drugs.  Cognitive therapy can help change a person's hopeless and negative thinking. Both group or individual therapy can help a person gradually resume normal activity.

Physical activity, consumption of high protein and complex carbohydrates help to increase the levels of certain hormones and neurotransmitters, and therefore, may help to relieve depressive symptoms.  A person should seek medical diagnosis immediately if there are recurrent thoughts of suicide and the feelings of intense sadness last for several weeks or more.  


Herbal and dietary supplements for depression:

St. John's Wort

Scientific studies have shown that St John's Wort is effective for mild to moderate depression.  It works as well as prescription drugs but has fewer side effects.  The active compounds are hypericin, its derivative hyperforin and several flavonoids.  St John's Wort extract is a weak inhibitor of monoamine oxidase (enzyme that breaks down some neurotransmitters) and it also inhibits the uptake of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline, thus maintaining a normal level of neurotransmitters in the brain areas.  St John's Wort may cause hypersensitivity and it should not be used with other antidepressant drugs.


5-HTP (5-hydroxy L-tryptophan)

5-HTP is a precursor of serotonin and melatonin.  It increases the production of serotonin and thus improves depression symptoms.  Do not use if you have maniac depression or bipolar depression or if you are taking other antidepressants.


SAMe (S-denosylmethionine)

SAMe is an agent that donates methyl groups to other compounds in the brain.  Methyl group deficiency is associated with depression.  SAMe also increases the action of several neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline.



Lavender is a gentle relaxing herb.  It has nourishing effect on the nervous system.  Lavender essential oil is used externally or inhaled to improve the mood.  Lavender tea and tincture can be taken to ease depression.



Another herb that has relaxing and nourishing effect on the nervous system.  Herbalists consider it more helpful when depression is caused by chronic illnesses.  It is also said to heal liver damage.


Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo is usually used to treat memory problems.  It is most effective if used in the elderly who suffer from age-related decreases in the receptors of serotonin. 


Multivitamin and mineral complex

Nutrient balance is essential for normal function of the nervous system.  Deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals is associated with depression.


Kira, St. John's Wort

Now Foods, 5-HTP

Doctor's Best, Double-Strength SAM-e 400

(use code "WAN045" - get $5 off your first order)




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