How To Tell If Your Depression Is Psychological or Biochemical – Excerpts From The Book "7 Weeks To Sobriety" – By Joan Matthews Larson – Orthomolecular Medicine, Orthomolecular Psychiatry, Holistic Drug Addiction Treatment, Alcohol Dependency, Medication Detoxification,Chemical Dependency, Depression and Anxiety – Minneapolis, Minnesota
How to Tell if Your Depression Is Psychological or Biochemical
Biochemical depression has certain symptoms that distinguish it from the depression stemming from negative life events. You have reason to suspect that you are biochemically depressed if any of the markers listed below describes your depression:
- You have been depressed for a long time despite changes in your life
- Talk therapy has little or no effect; in fact, psychological probing– questions like "Why do you hate your father?"–leave you as confused as Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party
- You don't react to good news
- You awaken very early in the morning and can't get back to sleep
- You cannot trace the onset of your depression to any event in your life
- Your moods may swing between depression and elation over a period of months in a regular rhythm (this suggests bipolar, or manic-depressive, disorder)
- Heavy drinking makes your depression worse
How Serious Is Your Depression?
As important as identifying the cause of your depression is determining the depth of your feelings. If you often have suicidal thoughts, please confide in your physician and a close friend or relative. You will recover, but in your present state you need the support of someone you trust. Share this information and together do the detective work needed to discover what is responsible for your continued depression.
The Seven Kinds of Alcoholic Depression
As I noted earlier, at HRC we have identified seven sources of biochemical depression affecting alcoholics:
- Neurotransmitter depletion
- Unavailability of prostaglandin E1
- Vitamin/mineral deficiency
- Food and chemical allergies
- Candida-related complex.
Neurotransmitter Depletion and Depression
In earlier reading of this website you became acquainted with neurotransmitters-the natural chemicals that facilitate communication between brain cells. These substances govern our emotions, memory, moods, behavior, sleep, and learning abilities. Neurotransmitters are manufactured in the brain from the amino acids we extract from foods and their supply is entirely dependent on the presence of these precursor amino acids.
Alcohol destroys these essential precursor amino acids, which is probably why alcoholics seem so emotionally muddled and depressed. Without adequate amino-acid conversion, neurotransmitters are no longer produced in sufficient amounts; this deficiency causes "emotional" symptoms, including depression.
The two major neurotransmitters involved in preventing depression are serotonin (converted from the amino acid L-tryptophan) and norepinephrine (converted from the amino acids L-phenylalanine and L-tyrosine). You can resupply these vital neurotransmitters and reverse depression by taking daily amino-acid supplements.
Your symptoms will determine which amino acid you will take for depression: tryptophan if your symptoms are sleeplessness, anxiety or irritability; L-tyrosine or L-phenylalanine if your symptoms a lethargy, fatigue, sleeping too much, or feelings of immobility.
Tryptophan to Serotonin
The amino acid tryptophan, found in large amounts in milk and turkey, is the nutrient needed to form serotonin, which controls moods, sleep, sex drive, appetite, and pain threshold. Eating disorders and violent behavior have also been traced to serotonin depletion. Replacing serotonin can lift depression and end insomnia. In one notable study, a medical researcher in Holland demonstrated that a combination of tryptophan (2 grams nightly) and vitamin B6 (125 milligrams three times a day) could restore patients with anxiety-type depression to normal in four weeks. Depression accompanied by anxiety and sleep disturbances is most likely to respond to tryptophan.
New research (1997) from McGill University in Montreal has found that men produce 52 percent more serotonin than do women. This in-formation seems to explain why more women than men appear to experience a shortage of this critical chemical that modulates moods and so are more likely to suffer from depression and/or eating disorders.
Until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibited the manufacture and sale of tryptophan in the United States in the fall of 1989, we used it for ten years at HRC without any ill effects. This amino acid has also been widely used in England and Canada. In 1989, however, a number of deaths and illnesses in the United States were traced to batches of tryptophan manufactured in Japan. In response, the FDA removed tryptophan from the U.S. market. The FDA has finally allowed this essential amino acid to be restored to baby food and also has made it available by prescription only. Unfortunately, the price of it has now quadrupled.
Tryptophan is now available at Bio-Recovery
Tryptophan is not a drug. It is an essential amino acid much needed to support life and sanity. In an interesting coincidence, Prozac made its first appearance within days of the ban on tryptophan. Now there is a whole family of serotonin-stimulating drugs, but none of them can create more serotonin; they can only speed its firing into the brain and partially block the reuptake into the neurotransmitters, and so the low levels of serotonin in those neurotransmitters are slowly becoming even more depleted.
At HRC almost everyone comes into our program taking one of the serotonin-firing antidepressants (Zoloft, Paxil, Desyrel, Serzone). Our physician switches them to the natural serotonin precursor, tryptophan, which promptly restores the missing serotonin levels. Usually the firing mechanism works fine; the problem was that it simply has had very little serotonin to fire.
Here are the guidelines for substituting tryptophan for a serotonin enhancing drug:
- Tryptophan alone will not be converted to serotonin. To insure that it is properly used, you must also take vitamin C and vitamin B6 (Table 25, Seven Weeks to Sobriety).
- Tryptophan is converted to niacin before its final conversion into serotonin. If your body is deficient in niacin, the tryptophan you take will supply you with niacin, not serotonin. For this reason, it is a good idea to take a B-complex vitamin daily. This will give you both vitamin B6 and niacin and allow the tryptophan to be converted to serotonin.
- Inositol changes into a substance that regulates serotonin's effectiveness within nerve cells. A recent (1997) study confirms its effectiveness with depression. Therefore, we include inositol in this formula.
Of all the amino acids, tryptophan is least able to cross the blood-brain barrier. It must pass this biological hurdle in order to be converted to serotonin. You can give it a nudge by taking it in fruit juice. This will trigger insulin release, which will assist the tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier. Always take your tryptophan on an empty stomach.