Serotonin and norepinephrine are neurotransmitters that regulate mood, sleep, appetite, and emotion and are involved in a variety of physiological and behavioral functions. If the immediate reuptake of serotonin (or norepinephrine) is prevented, more of these precious brain chemicals remain available to do their intended work (Vaswani M et al 2003; Bourin M et al 2002).
Many nutrients and supplements can influence the body’s management of vital neurotransmitters. Much like the prescription drugs used to treat depression, these natural therapies act by increasing production of neurotransmitters or reducing their rates of degradation. Unlike prescription drugs, however, natural therapies can also minimize the effects of oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to depression.
One intriguing target for therapy is homocysteine, which is an intermediary amino acid that has been associated with various disease states. Studies have shown that elevated homocysteine is also associated with depressive disorders and anger attacks caused by depression (Chen CS et al 2005). Homocysteine levels can be lowered by the following nutrients, some of which (especially S-adenosyl-L-methionine, or SAMe) have been found to improve depression independently.
Folic acid. Clinical trials have demonstrated that folic acid relieves depression on its own and enhances the antidepressant effect of conventional antidepressants. In one study, patients given 500 mcg folic acid daily in conjunction with fluoxetine experienced a significant improvement in depressive symptoms compared with patients receiving the antidepressant alone, and women benefited particularly (Coppen A et al 2000). Because relapse is associated with low serum folate, it is important to maintain folate supplementation for a year following a depressive episode (Morris MS et al 2003).
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin). Deficiency in vitamin B12 has been cited as a risk factor for developing depression (Gottfries CG 2001) and is associated with increased homocysteine (Parnetti L et al 1997; Stabler SP et al 1990). People with high vitamin B12 levels have better treatment outcomes for major depression (Hintikka J et al 2003). Vitamin B12 supplementation is important for depressed individuals, particularly older patients, in whom low vitamin B12 levels are common (Lindeman RD et al 2000; Penninx BW et al 2000).
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). In 2005, a team of researchers from Yale University examined all the published studies on vitamin B6 and depression. Although the researchers did not find evidence of benefits from vitamin B6 treatment in the results of all the studies, they did find that premenopausal women suffering from depression benefited from vitamin B6 (Williams AL et al 2005).
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†This supplement should be taken in conjunction with a healthy diet
and regular exercise program. Results may vary.