Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Recently I came across an article giving "reasons not to take
antidepressants." I posted it to my Facebook page to share, and quite a
discussion ensued (if you'd like to read the article, here is a link: Five Reasons Not to Take AntiDepressants
While I'm not strictly anti-antidepressant (and have personally used
them in the past), I do think they are FAR too overprescribed... doled
out as an easy fix, probably by the same doctors who will whip out
their prescription pads for cholesterol or blood pressure lowering meds
without ever really talking to their patients about lifestyle and
dietary solutions. Antidepressants do have their appropriate "time
& place" but too often they end up being used as if they are a
"cure" in more cases than are appropriate. These medications CAN save
lives when used appropriately... but they also take lives when not.
Death by antidepressant does in fact happen (in some people they
paradoxically can cause worsening of symptoms and even create suicidal
thoughts where none previously existed). More often the experience is
not either extreme - they may dull the pain and help you to cope and
get through the demands of life, but they also dull your access to
those emotions and make it more difficult to work through them and
release them. If used for too long, they can delay full recovery.
Obviously whether to take these medications is a very personal
decision, and one each person has to weigh the pros and cons of.
the response to the article I posted, I can see that the topic is of
great interest to many, and in my professional practice, 80% of my
clients has mentioned mood (depression, "winter blues", chronic
anxiety, stress) as one of their main health concerns. So, this article
is going to be the first in a series that I will do over the coming
month. I will talk about lifestyle choices, supplementation, and food
that can help one to take control of their mental and emotional health
without relying on synthetic drugs, or which may help you to wean off
those drugs when you are ready. Some of these "alternative" solutions
(I'm still astounded that food, natural health supplements, and
lifestyle choices are considered "alternative" as opposed to "primary"
care choices) are in fact equally, and in many cases MORE effective in
supporting nervous system, hormonal, and mental health.
set the stage for this series, I'm going to start with giving a very
brief tutorial on the key brain chemicals that are involved in creating
Brain and Nervous System cells are referred to as neurons
. While most cells of the body are more or less spherical or in some cases
square(ish), neurons are shaped more like a tree, with "branches" on one end (dendrites
), a long "trunk" (axon)
, and ending in "roots" (axon terminals
). Some neurons are as small as a fraction of a millimeter, and some are as long as 3 feet.
Nerve cells don't actually touch each other. Instead, they communicate their messages across a small gap, called the synpase
In order to relay messages, nerve cells communicate by releasing
chemicals from the axon terminals of one cell, which are then received
by the dendrites of the neighbouring cells. These chemicals are called neuro
(messengers). Once the neurotransmitter has relayed its message (a
thought, feeling, or emotion), it is either broken down or reabsorbed
into the receiving neuron's storage for reuse.
There are at
least 70 neurotransmitters that have been identified (so far) that
regulate nerve function including memory, appetite, mental function,
mood, movement, and sleep-wake cycles. Too much or too little
production of neurotransmitters will affect your nervous system
functions in one way or another. For the regulation of mood, there are three key neurotransmitters to be aware of:
You may have heard of this one. It is the primary neurotransmitter for
general mood regulation. It is the chemical that is usually targeted by
medications such as Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor, Paxil, etc, which are
"Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors" (SSRIs). Think about that...
these medications selectively inhibit the "reuptake" (re-absorption) of
serotonin, which means serotonin is hanging around longer in the
synapses between neurons giving more chance for the messages to be
conveyed across cells. Serotonin boosts mood, curbs food cravings
(especially sugars and carbs), and helps manage your sleep-wake cycles
effectively. Low levels result in insomnia, depression, and food
cravings, among other affects.
Dopamine & Norepinephrine (noradrenaline)
- These two neurotransmitters also effect mood, as well as your energy
levels, and are known as your "motivation" neurotransmitters. They are
the chemicals that not only help keep your mood elevated, but help give
you the drive to take actions as a result of your thoughts and
Now here is a key piece of information, so listen up!
Many neurotransmitters are composed of either amino acids (the building
blocks of protein), or choline (a fat like substance also obtained from
food). Vitamins and minerals support the activity of neurotransmitters,
or protect them from damage. Some nutrients also support the normal
development of the nervous system structures. And, some food additives
(flavours, colours, preservatives, etc etc) can influence and interfere
with the manufacture, release, or reception of neurotransmitters.
Are you starting to get a glimpse into how FOOD is a primary influence on the regulation of mood?
upcoming articles, I'm going to go into more details about specific
foods and specific nutrients and lifestyle factors that will support
your nervous system health. I'd LOVE
to hear from you if this article and the upcoming series is intriguing
or of value to you. Please post your questions and comments, and I'll
do my best to address them in future articles. If you don't feel
comfortable posting publicly, as always you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Food & Mood, 2nd edition by Elizabeth Sommer, MA, RD