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Holistic Approach to Treating Depression

Depression is a debilitating illness that affects approximately 20% of people in the industrialized world, especially women. Its causes can be both psychological and physiological and there are numerous approaches to treatment. An increasingly popular option is treatment with antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Often due to pressure from health maintenance organizations to contain costs, doctors recommend these medications as a quick fix instead of psychotherapy. Another approach is to treat depression holistically, which typically involves changes in lifestyle and diet.

The food we eat is tremendously important for mental health because it controls the levels of chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters, which affect our mood and behavior. A number of neurotransmitters are known to have these effects including serotonin, dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), noradrenaline, glutamine and endorphins. Many people unknowingly increase their neurotransmitter levels temporarily through addictive behaviors such as drinking alcohol, cigarette smoking, taking drugs as well as compulsive eating. These substances often become a primary cause of depression.

Supplementation with Amino Acids

Supplementation with amino acids has been proven to relieve depression by boosting neurotransmitter levels naturally and safely. Symptoms are assessed to determine which neurotransmitter is needed: 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), S-adenosyl methionine (SAM) and tryptophan increase serotonin; tyrosine and phenylalanine increase dopamine and noradrenaline; GABA increases GABA; glutamine increases glutamine; and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and phenylalanine increase endorphins. (Tryptophan, banned by the FDA in 1991 due to a faulty lot produced in Japan, causing a large outbreak of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome in 1989, is considered to be highly beneficial and safe. The outbreak of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome was a result of contamination and not due to tryptophan.)


Research has demonstrated that exercise improves mood by increasing levels of serotonin and endorphins. Regular physical activity should be incorporated as a lifestyle change to maintain optimal physical and mental health.

Supplementation with Vitamins and Minerals

Supplementation with vitamins and minerals is known to address common nutritional deficiencies that contribute to depression. Mood-improving effects should be experienced within a month or two if correct amounts of the following nutrients are consumed: vitamins A (and mixed carotenoids), B complex, C, D, and E, calcium, choline, chromium, inositol, iron, magnesium, selenium, coenzyme Q10 and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH).

Optimal Ratio of Fatty Acids

Intake of an optimal ratio of fatty acids is needed for proper functioning of the central nervous system to ensure production of the prostaglandins that are responsible for good mood. Although there should be no more than a 4:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, ratios of 30:1 are common. The easiest way to establish balance is by consuming flax seeds which provide alpha-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid (it is necessary for our health but it cannot be produced within our body) from which other omega 3s are produced. Moreover, supplementation with the omega 3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA is a primary structural component of our brain) is also beneficial because its lack is strongly associated with depression. Trans fatty acids, which interfere with fatty acids and possibly also with prostaglandin production, should be entirely eliminated from our diet.

Correct Ratio of Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein

The mental state of every person is enhanced when they eat according to their metabolic type because then the maximal amount of adenosine triphosphate (ATP transports energy within cells) will be produced and utilized for the best functioning of the brain. This means eating the correct ratio of carbohydrates, fats and protein determined by your individual biochemistry. Some individuals require more carbohydrates, while others require more protein and fats to ensure the highest production of ATP. There are specific self-assessment tests available to determine your metabolic type whereas simple blood or urine pH tests can be used to ensure you are eating correctly.

Vegan Diet vs Meat and Diary

When it comes to ideal diet for boosting neurotransmitter levels, it appears that vegan food grown organically and eaten predominantly in its natural state is the best choice. Raw plant food is rich in essential nutrients and enzymes and these substances greatly enhance healing. Unsurprisingly, the most undesirable choice of diet is a meat-based diet that is high in processed and refined foods, dairy and sugar. If you decide to switch to a plant-based raw diet, do it in stages and drink plenty of fluids to aid detoxification.

Specific Adjustments

Depression in women that is due to hormonal changes from menses or menopause and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) should respond well to the above-mentioned dietary changes. However, if the depression is from hypothyroidism, over-the counter hormone supplements or prescription hormones should also be considered. If the depression is related to seasonal affective disorder, supplementation with melatonin and light therapy may be beneficial. When depression is a result of hypoglycemia, the appropriate diet should contain foods with low glycemic index and the aforementioned supplementation with amino acids may not be needed.

The holistic approach to treating depression involves a lot more effort and self-assessment than the simple administration of prescription drugs. Periods of trial and error are inherent in individualizing a program that works best for each individual case. However, the great benefit is true healing rather than just controlling the symptoms of depression, while there is very little risk of serious side effects and no dependence on antidepressant drugs.

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