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In any given one-year period, 9.5% of the US population, or about 18.8 million adults, suffer from depression.1 The indirect and direct costs of mood disorder illnesses in the US total over $43 billion a year. Depression and related mood disorders rank just behind high-blood pressure as the most common reason people visit their doctors.
One in three doctor's visits by women now involve a prescription for an antidepressant medication. And one in ten American women takes at least one antidepressant drug.2 Americans now spend more money on antidepressants than the gross national product of two-thirds of the world's countries.3
Most individuals who consult their medical doctors for mood disorders are placed on prescription medications; in fact, as many as 10% of the US population has taken one of these medications. Prescription antidepressants reached a total of $37 billion in sales in 2003, which came out to $9 million more than was spent on treatments for the heart, the arteries, and blood pressure.4 The largest growth spurt in antidepressant use has been among preschoolers, ages 2 to 4.5 In 2003, over 1 million American children were taking an antidepressant medication.6
Interestingly, several studies show that between 19% and 70% of those taking antidepressant medications do just as well by taking a placebo or sugar pill.7 While patients are attempting to correct their mood disorders with prescription drugs that may or may not be more effective than a sugar pill, all of these drugs have potential – sometimes serious – side effects. Prozac alone has been associated with over 1734 suicide deaths and over 28 000 adverse reactions.8
Prescription antidepressants can cause depression, anxiety, addiction, suicidal tendencies, tremors or involuntary muscle spasms, and senility. Yes, prescription antidepressants and antianxiety drugs can and do cause depression and anxiety.9
The most popular antidepressants are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These, including Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, and Zoloft, are supposed to keep the brain from reuptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Effexor and Cymbalta are designed to inhibit reabsorption of serotonin and also the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Using these drugs is analogous to using a gasoline additive to help your car get more mileage out of the gasoline in the tank.
Unfortunately, many of the individuals who suffer from mood disorders are extremely low in serotonin, so blocking the reuptake of what little serotonin there is, allowing it to stay active longer, does little to boost overall serotonin levels. Pouring a gasoline additive into an empty tank doesn't help much, if at all. This may explain why patients often switch from one antidepressant drug to another in hopes of feeling better.
Those suffering from anxiety are commonly prescribed one of the benzodiazepine (tranquilizer) medications, including Ativan, Xanax, or Klonopin. National surveys show that 5.6 million adults over the age of 65 are now taking tranquilizers.10 These medications are associated with numerous unwanted side effects, including poor sleep, seizures, mania, depression, suicide, ringing in the ears, amnesia, dizziness, anxiety, disorientation, low blood pressure, nausea, fluid retention, tremors, sexual dysfunction (decreased desire and performance), weakness, somnolence (prolonged drowsiness or a trancelike condition that may continue for a number of days), and headaches.11 Additionally, over 73 000 older adults experience drug-induced tardive dyskinesia (tremors or uncontrollable shakes). For many, these tremors are permanent.12
Fortunately, for those looking for a safer, oftentimes more effective way to beat mood disorders, a group of progressive-minded physicians helped pioneer a new way of treating mental disorders, known as orthomolecular medicine. In 1968, two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, PhD, originated the term orthomolecular to describe an approach to medicine that uses naturally occurring substances normally present in the body. Ortho means correct or normal, and orthomolecular physicians recognize that in many cases of physiological and psychological disorders, health can be reestablished by properly correcting – or normalizing – the balance of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other similar substances within the body. Unlike drug therapy, which attempts to cover up the symptoms associated with a mood disorder, orthomolecular medicine seeks to find and correct the cause of the illness.
Amino Acid Therapy
Medical science has now determined that how we feel is largely controlled by the foods we eat and how well these building blocks are converted into neurotransmitters, which as brain chemicals control our moods. You may remember that chains of essential and nonessential amino acids make up proteins. Many of these amino acids are converted into neurotransmitters. The brain needs adequate amounts of protein and their amino acids for the production of neurotransmitters.
Certain amino acids in the foods we eat, along with B vitamins and minerals, produce the neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters that cause excitatory reactions are known as catecholamines. Catecholamines, epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline), are derived from the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine. The inhibitory or relaxing neurotransmitter serotonin is produced from the amino acid tryptophan.
Supplementing with 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), a form of tryptophan, helps raise serotonin levels. 5-HTP is available over the counter and works extremely well for most patients. Studies show that it can be as effective as antidepressant drug therapy, including SSRI medications.13-14
S-adenosyl- L-methionine (SAMe) is a potent, fast-acting natural antidepressant that is synthesized in the body from the amino acid methionine. SAMe has been proven through at least 100 studies to be an effective over-the-counter supplement for reversing depression.15-17 Meta-analyses showed that 92% of those on SAMe improved, compared with 85% on Elavil or other tricyclic antidepressant drugs.18
Amino acid replacement therapy offers far less risk and far more long-term benefits than prescription antidepressant drugs alone. Perhaps it is time that we start correcting nutritional insufficiencies, instead of treating Prozac deficiencies.
Dr. Murphree is a board-certified nutritional specialist and chiropractic physician who has been in private practice since 1990. He is the founder and past clinic director for a large integrated medical practice located on the campus of Brookwood Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. The clinic, which combined prescription and natural medicines for acute and chronic illnesses, was staffed with medical doctors, chiropractors, acupuncturists, nutritionists, and massage therapists. Dr. Murphree is the author of five books, including Treating and Beating Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Heart Disease: What Your Doctor Won't Tell You, and Treating and Beating Anxiety and Depression with Orthomolecular Medicine.
In 2003, Dr. Murphree sold his integrative medical practice. He now maintains a busy solo private practice and conducts one- and two-day medical continuing education seminars. He can be reached at his clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, at 205-879-2383, or through his website, www.TreatingandBeating.com.
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