Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency and Depression
The effect of nutritional deficiencies on brain chemisty can cause depression, anger, listlessness, and paranoia. Unfortunately, the connection between depression and vitamin and mineral deficiencies is often missed. At Johns Hopkins University, sixty-nine cases of scurvy (total vitamin C depletion) were discovered at autopsy, and yet the disease had not been diagnosed before death in 91 percent of these patients.
One of the most dramatic cases of vitamin and mineral deficiencies I have seen involved a man I’ll name Paul. He had been arrested four times for drunken driving but continued to drink daily. His probation officer brought him to the Health Recovery Center. The three of us had to decide if an outpatient program would be proper for someone as depressed as Paul. The court had just ordered him back to treatment; judging by the miserable look on his face,it was the last place he wanted to be. Paul was thirty, divorced and living alone. He rarely ate more than one meal a day, usually fast food or junk food. He lived on coffee, cigarettes, and beer. Paul confided that he was probably going to lose his sales job because he could no longer motivate himself. He blamed all of his troubles on depression. There were so many aspects of his life-style that suggested a real depletion of the natural chemicals he needed to recover from alcoholism and depression that I urged Paul to let us work with him. Two days later, after receiving his B-complex shots, Paul remarked that we must have injected him with an amphetamine. The effect of restoring these life-giving substances was dramatic. He also made many life-style changes that contributed to his recovery, but one of the most important was the replacement of certain key natural substances that helped relieve his depression.
The B-Complex Vitamins
The B-complex vitamins are essential to mental and emotional well- being. They cannot be stored in our bodies, so we depend entirely on our daily diet to supply them. B vitamins are destroyed by alcohol, refined sugars, nicotine, and caffeine–the very substances that most alcoholics consume almost to the exclusion of everything else. Small wonder that deficiencies develop.
Here’s a rundown of recent finding about the relationship of B-complex vitamins to depression:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): Deficiencies trigger depression and irritability and can cause neurological and cardiac disorders among alcoholics.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): In 1982 an article published in the British Journal of Psychiatry reported that every one of 172 successive patients admitted to a British psychiatric hospital for treatment of depression was deficient in B2.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): Depletion causes anxiety, depression, apprehension, and fatigue.
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): Symptoms of deficiency are fatigue, chronic stress, and depression. Vitamin B5 is needed for hormone formation and the uptake of amino acids and the brain chemical acetylcholine, which combine to prevent certain types of depression.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): Deficiency can disrupt formation of neurotransmitters. Vitamin B6 is a co-enzyme needed for conversion of tryptophan to serotonin and phenylalanine and tyrosine to norepinephrine. I have discussed the relationships of these neurotransmitters to depression.
- Vitamin B12: Deficiency will cause depression.
- Folic acid: Deficiency is a common cause of depression.
Continued vitamin C deficiency causes chronic depression, fatigue, and vague ill health.
Deficiencies in a number of minerals can also cause depression. I would like you to familiarize yourself with the minerals that can underlie depression so you can better understand the rationale for taking supplementary doses:
- Magnesium: Symptoms of deficiency include confusion, apathy, loss of appetite, weakness, and insomnia.
- Calcium: Depletion affects the central nervous system. Low levels of calcium cause nervousness, apprehension, irritability, and numbness.
- Zinc: Inadequacies result in apathy, lack of appetite, and lethargy. When zinc is low, copper in the body can increase to toxic levels, resulting in paranoia and fearfulness.
- Iron: Depression is often a symptom of chronic iron deficiency. Other symptoms include general weakness, listlessness, exhaustion, lack of appetite, and headaches.
- Manganese: This metal is needed for proper use of the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. Since it also plays a role in amino-acid formation, a deficiency may contribute to depression stemming from low levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. Manganese also helps stabilize blood sugar and prevent hypoglycemic mood swings.
- Potassium: Depletion is frequently associated with depression, tearfulness, weakness, and fatigue. A 1981 study found that depressed patients were more likely than controls to have decreased intracellular potassium. Decreased brain levels of potassium have also been found on autopsy of suicides. You can boost your potassium intake by using one teaspoon of Morton’s Lite-Salt every day.
The Safety of Supplements
Vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins discussed above are all water soluble. This means that they can’t accumulate in your body or he stored for future use. Amounts above and beyond your current nutritional needs are dumped into your urine. As a result, there is no danger of overdose. Unlike water soluble vitamins, minerals can be stored in your tissues. [Refer to the Optimum Nutrition Formula for the RDAs and suggested optimum levels.] For therapeutic doses you will need the advice of a qualified nutrition consultant. Do not exceed the recommended therapeutic doses, since accumulation of minerals in the body can be dangerous.
Hypothyroidism and Depression
The stress showed on Mary’s face as she described how weary and depressed she felt. Her husband and children demanded too much of her and she drank to escape the pressures and responsibilities. Mary had been in our program for two weeks. She was now alcohol free and making life-style changes. Still, she had very little energy and didn’t seem to be recovering very fast. As we talked, she inadvertently offered several clues to the source of her problem. She complained that even on her restricted diet she simply couldn’t lose weight. Exercise was out of the question. She was just too tired, even though she slept up to ten hours a night. She was wearing a heavy sweater even though it was a warm spring day. She said she had a hard time keeping warm and was very susceptible to catching colds. By the end of our session, I had heard enough to refer her to our physician for a thyroid test. Symptoms of hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) include:
- Mental sluggishness
- Poor memory
- Low sex drive
- Brittle hair
- Dry skin
- Puffiness around the eyes
- Cold hands and feet
- Sleeping more than eight hours a night
- Susceptibility to colds and infections
Researchers speculate that hypothyroidism causes depression because there is an insufficient supply of oxygen to the brain, since people with low thyroid function do not use oxygen efficiently. Linus Pauling contends that all depression could be eliminated if brain cells received sufficient oxygen.
If you have any of the symptoms listed above, you can test yourself for hypothyroidism with a procedure first described in the Journal of the American Medical Association by thyroid expert Broda Barnes, M.D. The test could not be simpler. People with low thyroid function have lower than normal temperature because they are not burning up as much food as they should. All you have to do for this test is determine whether your body temperature is lower than normal. Use a digital or basal thermometer, not a fever thermometer. The basal type is commonly used by women trying to get pregnant–or trying to avoid pregnancy–to determine when ovulation occurs on the basis of an increase in body temperature. Basal thermometers are available in most drugstores. Place the thermometer snugly under your armpit for ten minutes. If it registers below 97.8 degrees and if you have symptoms of hypothyroidism, you probably need thyroid hormone. This home test can give you a fix on your thyroid status. If you haven’t yet been tested, you can ask your doctor to check further. The usual laboratory tests for thyroid (T3, T4, and TSH) do not always tell the whole story. But a new test, the fluorescence activated microsphere assay (available from ImmunoDiagnostic Laboratories in San Leandro, California) will often reveal abnormalitites less sophisticated tests miss.
In Mary’s case, standard lab tests indicated low-normal thyroid function, but her morning temperature never rose above 96.9 degrees. We treated her with armor Thyroid, a prescription drug. It relieved her depression and eliminated her mental sluggishness and fatigue. She also lost weight. If your home thyroid test shows that your temperature is consistently below 97.8 degrees, see your physician to discuss treatment. If the doctor wants more information on your testing method, refer him or her to Dr. Barnes’s book “Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness”. Another useful book is “Solving the Puzzle of Illness” by Steven Langer, M.D. Dr. Barnes has published more than a hundred papers and several books on the role of the thyroid gland in human health. He treats thyroid disorders with natural desiccated thyroid rather than synthetic thyroid preparations. The advantage of natural thyroid over synthetic is that all thyroid hormones are replaced with the natural product, whereas synthetics have not yet been able to duplicate nature completely and do not affect two troublesome symptoms of hypothyroidism, dry skin and water retention.
Hypoglycemia and Depression
In his studies of twelve hundred hypoglycemic patients, Stephen Gyland, M.D., found that 86 percent were depressed. More recently, positron emission tomography (PET) scans have verified that glucose metabolism is often reduced in the brains of patients suffering from depression. The table below, which is based on Dr. Gyland’s studies, compares the symptoms of hypoglycemia and depression. It is no accident that both conditions are so common among alcoholics. If hypoglycemia underlies your depression, you should begin to notice an improvement soon after you adopt a better diet that no longer supports the hypoglycemia.
Faintness, cold sweats
Food and Chemical Allergies and Depression
The connection between food allergies and depression was a revelation to me. I was treating a young woman who was both alcoholic and depressed. I expected to find some food or chemical sensitivities because she had a terrible withdrawal hangover when she stopped drinking, indicating an allergic/addicted response to alcohol. But I was not prepared for the Jekyll and Hyde changes that I witnessed.
By the end of the week-long modified fast, Carol was feeling much better. Her depression was gone and her energy had returned. Then she tested wheat. Within two hours she crashed. Crying over the telephone, she told me she was too depressed to continue the program. The next day she apologized. We were both grateful to find a major trigger to her depression. After her severe reaction, I expected Carol to avoid wheat religiously. At the time, I didn’t understand the addiction aspect of the allergic/addicted response. Carol had enormous cravings for breads and pasta, so her resolve lasted only a few days. Then she succumbed to temptation and ate pizza for lunch. An hour later, she arrived at her treatment group sobbing inconsolably while the others groped for emotional explanations for her behavior. After her wheat reaction wore off, her depression again lifted.
Wheat is not the only substance capable of triggering a maladaptive reaction within the brains and nervous systems of sensitive people. Alcohol, certain foods (particularly the grains from which alcohol is made), and many chemicals (particularly hydrocarbon-based products like gasoline and paints) can also cause reactions. Food addiction keeps us coming back for more of certain foods. We love the initial mild energy they provide as they bring us out of our withdrawal state. We don’t understand that the downside of this addiction is depression, anxiety, and mental confusion, the result of the inevitable withdrawal in the nervous system and the brain. So be suspect of foods that you feel you cannot do without.
Candida-Related Complex and Depression
During the last five years, we have seen a steady parade of clients who are fighting an internal war with an overgrowth of a common intestinal yeast called Candida albicans. I can usually tell on the basis of a first interview who is a probable candidate for treatment of candida-related complex (CRC). People suffering from this problem appear depressed, tired, anxious, and so spacey that they can’t follow what I’m saying. They tell me they continually crave sugar as well as alcohol, and they have telltale signs of yeast invasion throughout their bodies. Their immune systems are so depressed that most foods cause bloating and produce allergic/addictive responses. If you suffer from CRC, your depression won’t lift until these yeast colonizers are brought under control. [Visit your nutrition consultant for a full program to handle this all-too-common condition.]
Suicide and Depression
Before we leave the subject of depression, I want to discuss a painful subject: suicide, the final solution to depression. If your life, like mine, has been seared by the suicide of a family member, you may find the answers you have been seeking. And if you have been trying to cope with overwhelming depression and are plagued with thoughts of suicide, you will find a welcome warning that can help you avert tragedy. Over the years, I’ve learned that alcoholics often conceal the fact that family members have taken their own lives. But if I tell them about my son’s suicide, the truth comes rushing out: “My father shot himself” or “Several times, my mother took a deliberate overdose of pills” or “My son hung himself.” The pain of these tragic deaths is often compounded by a family code of silence.
Often, those touched by the tragedy are tormented by guilt. They can’t stop wondering whether they could have done something to prevent the suicide, whether they missed warning signs that tragedy was approaching. Recent scientific findings provide some of the answers to these agonizing questions and offer comfort and insight.
Most people experience some major disappointment or stress in the course of life, but suicide is rarely the outcome. And, there is no good evidence suggesting that most depression predates alcoholism or that any personality traits underlie alcoholism. Indeed, researchers have so far failed to find genetically transmitted depression among most alcoholics. Instead, studies suggest that the prolonged use of alcohol causes biochemical changes in the brain associated with depression and suicide. The most striking of these findings (from the National Institute of Mental Health) shows that the neurotransmitter serotonin is almost depleted in all the brains of suicides examined during autopsies. Since alcoholism causes the destruction of tryptophan and other precursor amino acids needed for production of the antidepressant neurotransmitters, it’s not surprising that many alcoholics are prone to depression and even suicide. As I have explained earlier in this chapter, alcohol can also precipitate depression by destoying a number of other natural chemicals, including
- The neurotransmitter norepinephrine, formed from the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine
- Essential fatty acids needed to form brain metabolites, including prostaglandin E1 (PGE1)
- B vitamins, which supply the brain’s energy and maintain mental and emotional balance
- Trace elements and enzymes that govern the body’s hormonal balance
A cerebral allergic reaction to alcohol or other substances can cause suicidal depression. High levels of toxins from Candida albicans overgrowth can also affect the brain and central nervous system and induce suicidal depression. Alcoholism promotes both proliferation of candida and escalation of cerebral allergies. Since alcohol can inflict so much biochemical damage on the brain and nervous system, it should not be surprising that many alcoholics attempt suicide. One recent study found that up to 40 percent of all alcoholics try to take their own lives at east once; another study found that 26 percent of the deaths of treated alcoholics were suicides. If you feel that you or someone close to you is a suicide risk, please re-read this chapter carefully and encourage the changes recommended to restore normal balance and banish depression once and for all.
Where Do You Fit In?
Now that you are familiar with the various problems that can underlie depression, it’s time to determine what to do about the one(s) that may be responsible for your own state of mind. Here are the options:
- Restoring the neurotransmitters serotonin and/or norepinephrine
- Replacing essential fatty acids to create PGE1
- Restoring key vitamins and minerals
- Treating hypothyroidism
- Correcting hypoglycemia
- Avoiding foods/chemicals responsible for cerebral allergy/addition
- Treating candida related complex
Don’t be surprised if you fit several of these seven categories. Heavy alcohol use wreaks havoc on your biochemical balance. But with a repair program you can restore your health. In some cases you’ll need a physician’s help or the help of a nutrition consultant. I can’t overemphasize the importance of expert medical advice when you are dealing with depression, especially if it is severe. It is equally important to choose a professional attuned to your special needs. Orthomolecular MDs are experts in both allopathic and nutritional science who treat disorders at the cellular level with biological weapons–nutrients that nature has provided in its own system of defense for millions of years. An orthomolecular psychiatrist or physician can help you address the following problems:
- Restoration of neurotransmitter levels via amino-acid therapy
- Vitamin, mineral, and essential fatty acid testing and restoration
- Thyroid testing and treatment
- Hypoglycemia testing and treatment
- Allergy testing and treatment
- Candida testing and treatment