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Natural Support for Mood Swings

Depression and other mood disorders are common ailments in the United States. Nearly one in four Americans suffers from clinical depression or a mood disorder at some point in his or her life. Over 28 million Americans take antidepressant or antianxiety medication. Significantly more women than men seek treatment for depression, and it is estimated that about three times more women than men are treated for this disorder.

The higher incidence of depression in women suggests that hormonal changes increase women's susceptibility to this disorder. As many as 33% of women will experience a major depressive episode in their lifetime. According to some researchers, three life stages, premenstrual, postpartum, and menopause, appear to create an increased risk for depression. While modern studies examining the incidence of depression at menopause have yielded conflicting data, the historical record attests to a strong perceived association between mental disturbances and a woman's hormonal status. In the mid-1800's and early 1900's many women were given hysterectomies, because it was believed that their uterus, which was no longer "needed for childbearing", was creating symptoms of hysteria. This disorder was later called "involutional melancholia", and it appeared as an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association until 1968.

It is clear from the groundbreaking research of Dr. Katharina Dalton, M.D., who was the first to identify a definite physiological basis for premenstrual syndrome in the early 1970's, that alterations in hormonal balance can lead to profound changes in mood. We also now know that all the sex hormones have a significant effect on the nervous system. Estrogen and testosterone tend to have a stimulating effect on the nervous system, while progesterone and cortisol exert a sedating or calming effect. Although science has yet established a clear biochemical basis for the association between mood alterations and hormonal transitions in women, many clinicians observe that perimenopause is a time when women commonly present with depression. In fact, one study reported that as many as 80% of perimenopausal women develop mood disturbances.

The recent spate of articles in the popular media about herbal remedies for depression attests that increasing numbers of Americans are seeking relief from this disorder by using natural medicines. Clinical research on the antidepressant effects of nutrients and herbs indicates that many people suffering from depression may gain significant relief from this more natural treatment approach. Herbal and nutrient-based formulas can address several factors that contribute to depression. Nutrients and botanical supplements can alleviate depression by correcting nutrient deficiencies, improving blood flow to the brain, and optimizing levels of serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, which are brain chemicals known to play a role in depression.

A wealth of scientific studies confirm that nutritional status plays a significant role in certain types of depression. For example, levels of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) are frequently low in depressed patients and in women who take birth control pills and other types of estrogen. Vitamin B6 is essential for the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, that serves as one of the body's natural mood-enhancers. Most of the commonly prescribed antidepressants such as Prozac®, Zoloft®, and Paxil® act, in part, by enhancing the availability of serotonin. These drugs, known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI's) work by inhibiting the brain's reuptake of serotonin or by inhibiting its breakdown, thus allowing more serotonin to remain in circulation.

Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) and folic acid (folate) are two other nutrients that play crucial roles in maintaining the health of the nervous system. Deficiencies of these nutrients are widespread, and research indicates that low levels of either nutrient can cause depression. In fact, depression is the most common symptom associated with a folic acid deficiency. Borderline low or outright deficiencies of folate have been detected in 15% to 38% of adults diagnosed with depression. Furthermore, studies show that patients with low folate levels are less responsive to treatment with a SSRI medication than patients with normal folate levels. Elderly patients are more vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies in general, due to inadequate nutritional intake. They are particularly susceptible to folic acid deficiencies. One study found that 35% to 92.6% of the elderly patients admitted to a psychiatric hospital had low levels of folate.

It is well established that deficiencies of vitamin B12 contribute to a long list of psychiatric disorders, yet supplementation with this safe, inexpensive vitamin is frequently overlooked as a first line of treatment. Working together, vitamin B12 and folic acid provide starting materials for the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters integral to the body's ability to regulate mood. By supporting the body's capacity to synthesize appropriate levels of these two neurotransmitters, folic acid and vitamin B12 can have profound mood stabilizing effects.

Another safe and effective substance that has been shown to play a role in mood, memory, and mental alertness is the amino acid, phenylalanine. Although this essential amino acid is abundant in protein-rich foods such as milk, cheese, meat, and fish, some people's diets (vegetarians for example) do not include an optimal amount of this nutrient. Because so many neurotransmitters are derived from phenylalanine, it is thought to play an integral role in maintaining a healthy balance of brain chemicals that promote a positive mood. One study found that phenylalanine taken along with vitamin B6 demonstrated a significant mood elevating effect, improving mood in 78% of the study participants. Phenylalanine is converted into tyrosine, which is then converted into norepinephrine and epinephrine, neurotransmitters that have a stimulating effect on the nervous system. Interestingly, the body initially converts phenylalanine into phenylethylamine, a brain chemical that is also found in high amounts in chocolate.

A frequently overlooked component of optimal brain function is the health of the cell membranes that make up a portion of our brain tissue. Low levels of phosphatidylserine have been associated with depression and a decrease in cognitive function in the elderly. Phosphatidylserine is a component of cell membranes throughout the body. It helps to maintain their integrity and fluidity, and is found in particularly high concentrations in the brain, where optimal cell fluidity is vital. Healthy, well-hydrated cell membranes facilitate communication between cells within the brain by permitting nutrients and neurotransmitters to be transported more easily into and out of cells. The brain's ability to synthesize adequate amounts of phosphatidylserine can be compromised by deficient intake of several nutrients such as essential fatty acids, folic acid, and vitamin B12.

In addition to these nutrients, several herbs have been studied for their effect on brain chemistry. Numerous studies have demonstrated that Hypericum perforatum, or St. John's Wort, is an effective herbal treatment for mild to moderate depression. A review and analysis of 15 previously conducted studies was published in the British Medical Journal in 1996. This analysis concluded that St. John's Wort was as effective as a commonly prescribed antidepressant (imipramine), and caused fewer side effects. Twenty-five controlled studies done in Germany found that in the treatment of mild to moderate depression, St. John's Wort was 65-70% effective, which is similar to the effectiveness shown in placebo controlled studies for the popular antidepressant fluoxetine hydrochloride (Prozac®). Because of its safety and the numerous studies demonstrating its effectiveness, St. John's Wort has become a first-line treatment for mild to moderate depression in Germany and other European countries.

Ginkgo biloba is well known in the United States and Europe for its ability to improve memory, although its ability to alleviate depression is not as widely recognized. It is believed that ginkgo exerts both its memory and mood enhancing effects by increasing microcirculation to the brain and improving the brain's ability to metabolize its primary fuel source, glucose. The smallest blood vessels in the body, known as microcapillaries, are the first to experience the ill effects of a decreased oxygen supply. Ginkgo stimulates the release of substances within the cell wall that enable the microcapillaries to relax. This results in increased blood flow and improved oxygen delivery. In addition, studies demonstrate that ginkgo exerts a direct effect on mental alertness by modifying the frequency of brain waves. Studies using an EEG to monitor brain waves showed that ginkgo increased the brain waves associated with alertness (alpha rhythms) and decreased the brain waves associated with lack of attention (theta rhythms). Ginkgo has a considerable track record for safety and appears to be well tolerated. Ginkgo may be particularly beneficial for people who are just beginning to experience a decline in their cognitive function.

Due to the widespread occurrence of depression and other mood disorders in our culture, many health care practitioners and patients are seeking effective natural treatments that can either be used alone or in combination with pharmaceutical antidepressants. In this era of increased consumer awareness, patients expect effective treatment, yet they are often unwilling to live with the undesirable side effects that can accompany conventional pharmacological treatment for depression. Studies have shown that the nutrients and botanical medicines described in this article have a low incidence of side effects and may help with mood regulation, brain function, and mental clarity. Many holistic healthcare practitioners use combinations of these nutrients, amino acids, phospholipids, and botanical medicines to address depression in a comprehensive manner. Research indicates that these treatments are often effective, most likely because they correct some of the commonly occurring imbalances that can contribute to depression. For individuals who are currently using prescription medications for depression, it is important to work with a healthcare provider, who is knowledgeable about both conventional and natural therapies, when considering changes to medications or supplementing herbs and nutritional supplements.

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By power-surge.netntributor:
Dr. Holly Zapf

Dearest Note: Be sure to visit the Power Surge Recommendations page for additional suggestions for treating the mood swings, depression and anxiety associated with menopause.




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