Fox Psychology

Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression


Leave a comment

The Natural Way to Heal Anxiety and Depression

When I first wrote “Change your Life! Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression” and before I published my article about my story and my struggles with anti-depressant medications, I knew very little about some of the more natural ways of improving mental well-being. What I am referring to is not the natural tools of counselling, exercise, meditation and getting good sleep at night. I am referring to a whole world of possibilities that have opened up to me through suggestions from readers or my own ceaseless research and experimentation since that article went online in October 2013. As of this writing, that article has now had over 100K views (although after a refresh of the Mad in America site it shows only those views since 2016) and due to this and providing my contact details to readers, I have received hundreds of emails from people from all over the world for the past four years asking for guidance for either themselves or for a loved one whether it is a parent, child, sibling or friend. These people are often at a loss, confused, afraid and wondering where to turn for help. A consistent theme that comes up is their frustration with the medical professional who is either treating them or their loved one as when the issue of the drug being the problem or a tapering off is suggested, these medical professionals respond with anything from indifference to outright hostility towards their patients or suggest that they need to try another medication or take an additional one to stop the side effects of the first one! This is not a couple of people folks, this is a percentage of the world’s population who are being put onto anti-depressant medications for very different reasons without any thought as to whether medications are the right path to take or what the potential impact could be if the patient did have to take them. The World Health Organisation predicts that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, and its researchers estimate that

178 million people were suffering from depression in 2011. [1]

It is disturbing to note that in his book “Your Drug May be your Problem”, Dr Peter Breggin mentions that it was way back in March of 2004 that the FDA finally decided to acknowledge after years and years of professionals such as himself, Dr. David Healy, Dr. Joseph Glenmullen had been warning about the dangers of the SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) that anti-depressants have some major concerning side effects. They finally had to agree that anti-depressants were now “known” to not only cause agitation, anger and suicidality in teenagers but that in adult populations they were also now linked to: “anxiety, agitation, panic attacks, insomnia (my words: a big one I see with my clients and have experienced myself with SNRI’s when once being mistakenly placed onto a tricyclic anti-depressant by a senior chief psychiatrist who swore that he would give this to his own brother based on his 20 minute discussion with me), irritability, hostility, impulsivity, akathasia (severe restlessness), hypomania and mania”[2]. Stunningly, the very things that the anti-depressants are often prescribed to help with!

I am certainly not saying that what I will discuss here is definitive in any way. Healing comes in many forms and there are a whole raft of healing methodologies that I am aware of but have not tried or researched in any detail including naturopathy, reiki, sound healing, Chinese medicine etc. What I am primarily focusing on here is what is believed to be the key issue when it comes to anxiety and depression and that is lowered levels of serotonin and the brain and body’s ability to communicate effectively using the neurotransmitters we need to help us cope and feel good in life. These lowered levels may come about for a variety of reasons as will be discussed and what I propose is a dietary approach and vitamin and supplement approach that is targeted at both increasing the actual levels of serotonin in the body and brain as well as increasing and facilitating the brains capacity to communicate effectively within itself.

Part of the reason that I have kept researching and learning more and more about psychiatry, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications is my strong desire to get off anti-depressants completely but really a much larger reason is my drive to raise awareness not only within the general public but within our government health agencies and within the medical professions themselves – especially doctors and psychiatrists.

The natural health professions already know a lot (but certainly not all) of what I now know but I am consistently and very alarmingly shown how very little the medical profession really knows about the balance of pros versus cons of taking anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications. In addition, they know little or nothing about some of the things I am going to talk about in this chapter with regards to exactly what produces serotonin and dopamine in our bodies and brains, how our bodies convert certain foods and amino acids into other forms which then become our happy and joyful neurotransmitters – dopamine, serotonin and noradrenalin (noradrenalin has more of an energising/activating effect on us and is supposed to help remove the lethargy that comes with deep depression).

There are always consequences when it comes to taking psychiatric medications and I am referring to starting them, staying on them or trying to come off them when people feel they are ready. As an example, just one of so many, I had a client who recently came to see me after having had a breakdown due to his marriage being on the rocks and his wife being a functional but getting worse alcoholic. He had never been on anti-depressants in his life before and was now in his mid-forties. When I asked him how his sleep was he said it was very bad. I asked which drug he was on and he told me he was put on 75mg of Effexor XR (slow-release). Having had my own exposure to this wonderful drug (note the sarcasm), I asked him at what time of the day he took the drug. He said he had originally been taking it in the morning but had felt queasy and so had tried taking it at night. I went on to explain to him that Effexor is an SNRI (serotonin and NORADRENALIN reuptake inhibitor) meaning that it will artificially increase both of these vital neurotransmitters in your brain. I said, you are basically doing the equivalent of lying down to go to sleep and then giving yourself a shot of adrenalin! The look of surprise on his face showed me that his doctor had not even explained to him exactly what it was he was taking or how it would help – or not help in his case. Effexor is also known to be one of the most difficult drugs to come off because it only comes in capsule format and dosages of 37.5mg, 75mg and 150mg. These are incredibly hard if not impossible to breakdown into lower doses as you can with the tablet and water-soluble medications. I have had one client who successfully weaned off Effexor over two whole years by opening and counting the beads in each capsule and removing a couple each time! And she still endured some heavy withdrawal reactions.

I explained some of this to my client and mentioned that getting no sleep was only compounding his difficulty in staying calm and focused and that although people generally do have sleep disturbances during anxiety and/or depression, he was doing himself a huge disservice by taking it at night. I saw him two weeks later and he informed me that his sleep had improved. He could now get 4-5 hours’ sleep without waking. And that was an improvement! I know how it goes because I have been there, except when I was taking Effexor XR, which served a purpose for me but only for a very limited period, I had huge issues with not being able to fall asleep or falling asleep and waking two or three hours later and being “wired” and unable to fall asleep again. I transitioned myself away from Effexor and have never looked back.

In this chapter I will discuss exactly how anti-depressant medications work (supposedly) because even what we think we know as facts about the chemistry of the brain is being turned on its head more and more as time goes by. We used to think that it was a FACT that neurotransmitters are created and remain within our brains. We now know, that a large proportion of these neurotransmitters are created and can be found in the stomach and this has implications for a range of things to do with what we eat and drink as well as other medications we take such as anti-biotics. So, let us begin there shall we?

Antibiotics

It came as quite a surprise to me only recently whilst reading Dr.David Perlmutter’s brilliant books “Grain Brain” and “Brain Maker” to learn that anyone who has had to take antibiotics for a period of time may have lowered levels of serotonin due to the fact that antibiotics as we all know destroy good and bad bacteria in the gut, however, as it turns out, anti-biotics are also destroying and preventing the creation of serotonin in our stomachs as well.

As I was pondering this it suddenly occurred to me that when I turned 15 years old I got a really bad attack of acne. I tried all the soaps and just about anything I could to stop them but it just went from bad to worse. It didn’t help that I had recently got braces and glasses as well and so my poor self-esteem suffered something horrible during my teen years. But, more than that, I remembered that rather than being put onto Roaccutane the skin specialist recommended another acne medication called Minocycline. As an aside, the brand name Accutane (Roaccutane) was discontinued by its manufacturer in 2009 – Roche. A 2001 article in the New England Journal of Medicine linked Accutane to depression. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study examined 110 people who took Accutane and were hospitalized for depression or attempted suicide. Their ages ranged from 12 to 47. By the time Roche stopped making the drug, people who experienced Accutane’s side effects – as well as their families – had filed nearly 1,000 lawsuits against the company

I took Minomycin (Minocycline) as a teenager religiously for approximately four years. And so, I decided to look it up online and was surprised to learn that it is a broad spectrum antibiotic! Every day, for four years…as a teenager. If what Dr. Perlmutter says is true, and I have no reason to doubt his credentials or over thirty years of research into the food brain connection – then my brain was being starved of essential neurotransmitters during a crucial time in my adult development. Now, I am not saying that it was exclusively the reason that I struggled with anxiety in my young adult life (although on thinking about it I do not remember being an anxious child or anxious prepubescent). In fact, I was quite a naughty risk taker and would often land myself in hot water at home for jumping off roofs, throwing fruits over the fences at friend’s neighbour’s windows or smoking behind an old oak tree at the age of 10 or so.

I digress, however, it is part of the story of me never really having any major anxiety issues as a child. I was as scared as your average kid of clowns or what have you and when I reflected on taking antibiotics for all those years and then seeing in black and white that they can either destroy or prevent serotonin from being produced in the stomach, it really gave me pause to rethink just exactly where my anxiety in my late teens and early twenties came from. Nature or nurture or something worse – medical science in the form of drugs supposed to help us but unwittingly doing more damage than they are worth. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It really makes me wonder how many teenagers are suffering needlessly from anxiety and/or depression due to this issue. Going through puberty is hard enough without antibiotics screwing up your neurobiology!

The end result is just to be aware that if you are taking antibiotics, you MAY have a problem with lowered levels of serotonin and dopamine and as such it is just good practice to take a high potency probiotic. One strain in particular that Dr. Perlmutter recommends is that you ensure that the bacteria bifidobacterium infantis is present in your probiotic.

Foods that can help and foods than can harm.

You may be surprised to learn that eating a slice of whole meal bread could also be a contributor to lowered mood and changes in blood sugar levels and neurobiology. In fact, any food containing gluten has this possibility as our bodies were not made to process the kinds of grains we consume today – especially the wheat found in our breads, pastas, pastries and cookies. Since around the age of twenty four – about the same time I was put onto antidepressants for the first time – I started having trouble with dry skin. It seemed to just be something that I had to live with but it became embarrassing at times and the skin around my nose and cheeks would sometimes be red. It improved somewhat into my thirties but never really cleared up. It did seem to get worse in colder weather which is to be expected. It also appears to get worse if I don’t get enough sleep. However, none of these could account for the consistent red and dry skin. I tried once again any and every topical treatment I could find including cortisone creams which are really not good for you. But, after having read Dr. Perlmutter’s books, I went cold turkey on gluten. I had been thinking about doing this for some time as quite a bit of the research that I was finding had a consistent theme of avoiding too much gluten. It’s not so much carbohydrates that are the problem, we all need a good amount of protein and carbohydrates, it’s the gluten! When I started investigating exactly what I was eating in my diet that had gluten in it I was very surprised. Call me ignorant but I had no idea that oats are full of gluten and I would often have oats for breakfast thinking how healthy I was being. Out went the oats. Eggs on toast, out went the toast. I have found enough restaurants will now offer you gluten free toast anyway if you like so this is no biggie. To be honest, it really wasn’t that hard giving up gluten. You start to focus on getting more protein into your diet which as you will see in a moment is critical, but you also just start to think of meals that are fairly easy to prepare – such as baked fish with veggies and some roasted potato chips or rice (rice is safely gluten free – hooray for rice. As is all corn/maize based meals and snacks). However, do be aware that white rice in particular has a high sugar content. So, all in moderation.

What I found literally within two to three weeks of stopping gluten is that my skin cleared up. The angry red splotches just magically disappeared. No ointments, no medications, just no gluten and good enough sleep. I also notice that even after eating a meal such as spaghetti bolognaise with gluten free spaghetti (made from soy and rice flour), I never feel bloated the way I normally would.

Another reason I chose to go gluten free (even though I still cheat here and there and have something naughty – I don’t believe in the deprivation method of changing your habits) is that Dr. Perlmutter indicates in his books that gluten is now linked to higher incidences of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and diabetes.

A study that he mentions in his book “Grain Brain” mentioned a research study about a little island village in the Mediterranean that had the most centurions in the world (people who lived to see 100) as well as the lowest incidences of Alzheimer’s and dementia in both men and women. When looking for what caused this amazing outcome in this population the only thing they found radically different in the lives of these people was their diet. They drank red wine and coffee and had plenty of protein based meals such as fish and meat but very little if any breads. I’ll leave you to ponder that and also to think about whether your own little gluten free experiment is in order.

Dr. Perlmutter also indicates a direct link between gluten and inflammation in the body and brain. We can feel and see inflammation in the body with conditions such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis but we cannot feel or see (without a brain scan) inflammation in the brain that may also be caused by gluten. Either way, I decided to get off the gluten and my skin clearing was actually just a nice side effect. Way too many people in the western world are now dying from dementia and Alzheimer’s and I really don’t think our faster pace of life or higher stress levels can account for this phenomenon.

In addition, I’m going to tell you something you already know about your diet. Cut the sugar, reduce caffeine to one drink per day (preferably in the morning) particularly if you suffer with anxiety or sleep problems and certainly nothing with caffeine after 2pm.

Ensuring that you eat your fair share of green leafy vegetables is also advice as old as the hills in terms of diet and well-being advice but it’s funny how few people actually follow through on this. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of buying and chopping veggies every day then cheat by getting the super green veggie powders that are now commercially available in most major supermarkets and health food stores and make yourself a berry, banana, protein powder and super green veggie smoothie. Brilliant for your brain and energy levels.

And of course, drink loads of water, at least two liters per day (I can usually manage about one and a half per day easily), which is easily done if you carry around one of those 500ml bottles and just make sure you are refilling it a few times a day. This will be even easier and more necessary when we go through the section on supplements and vitamins as you will need to have your water with you anyway.

The last thing that I will recommend in terms of actual food intake or changes is to try and add more protein in the form of fish, eggs, milk (lactose free if you can get it) and meat. The reasons are many. One of the reasons fish is on that list is because certain fish are high in Omega 3 essential oils. When I tell friends or clients about the need to be taking Omega 3 every day some will say “But I eat fish in my diet!” Unfortunately, the amounts of fish you would have to eat to get the benefits we will talk about in terms of your brain are not reasonable or desirable for anyone.

This is where I end the discussion on diet and I believe this covers the essentials you need to know in your quest for removing anxiety and depression from your life naturally through diet. There are plenty other good books to be read completely dedicated to the subject.

Vitamins and Supplements that Can Help

This section will detail some of the most important vitamins, minerals and amino acids that you can take to assist you staying away from taking anti-depressants in the first place, feeling better while being on them or supporting you during a tapering programme. This has been, as I mentioned earlier, a four year odyssey for me both personally and professionally as I have tried various options as I learned about them, avoided others due to fear mongering online (only to find out there were other reasons certain amino acids were not commercially available), and am still in the process of investigating some others.

What I have learned and shared with my clients and those who write to me from all over the world has helped many people cope better with anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drug withdrawal. When I think of the needless suffering that hundreds and thousands of people have gone through across the globe due to a lack of understanding and awareness of other viable alternatives to taking psychiatric medication for anxiety and depression I get pretty fired up as you could possibly tell from my writing. The number of young teens being put onto anti-anxiety and/or anti-depressant medications prematurely in some cases and completely unnecessarily in other cases makes me really angry. As they say, if only I knew then what I know now, and if I could magically have gone back in time to my twenty three year old self back in March 2000, I could have possibly saved myself 20 years of the difficulties of being on and trying to come off these medications. It’s not only what I have had to go through but what my family and some friends have had to go through too, and I know I am certainly not alone when it comes to not only medications but mental health in general when people struggle with anxiety and/or depression.

5-HTP (5- Hydroxytryptophan)

So, let us begin at the beginning, with the first supplement that was brought to my attention very soon after I published my story online in 2013 by one of the readers of the story. This particular person mentioned that once off the medications, a person could/should take an amino acid called 5-HTP. I had never, not once in thirteen years of experiencing anxiety and depression personally and as a mental health professional, heard about 5-HTP. Have you heard of it? I’m willing to be a lot of money that you haven’t and that your doctor and definitely your psychiatrist haven’t either. Why is that? What is 5-HTP?

5-HTP is a chemical by-product of the protein building block L-tryptophan. It is also produced commercially (and this is what you would be taking if you chose to try it) from the seeds of an African plant known as Griffonia simplicifolia. 5-HTP is the last step in the process of converting protein in your stomach into the essential neurotransmitters – serotonin and dopamine. Protein is the key building block required in your diet which your body uses to synthesize (using a combination of vitamins) into L-tryptophan and then 5-HTP. Having high levels of 5-HTP should lead to higher levels of serotonin and dopamine which should lead you to feel calmer, happier, more focused and generally more optimistic about just about anything in your life. Note that it can take a number of weeks to be effective and – once again – the dosage is variable (a typical dose of 5-HTP is in the range of 300-500 mg, taken either once daily or in divided doses. Lower doses may also be effective, although usually when paired with other substances). 5-HTP is used as a supplement (rather than tryptophan itself) to increase serotonin levels as tryptophan can be diverted into niacin production or protein construction whereas 5-HTP has the sole fate of serotonin synthesis. 5-HTP also crosses the blood brain barrier easily. [3]

Although this may seem like a scary way to approach taking something to help with anxiety or depression, I would prefer trialing various dosages of 5-HTP any day over playing around with an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. It’s certainly, in my opinion, worth trying the 5-HTP first.

Even though it is becoming more widely known that the chemical imbalance theory of mental health problems is actually no more than psychiatry’s little green man behind the curtain or the emperor with no clothes, rather than the objective-scientific truth, these neurotransmitters do exist and are responsible for many of the cases of clinical depression and debilitating anxiety (and in some cases panic attacks) in most people.

However, it is one thing to say that serotonin levels have been lowered and possibly caused by stressful life events which led to increased cortisol – a chemical in the body released during times of stress which may also reduce production of serotonin in the body – but it is quite another thing to tell a person that he or she has a “chemical imbalance“ in their brain and that they therefore have some sort of “disease” that is as incurable as diabetes. “Just keep taking your medications the same way a diabetic needs insulin” and shut up and don’t you dare challenge the established order of psychiatry’s control of medicating anxiety and depression or worry about the links between some in the psychiatric professional communities and the huge pharmaceutical companies which are making billions of dollars a year. Surely it can’t be as easy as getting their sales representatives to buy our doctors lunch and explain to them why this new wonder drug is good for their patients with depression and has even fewer side effects than the previous products or versions? You get the picture. If you want to know a lot more about all of this please visit Robert Whitaker’s brilliant site www.madinamerica.com and better yet get a copy of his seminal book “Anatomy of an Epidemic” as well as another book written as far back as 1988 (the very year Prozac was introduced into the market) by Dr. Elliot Valenstein called “Blaming the Brain”.

In blaming the brain, Dr Valenstein states the following in his opening chapter: “Throughout this book I will argue that the evidence and arguments supporting all these claims about the relationship of brain chemistry to psychological problems and personality and behavioral traits are far from compelling and are most likely wrong. The claim that psychotherapeutic drugs correct a biochemical imbalance that is the root cause of most psychological problems also rests on a very shaky scientific foundation. These ideas are simply an unproven hypothesis, but for reasons that will be explored, they are heavily promoted as a well-substantiated explanatory theory. Because these ideas have enormous implications, there is a great need to examine the evidence and basic assumptions much more critically than has been done up to now”.[4]

Coming back to 5-HTP, it was banned in America until only recently due to some bad batches that came out of a dodgy manufacturer in Asia which led to some major government concerns about its properties. I believe that it is now available in the USA and is certainly available in Australia through online purchase. However, interestingly enough, you will not find it in any pharmacy or even health food store because it just isn’t widely known. And I just have to ask why? Why would a naturally occurring food derivative (amino acid) that can help to increase serotonin in the least disruptive and invasive way not be on the shelves in pharmacies and heavily promoted by doctors? I’ll leave you work that one out. There are different opinions online about the efficacy of 5-HTP as there are about just about any product when it comes to mental health or well-being. And, we are all different. We all respond differently to different products and food substances so there is no one size fits all here of course. But, wouldn’t you say it’s worth trying something natural FIRST with no known side effects or major withdrawal issues before medically tampering with our body and brains neurobiology with so many unknowns?

One caveat here and this is where the story gets a little thorny. You are not supposed to take 5-HTP if you are already taking an antidepressant (SSRI or SNRI) just in case you end up with a case of serotonin syndrome which is where your brain/body overproduces serotonin and this can lead to potentially some harmful outcomes and even (as some sites will say) fatal results. There are very specific signs of potential serotonin syndrome though and so if you are starting to experience any of them you would just immediately stop taking the 5-HTP. It’s only our lack of knowledge of what is happening that is the problem. Once you know what to look for you are responsible to monitor how you are reacting to anything you take whether it’s 5-HTP or an aspirin. And ensure you have the support of a trusted medical doctor but only one who is willing to support what you would like to do with your own body, mind and life.

L-Tyrosine

L-Tyrosine is another amino acid supplement that assists with increasing – through natural means – our levels of dopamine and to some degree norepinephrine. I came across it while searching for natural ways to increase dopamine levels as I had discovered that serotonin could be increased using 5 HTP so I wondered whether something similar was the case with dopamine – and sure enough, if you seek you shall find.

L- Tyrosine is one of the amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. The body makes tyrosine from another amino acid called phenylalanine. Tyrosine can also be found in dairy products, meats, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, oats, and wheat. However, trying to get the amount of tyrosine you would need from food has the same issue as trying to get all the Vitamin C you need from oranges or all the Omega 3 Fish Oil you need from eating fish. Way too hard.

Several studies show that tyrosine improves mental performance under stressful conditions, such as military training, cold-induced stress, or noise-induces stress. In addition, tyrosine improves memory under stressful conditions, such as cold-stress or multitasking. Taking tyrosine seems to help people who have lost a night’s sleep stay alert. Also, early research suggests that tyrosine improves memory and reasoning in people who are sleep-deprived.[5]

Anecdotal reports from people who have tried L-Tyrosine that it helps increase energy, concentration and mood. Well worth giving it a try I would say. I have used it myself and have found it to be of benefit along with the other dietary changes and supplements mentioned here.

St. John’s Wort

I am not going to say too much about St. John’s Wort, firstly because I have not really had much experience with it other than to note it is widely prescribed in Germany rather than antidepressants. Apparently, German doctors and the German public in general prefer to use St. John’s Wort as a first line treatment for depression and various studies in Germany have shown it to be more effective as placebo, and other anti-depressants. Secondly, I don’t think it is easy to get results from St. John’s Wort as it takes longer to work and it is not clear exactly what dosage one would need to take for it to be considered “effective”. I suppose this would be the case with most medicines – medical or alternative – when it comes to healing anxiety and/or depression. Anyone considering using alternative methods for healing anxiety and depression or coming off anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications needs to be prepared to do their homework and then undertake a bit of experimentation. With regards to St. John’s Wort, anyone suffering from mild to moderate depression should probably consider trialing it for themselves but expect it to take a few weeks to work and to play around with different dosages to see what dosage is right for them. The best thing about St. John’s Wort is that there are little to no side-effects and it is a natural herb, therefore it is safe compared to taking any psychiatric drug.

Vitamin B6, B12 and Vitamin C

Most people are aware of the need to take a Vitamin B supplement. I remember as a teenager taking a multi-vitamin B during exam times as I had heard that it was good for stress. I have always equated the need to be taking a good Vitamin supplement with good stress management. However, I only found out in the last four years that they are also very important in the process of your body converting protein into Tryptophan. Most people are aware that Vitamin B12 is a key vitamin that should be checked if they are suffering with extreme tiredness or having difficulty with their moods. B6 is also important in this process. The same goes for Vitamin C. We should all be taking a good vitamin C supplement on a daily basis. I personally take 1000mg per day. In addition, taking a high strength multi-B complex is also highly recommended due to the body’s need for these vitamins during the synthesis of protein into tryptophan and then tryptophan into 5-HTP, serotonin and dopamine.

Omega 3 Fish Oils

I had heard about the benefits of taking fish oils in terms of it being good for joints as well as being good for the brain. What I never really knew was that Omega 3 and Omega 6 play pivotal roles in helping the brain function as well as ensuring a healthy environment for your brain cells and neurotransmitters to communicate with each other. Omega 3 Fish Oils are also helpful in reducing one of the withdrawal effects of tapering off an anti-depressant which is the very unpleasant electric “zap” like sensations that commonly occur when attempting a withdrawal. I still cannot believe how few doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists are aware of this. In terms of dosage, Fish Oils come in all shapes and sizes and it was through reading some of information from The Road Back Programme created by James Harper that understood that not all omega 3 fish oils are created equal. Jim is a very caring pharmacologist who has been helping people reduce or taper off anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications for over 16 years. Dosage recommendations vary and Jim mentions that the best Fish Oils are derived from fish such as salmon, herring and trout as opposed to tuna. Effective dose recommendations can range from 400-800mg per day. In order to avoid having to take 4-6 capsules, I just ensure that I buy fish oils from credible brands which have high EPA potency such as 240mg or more per capsule as opposed to the standard 180mg in most commercially available products. Ensure that the product is also mercury tested and says that it does not have a reflux effect. I wouldn’t enjoy smelling like fish breath all day long and I’m sure you don’t want to either!

Passionflower

This is another naturally occurring remedy that I found out about from James Harper. James not only researched products that could assist people with drug withdrawal but also sourced and created a range of his own natural products. I did try taking some of James’ other products at one stage and there may have been some benefit in taking them but I found the most useful was the Body Calm Formula which is essentially passionflower mixed with the skin of a very specific cherry called – the Montmort cherry. In addition, Jim has created a proprietary product called JNK, which he has trialed again in a recent study in 2016 showing very positive results for both anxiety and depression. For more information you can visit his site at www.theroadback.org

Magnesium

Most of us know the sage advice of having a glass of warm milk can assist us with sleeping better or falling asleep. One of the biggest reasons for this is the magnesium in the milk.

“Magnesium is an essential dietary mineral, and the second most prevalent electrolyte in the human body. Magnesium deficiencies are common in developed countries. A deficiency increases blood pressure, reduces glucose tolerance and causes neural excitation. Magnesium deficiencies are common in the western diet because grains are poor sources of magnesium. Other prominent sources of magnesium, like nuts and leafy vegetables, are not eaten as often. It is possible to fix a magnesium deficiency through dietary changes (or supplementation). If magnesium is supplemented to attenuate a deficiency, it acts as a sedative, reducing blood pressure and improving insulin sensitivity. Maintaining healthy magnesium levels is also associated with a protective effect against depression and ADHD.” The standard dose for magnesium supplementation is 200-400mg per day. It is best taken in the evening as it helps to relax the muscles and assists with sleep. When looking at the diets of persons suffering from depression, there appears to be an inverse relationship between dietary Magnesium intake and depressive symptoms.[6]

 Zinc

Zinc is one of the 24 micronutrients needed for survival. It is found in meat, egg, and legume products. Oysters are particularly good sources of zinc. It is an aphrodisiac and testosterone booster, but it will only raise testosterone levels if the user is deficient in zinc. Zinc is also very important for the functioning of the enzyme, hormone, and immune systems.[7] Zinc has two standard dosages. The low dosage is 5-10mg, while the high dosage is 25-45mg. The low dose works well as a daily preventative, while the high dosage should be taken by anyone at risk for a zinc deficiency. Secondary to an improvement in overall mood, aggressive symptoms have been noted to be reduced with low dose zinc supplementation.

Staying Active (an absolute must)

Bolster your internal resources with good nutrition, stress-reduction techniques, regular sleep — and especially physical activity. Exercise has a powerful antidepressant effect. It’s been shown that people are far less likely to relapse after recovering from depression if they exercise three times a week or more. Exercise makes serotonin more available for binding to receptor sites on nerve cells, so it can compensate for changes in serotonin levels as you taper off SSRIs and other medications that target the serotonin system. (http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/going-off-antidepressants).

Summary

The above dietary and lifestyle suggestions are the ones I would most highly recommend regardless of whether you are still on or thinking about tapering off anti-depressant medications. In addition, I would say that anyone who is suffering with stress, anxiety or depression should go down the road of counselling, meditation, yoga, a gluten free diet with lots of protein, vegetables and probiotics, mild to moderate cardio-vascular exercise, supplements and counselling. Finally, connecting to those around you and building a strong network of supportive professionals, friends and family would also be something that I would say is a requirement for good mental wellbeing and enduring recovery from anxiety and depression.

 

 

 

[1] White, Ian. Beat Depression the Drug Free Way, 2011

[2] [2] Breggin, Dr. Peter R. Your Drug may be your Problem. Da Capo Press. 2007

[3] https://examine.com/supplements/5-htp/

[4] Valenstein, Elliot. S. “Blaming the Brain”, Free Press (1988).

[5] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1037-tyrosine

[6] https://examine.com/supplements/magnesium/

[7]https://examine.com/supplements/zinc/


Leave a comment

A worldwide epidemic – the misuse of anti depressant medications

This is a topic that is very close to my heart and just seems to be one of those things where life leads you and you cannot really understand why certain things have happened in your life until later. Sometimes when we get a little older, hopefully a little wiser we realise certain things in life. One of the lessons I have had to learn is that not all people who have letters after their names are actually “gods” or are people who have any special powers to know things about us that is more important than what we can learn about ourselves, our own bodies and our own minds. Blindly following what someone says we need to be doing for our own health (mental or physical) and well being just because they have a white jacket on (so to speak) is usually not in our best interests. I believe it was Dr. Bernie Segiel, author of Love, Medicine and Miracles who said that those patients who took the most active involvement and who researched their own care and recovery were the ones who time and again tended to go into remission from cancer.

Let me first clarify my position on all of what I am about to say in this article so that there are no misunderstandings:

  1. I am not saying that people should not listen to their medical professionals but I am saying that most of the time those who heal need to be actively involved in their own healing and research and learn as much if not more than their so called “specialists”. This is the only way we can make true informed choices about our own health and welling being and what is right and what is wrong for us should we ever need help or “treatment” of any kind.
  2. I am not saying that all of psychiatry and that all psychiatrists or doctors are to blame for what has happened and what is happening in the world today. There are many fantastic doctors and psychiatrists who understand what is going on and are doing their best to help. Unfortunately there are also many who are oblivious, ignorant or even arrogant and will not listen to what their patients are telling them.
  3. I am not saying that people should NEVER take or be on anti depressant medication. There is certainly a time and a place for them and a need when people get severely debilitated by depression and certainly if they become suicidal. From that point of view, one could say that sometimes, these medications can save lives. However, what I am going to talk about here is the far too many cases where anti depressants have been prescribed prematurely for anxiety, phobias, post natal depression, a divorce, a job loss or any other “normal” life event that causes normal human sadness and grief but then they go see their doctor and the first thing that happens is that they are offered medication.

I certainly don’t speak about these things just as a psychologist and someone who has been interested in anxiety and depression for most of my career (and life since around 19 years of age) but also as someone who has helped hundreds of people with their anxiety and depression over the years. I also speak about these things from deep personal experience and I have written an article on a website called Mad in America which attracted over 89 000 views since 2013. I have had hundreds of people writing to me from every corner of the world sharing their plight, their anguish, their pain and desperation to get off these terrible drugs. People in their twenties through to people in their sixties. People who has just started on them and people who have been on them for over 20 or even 30 years!

I believe in time, we will eventually see the use of some of the medications as insane and as barbaric as we now see treatments like ECT (electro convulsive therapy) or worse the drilling of holes in peoples heads to let the demons or black bile out that used to happen in the 19th century.

To be put onto an anti depressant at the age of 23 because I had had a mild panic attack just after completing my masters degree in psychology and had received my thesis back with lots of red pen all over it, was not a good reason to be put onto an anti depressant. The psychiatrist at the time said I had GAD (general anxiety disorder) and said I would feel amazing with this new drug called Ciprimal (citalopram). Anyway, that is a long story that has already been discussed elsewhere but I will share more of it here over time.

Today, I want to really put down a challenge and hopefully begin a wave of awareness and protest against a multi billion dollar industry that is probably destroying more lives than cancer, heart disease and AIDS put together. I know that is a bold statement and I do not make it lightly. The reason I say destroying more lives is because it is so unrecognised, not just what these medications do that changes people forever while they are on them but also because depression is still so stigmatised in society that no one really wants to talk about it. In some cultures they still do not believe it is even real or even exists and members of that culture or society are actually shunned if they show signs of mental distress, especially depression. Absolutely ludicrous in the world we live in today. The other reasons include the ongoing lack of recognition by the medical community (largely fueled by the big pharmaceutical companies) that there is no such thing as anti depressant withdrawal. Whenever a patient tries to go off their medication no matter how slow or what tapering process they may use, they will experience a withdrawal reaction just as you would from any other mind/brain altering drug. The pharmaceuticals vehemently denied this for decades until finally they acknowledged something they euphemistically called “anti-depressant discontinuation syndrome”! Let’s call it what it is people, its a drug withdrawal issue. So, the patient goes back to the doctor and says they have stopped their medication and feel anxious or depressed again. The doctor invariably says well that’s your depression coming back so you best just go back onto your anti depressants.

Even if you manage to taper off the drugs there is no guarantee that you will not experience some major withdrawal symptoms including increased anxiety, agitation and anger, crying spells, depressive thoughts, electric shock like sensations in your brain, vertigo, flu like symptoms and potentially a few others as well. What this does is often push the person to start taking the drug again to get relief from the withdrawal. If people aren’t made aware of the withdrawal they will believe – falsely – that their original “condition” of anxiety or depression is returning. I am astounded at how many doctors and psychiatrists will agree that this is the case and that the person just needs to go back onto their medication. Family and friends – having witnessed the destruction that can occur in their loved ones life when they do try to come off anti-depressants – will unwittingly be supporting the doctors and psychiatrists assessment and encourage their loved one to go back onto their medication. And so, an awful vicious cycle continues. Sometimes, unfortunately and very sadly it can lead to the person paying some hefty prices in terms of relationships, jobs and health. Sometimes, even the ultimate price of taking their own lives.

And many, in mental agony and pain, are forced back onto the medication or a different one and so the cycle goes on and on. Unfortunately, I believe that the longer you are on these medications, the harder it may be to come off them. This may not be entirely true but it seems that way to me. Having said that, I have had people write to me who have only been on them for a few months and try get off and have a major withdrawal problems. Another lady wrote to me recently saying that she had started having seizures after being on one particular anti depressant for only a few months!

One of the biggest issues we are facing is that we just do not know the real long term damage that these drugs may be doing to people. We do know that there is a possible link to heart disease as well as many other health problems the longer people are on them, some of which I will detail later on.

People are crying out for help. Marriages are breaking down, careers are falling apart, the quality of people’s lives is being severely compromised. I had one man write to me saying he had been on anti depressants for 20 years from 40 years old to 60 years old and that during that time he had lost both his parents and had be UNABLE to grieve their loss. Why? Because whilst anti-depressants may be preventing people from feeling the very negative emotions of anxiety and  deep unrelenting sadness, they also prevent people experiencing the normal range of sadness and love and joy and ecstasy that others just take for granted. It is an extremely painful realisation to think that you have lost part of your humanity because your ability to feel deeply about anything has been taken away, the good and the bad. So what are we becoming then? It raises questions of what it means to be human and if emotions are taken out of the question I don’t believe we are truly living.

I know this is deeply controversial and I know that there are many who will say that anti depressants save people’s lives. And again let me repeat that I don’t disagree with that but let me put forward a potential solution to this world wide epidemic. And speaking of epidemics, I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in the story of how these medications began, how they developed and where they have led us should get a copy of Robert Whitaker’s fantastic book called Anatomy of an Epidemic. I contacted Robert immediately after reading his book and he asked me to write my story for his website. There are now two parts to that story online. The third part is in the making as I continue on this path. I have written my own book about my views on anxiety, depression and all the tools that I believe are the best tools available to help without needing to resort to the medications. The book covers a range of topics such as cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance commitment therapy, meditation, exercise, goal setting, mindfulness practices as well as other chapters on dealing with emotion and letting go of our fears. The link to the book and eBook will be included at the end of this article for those who are interested.

For the majority of medical ailments and diseases, the disease was discovered and the epidemiology (underlying causes and history) first studied and then once fully understood through medical and scientific proof, successful cures were developed. This was never the case with depression or anxiety. Experiments with such wonderful substances such as jet fuel and clothing dye led to products which were tested on lab animals and then theories were created about why the mice or rats acted in a certain way when given these “calming” drugs and then human tests inevitably followed. After that, the psychiatric community and pharmaceutical companies got involved and the rest is history. A very sad history for the human race or at least for the poor souls who have suffered because of the neglect of the primary principle of the Hippocratic Oath that all doctors and I presume psychiatrists (and alright I will include psychologists too!) would have sworn to when they qualified in their degrees: “FIRST DO NO HARM”. This has clearly and unfortunately not been the case when it comes to some of the results from using psychiatric medication in the treatment of anxiety disorders and depression.

I will always say anti-depressants should be a last resort and only used when people are being debilitated by their condition and are not able to function normally in their world in terms of working or looking after themselves and/or other people in their lives. No-one should have to be on anti-depressants for the rest of their lives. That old story that people who need anti-depressants are the same as a diabetic who needs his or her insulin is just plain and simply not true. Talk to most doctors or psychiatrists and they will most likely tell you something along the lines of: “People with depression and anxiety need to take medication just as a diabetic needs to take insulin”. Why? Because it is a lack of insulin causing the diabetes and similarly, it is a lack of serotonin that causes depression and anxiety. However, a closer look at the research shows that this is just not true and has never been conclusively proven. The research that the pharmaceutical companies rely on to prove the deficiency theory is usually paid for by the pharmaceutical companies themselves. Important bits of information are either adjusted or ignored altogether such as the fact that in some of the trials, there was no clinically significant difference in serotonin levels between the depressed and non-depressed people. Another issue is that for the FDA in America to pass a drug it only needs to show it has been effective within a few weeks and there is no systematic follow up of how these patients fare of the longer term. Do their lives continue to improve and do they stay happy and well? Unfortunately, most of the time the answer is no.

Let me add a caveat to that as well. I am not saying that serotonin doesn’t play a major part in how we feel and it is well known to be the mood chemical in terms of helping us feel happiness and joy. But, many people don’t really know how an anti-depressant actually works. What it does is effectively blocks the “re-uptake” of serotonin in the brain which basically means that when you have a thought, your brain sends an electrical signal between two neurons. In order for the two neurons to communicate chemicals are released in a tiny micro gap between them. Chemicals float across the gap and connect to receptors on the other neuron and off the signals goes. Now, if there is not enough of the chemical getting through some of what is left in the gap is taken back or reabsorbed into the first neuron. Add in an anti depressant and what is does is block or stop the re-uptake of the serotonin chemical (hence the drugs are called SSRI -selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors). With more serotonin available in the gap – more floats across and fires the signal off for happiness and joy etc.

synapse

 

Wonderful isn’t it? And that’s all we needed to know right? Pop a pill and problem solved, you’re happy again. Or are you? As the years have gone by and more and more side effects and issues has arisen over time with people taking the drugs, we are learning more and more that is just isn’t that simple and that playing around with the brain and the body’s chemistry can have some debilitating and life altering impacts. Some of these include:

  • lack of libido
  • loss of motor control and facial tics (I had one client come to see me who had been put on such high doses of Zoloft for so long that she had an embarassing and highly distressing condition of legs and arms shooting out uncontrollably whenever she tried to relax!)
  • increased anger and irritability
  • difficulty accessing emotions both positive and negative
  • delayed or lack of ability to orgasm (leading to major issues in marriages and relationships)
  • ongoing and sometimes even worsened anxiety and depression whilst being on the drugs
  • major problems with trying to stop taking the drug even when the actual situational factors that may have caused the depression have long since past and people are now ready to go off and resume their lives and just want to be who they were before they started taking the drugs
  • major problems with short term memory (this was even detailed as far back as 1999 in Dr. Joseph Glenmullen’s book Prozac Backlash)
  • issues of the drugs just stopping to be effective known as the “poop out” effect – unfortunate terminology – which is basically when they drug just stops working. And so people are moved from drug to the next in an endless human experiment. I am sorry to say this but psychiatry is about as close to a science as black magic at this stage in our understanding of how they brain works.

If these drugs are truly the answer to anxiety and depression, how about you answer me one little question: Have you ever been tested for a serotonin deficiency? Have you ever gone to a doctor and had a test that came up with a result saying yes indeed my friend you are deficient in serotonin and this much medication will correct the problem and you will be A okay for the rest of your life? No? Why not? Because it is extremely difficult to measure serotonin levels in the brain and body. As far as I am aware, the only way to measure serotonin levels is through your cerebral spinal fluid and even that is not a direct measure of actual levels as it is more about what is wasted or taken away by the body and then doctors would guess from that how much you have. How would we even know what the “correct” amount of serotonin would be for each individual? The medical community only in recent times have identified that serotonin does not only reside in the brain but it resides in the stomach too. So we are playing around with people’s brains, people minds and people’s quality of life in ways that we just don’t fully understand and my very real and serious concern is the impact this is having on the lives of millions of people all over the globe.

My own further research found that there are natural products that can actually help the body produce more serotonin naturally, rather than artificially increase the levels with dangerous drugs with major side effects and extreme difficulty in ever stopping them. These supplements include the well known ones like St John’s Wort which is the most prescribed in Germany as they are one of the few countries trying to avoid the overuse of anti depressant medications. Others include the natural amino acid called 5 HTP (5 Hydroxy-tryptophan). This is the basic building block that your body and brain use to make/create serotonin and dopamine. Why aren’t doctors and psychiatrists trying these methods first along with all the other known methods of relieving anxiety and depression such as exercise, meditation, yoga, counselling, CBT, ACT etc.? This is just a sampling of potential natural methods that can and absolutely should be tried before medication is indicated.

Whilst I am certainly not saying that I am an expert in the field by any means, I do believe that there are some things that the medical fraternity and government health authorities should be taking into account in terms of the prescribing of anti depressant medications.

Here are some important questions all doctors, psychiatrists and government health authorities should be asking themselves before the prescribing of any anti depressant medications:

  1. Does this patient have a psychological condition that is severe enough to warrant psychiatric drugs that may alter his or her personality, relationships, career and quality of life in general?
  1. If so, is this patient mildly, moderately or severely anxious or depressed? How do I know this? (In my opinion and this is in agreement with Dr. Joseph Glenmullen’s conclusions in his book – only those who are severely affected by anxiety or depression should be put onto these medications and even then for only 4-6 months until they are able to resolve their psychological issues with a therapist).
  1. Have I informed my patient of the 4-6 week period of adaption that may cause some significant distress to the patient and that they may need an additional anti-anxiety medication to assist with the increased agitation and anxiety until the anti-depressant “kicks in”.
  1. Have I warned my patient that they are more than likely to experience difficulty withdrawing from the anti-depressant and that they will need to taper very slowly off the drug and possibly switch to one of the longest acting anti-depressants such as Prozac in order to successfully come off the drug?\
  1. Have I warned my patient that he or she may experience any or all of the following:
  • Decreased libido.
  • Delayed orgasm/failure to achieve orgasm.
  • Increased agitation/anger.
  • Difficulty accessing his or her emotions and thus ability to empathise with others.
  • Potential memory loss if taken for a period of years due to the chemicals effect on the hippocampus in the brain (the brains memory site).
  • (…and other side effects that I have already been mentioned earlier)
  1. Have I arranged to follow up with the patient and his or her counsellor to assist them in getting off the drugs as soon as possible once the patient is feeling better and has resolved the primary situational and psychological issues that led to the anxiety or depression in the first place?

The sad reality is that many doctors do not even know that a patient can experience withdrawal reactions. I had a client come to see me with his wife once, extremely worried about the fact that he had been experiencing electric shock like sensations in his brain and legs as well as vertigo after suddenly stopping an anti-depressant. I asked him if he had discussed coming off with his doctor and he said he had and that his doctor had agreed he could just stop taking them. When I informed the patient that this was a normal reaction and that he needed to either try to handle it – as he had not been on them for very long so it was likely he would be fine – or to go back to a lower dose and taper off, the look of relief on both their faces was amazing. He told me he thought he was either going mad or dying!

There should be much stricter controls over when a person is given these drugs and who gives it to them. There should be a formal assessment of how depressed a person really is using a valid an reliable depression tool such as the Beck Depression Inventory and not a 10 question form filled in at the doctors office while the patient is in tears and feeling at their very worst. Being asked how often have you felt this way or that in the last 2 weeks is too short a time  frame to assess a clinical and severe episode of depression. Obviously if the person is reporting suicidal thoughts and appears to have some ideas of following through some immediate action must be taken including letting the patients family know and potentially getting an acute care mental health team involved. Starting anti depressants for a patient such as this may be the very thing that is needed but once again I question for how long? Forever? Who takes control to oversee how the patient is fairing in a few weeks, months, years and then assists them to taper off when the time is right? I believe this is a very important missing link in our health system, not just in Australia but around the world from what I have gathered from the hundreds of people who have written to me over the past 3 years.

As I have mentioned, there are many tools and techniques that can be learned to help people get better and stay better, many of which I have detailed in my book along with my descriptions of exactly what I believe anxiety and depression are and how they differ from stress or situational anxiety and low mood.

It is my mission to continue to talk about and help people with these and other issues in terms of living the best life they can, having the greatest quality of life mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. As a wise author once said: I am not saying to you that I am on the top of the mountain, all I am saying is that I have been climbing it a bit longer and I can hopefully point out some of the pitfalls and pathways that you may be encountering as you climb too.

To those of you who are struggling out there, know that you are not alone, there is a growing number of people speaking out about what has been happening to them and more people learning alternative ways to get better and stay better. I would recommend joining up with sites such as http://www.survivingantidepressants.org as well as keeping abreast on what is happening on Robert Whitaker’s site http://www.madinamerica.com.

If you are interested in getting a copy of the latest second edition and fully updated version of my book you can follow the links below. I am always happy to hear feedback on the book and welcome comments on Amazon or iBooks.

With love and light, Namaste.

David

 

IMG_5520

Get_it_on_iBooks_Badge_US_1114

The Book on ibooks

The eBook on Kindle

The Book on Book Depository (free world wide delivery)