Knowing What Causes Depression
Will Determine Treatment and Prevention

What causes depression? It has been long thought that depression is caused by an imbalance of Neurotransmitters. This may be hereditary or it may be created and exacerbated by stressful life circumstances such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce, health issues or the challenges of aging. What causes depression may begin with the development and functioning of the neurons, which are facilitated by these critical neurotransmitters. Certainly, poor health practices, including substance abuse, poor diet, lack of exercise and sleep deprivation may cause imbalances.

Contrary to popular belief, a study from the laboratory of researcher Eva Redel David Lawrence Stein Professor of Psychiatry at Northwestern’s Feinberg School), presented at the Neuroscience 2009 conference in Chicago strongly suggested that there is almost no overlap between stress-related genes and depression-related genes. One reason this information is important is because antidepressants were created as a treatment for stress, not depression. (1)

According to Robert Whitaker, in 1983 NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) concluded that basically there is no evidence that there is anything wrong in the Serotonergic system of depressed patients. (6) It's very difficult to know what to believe when the experts disagree, especially when theories can be fabricated by industries which will benefit. Every book I've read certainly agrees with the Neurotransmitter systems being out of balance.

Sources of Depression

Ongoing stress, genetics, alcohol and drugs are great destroyers of your natural supply of tryptophan and Serotonin. The following are a few of the types of depression treated at Health Recovery Center. (2)

  1. Vitamin/Mineral Deficiency
  2. Hypothyroidism
  3. Hypoglycemia
  4. Unavailability of Prostaglandin E1
  5. Food and chemical allergies
  6. Candida-related complex
  7. Neurotransmitter depletion
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiency: Studies have found that people with the lowest levels of Vitamin D were eleven times more prone to depression. Vitamin D deficiency has been implicated in psychiatric and neurological disorders. (1) Vitamin C is also critical. The B-complex vitamins are essential to mental and emotional well being and cannot be stored in our bodies. Therefore, we depend entirely on our daily diet to supply them. B is destroyed by alcohol, sugar, nicotine and caffeine. Important minerals include Magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, manganese and potassium. (2)
  • Hypothyroidism: When the thyroid hormone cannot be adequately assimilated into the cells, cellular oxygen declines, bad news for the brain that uses 25% of the air you breathe. It also causes slowdown of cellular metabolism, causing a drop in levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA. Moderately low levels of GABA are linked to mood swings, anxiety and panic attacks. (3)

    At least one third of the people suffering from symptoms of the blahs type depression are having trouble with their thyroid gland. Thyroid hormones are critical to the digestive breakdown and absorption of all amino acids, including Tyrosine, they direct tyrosine’s magical conversion into the antidepressant Catecholamine (Cats).

  • Hypoglycemia, Candida related complex, inflammation and depression: Sugar, not only refined but fructose corn syrup and starches found in rice and potatoes are a major culprit in the promotion of inflammation which is the risk factor that underlies not only depression but heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer. High sugar content and starchy carbohydrates lead to excessive insulin release, which lead to falling blood sugar levels or hypoglycemia. (1)

    Hypoglycemia causes your brain to secrete glutamate in levels that can cause agitation, depression, anger, anxiety, panic attacks and an increase in suicide risk. (1) Note, Health Recovery Center reports that eighty percent of alcoholics are diagnosed with hypoglycemia. (2)

  • Low levels of Prostaglandin E1: Because the brain is over sixty percent fat, its tissues are dependant upon important essential fatty acids (EFA). We need fat in our diets, contrary to the warnings of the American Heart Association and National Media. The only bad fats are man made or trans-fatty acids (hydrogenated oil). In order to fire appropriately, preventing depression and creating normal moods, Serotonin and Norepinephrine need adequate EFAs. High triglycerides and cholesterol may accompany low levels of EFAs. (2)
  • Food and chemical allergies: Most common to sensitive people are wheat, alcohol (particularly the grains in the alcohol), and hydrocarbon based products such as gas and paints. Food addictions keep us craving certain foods for the mild highs. The downside of the addiction is the resulting depression. (2)
  • Candida-related complex: If you continually crave sugar and alcohol, you may have a yeast invasion throughout your body. You may experience depression, bloating, being spacey and anxiety. You will need to bring these yeast colonizers under control. (2) One way is to alkalize your body.
  • Neurotransmitter Depletion: A mood elevating neurotransmitter Norepinephrine is inactivated by an enzyme called monamine oxidase (MAO) and when levels of the MAO are high, the resulting decline in bioavailable Norepinephrine can induce depression. This process can be reversed by estrogen, which inhibits MAO and frees up more Norepinephrine. (3) Of course, MAO blockers are also a type of antidepressant on the market. Note: Antidepressants and pain medications usually work by blocking rather than replenishing.
  • Neurotransmitter Depletion: Thirty five percent of Americans carry an altered gene that miss-programs their production of the catecholamine dopamine. This genetic miscue causes the ‘blahs to run in the family. This inherited deficiency can lead to stimulant drug addiction. (4)
  • Neurotransmitter Depletion: Too much stress can lead to drained stores of Dopamine or Cats. It can also lead to the lack of the Neurotransmitter Serotonin which causes negativity, irritability, anxiety, sleeplessness, and or obsessive behavior.
  • Neurotransmitter Depletion: Chronic depression may lead to neuron reduction responsible for memory and affects concentration and information processing. (5)

    How Neurotransmitters Become Depleted

    At the first sign of an impending stressor, your brain sends word to your adrenal glands to prepare for fight or flight (a call for Cats). Likewise, it may make a call on Serotonin to sooth you when you are feeling sad or worried or anxious. Everyone handles stress, worry, sadness and grieving differently, but with prolonged demands, you’ll inevitably run low on supplies. This is especially true if you are low to begin with in Dopamine, Serotonin or both. (4) Note: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) such as Zoloft, Paxil, Desyrel, Prozac, Serzone are antidepressants commonly used to block Serotonin in the brain.

    Low availability of Serotonin has been associated with high activity in the Anterior Cingulate Gyrus (ACG). This is the part of the brain that is involved with cognitive flexibility so that you may shift from task to task or idea to idea like a gear shifter. When the ACG works correctly, you can see options, go with the flow, and be inclusive and cooperative. (7)

    When activity is too low, you struggle with attention (ADD ADHD), motivation and less verbalization. When activity is high, you get stuck in negative thoughts, repetitive behaviors, worrying, grudges, obsessive compulsive disorders, and rigidity. You also tend to dislike change and want things to be perfect. (7)

    Like the transmission in your car, when your ACG gets stuck, you use too much energy, whine loudly and make little progress in your life. There are both natural and pharmaceutical ways to maximize Serotonin.

    Note: Orthomolecular Physicians should be able to help address the above problems. You may want to check with; Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine (416) 733-2117; American Academy of Environmental Medicine (215) 862-4544; or The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians

    Whether you are prone to low levels of Neurotransmitters or call for more then your body can produce, the results are the same; you are living in a depressed state. Depression causes the simplest tasks and responsibilities to become a challenge most days.

    We must remember, however, that Depression serves a purpose. It helps us survive certain life circumstances, for example, it becomes a necessary part of dealing with the shock and loss that is a part of the grieving process. In time it facilitates healing provided we don’t get stuck there.

    From reading ‘Younger Next Year’ by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, I learned that each day our Darwinian or reptilian body reacts to one of two choices, will we hunt or will we hunker down for the winter. If we are active and participate in an aerobic exercise, our body responds by supporting a cycle of growth necessary for the hunter. It makes repairs to muscles and tissues and fine tunes body systems, including the mind.

    On the other hand, if we are inactive, our basic instinct calls for our body to conserve, initiating a self induced depressed state in order to preserve energy as deemed necessary in order to survive a famine or drought. Unfortunately, due to the inactive lifestyles of the majority of Americans, we are unknowingly cuing our bodies to become depressed, storing fat reserves. Unfortunately, our body does not distinguish the difference between a work day at the computer and a day sitting in a cave. No wonder exercise becomes one of the most contributing factors to a healthy body and mind. Of course, when you are in a state of depression, it is difficult to find the energy and motivation to exercise.

    My Personal Experience With Depression

    I am sharing my personal experience with depression because I suspect that there are others who may find similarities in their chemical makeup, which could explain similar tendencies toward depression.

    I would have to admit that I have always been prone to the ‘cups half empty’ experience of life. I was told that I began to worry about everything at a very young age. I’m not particularly comfortable with change and although I am certainly not a perfectionist, I like things to be right. I am analytical and an idealist. I’m also very susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). These personality traits, according to Dr. Amen's theory above, would indicate that I have an overactive Anterior Cingulate Gyrus (ACG) caused from low levels of Gaba, Serotonin or both. This theory makes sense to me and I've been successful in mitigating these traits with discipline and specific supplements.

    Conceivably, when I lost my son, grieving called for more Serotonin then my brain was able to make and I sunk into a very deep depression. I was even having suicidal thoughts for a short period. I was on an antidepressant at the time. Keeping in mind that the specific function of the SSRIs is to re-circulate Serotonin in your brain, if you don't have enough to re-circulate, most antidepressants are of little value and can actually push you closer to suicide. Although I’ve never had my Neurotransmitters measured or a Brain Spect Scan, I’ve read, experimented and found my own solutions to depression.

    When I finally found the right solution for me, I felt like a phoenix rising from the ashes. The contrast and relief was so sudden and profound that my friends were certainly curious about what had happened. From my new point of view, I came to the realization that I had an underlying tendency towards mild to moderate depression throughout my life. It's difficult to know you're depressed, however, when it's all you've ever known, as was also the case with my son. Now, even though I was still in a period of grieving, I was able to handle it much better and even feel a sense of hope and vitality for life once again.

    In retrospect, living in Colorado had, in fact, helped me keep my tendency towards depression in check for many years of my life. Because Colorado boasts three hundred and sixty days of sunshine a year and there is a focus on outdoor and athletic activities, both deterrents to depression, I rarely experienced significant symptoms of depression. I continue to have characteristic traits of an overactive ACG which leads me to believe that I will always have a tendency to use a lot of Gaba and Serotonin.

    Living with depression sucks the life out of you. I’ve heard that the psychology of depression is anger turned inward and also that it is caused by energetic and emotional blocks. We feel disconnected from our higher source (God), our friends, family and most importantly, ourselves. We get caught in endless negative loops of self talk. To the extent that we find ourselves judging others, we are most likely judging ourselves just as harshly.

    If you find yourself or a loved one suffering from depression, educate yourself. Most of all, be compassionate. Even though depression may be a part of a healing process under certain circumstances, don't allow it to become a permanent condition. I would recommend that you seek a professional who is open to fully understanding the cause and effect of depression and I would encourage you to ask a lot of questions. Expect to find someone who is able to offer you natural solutions and supplements as well as pharmaceutical aids, as may be necessary.



    (2) by Joan Larson

    (3) Health and Wellness Center

    (4) Mood Cures by Julia Ross, M.A.

    (5) Improve Brain Health

    (6) Robert Whitaker, Medical Journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1998 also author of several books including "Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America"

    (7) Healing ADD and Making a Good Brain Great by Dr. Daniel Amen