New research on depression, and a new look at supplements for mood and sleep disorders

At the end of 2013, there was much buzz about new studies showing that curing insomnia in people with depression might double the chance of a complete recovery from depression. The studies, financed by the National Institute of Mental Health, were welcomed as the most significant advance in treating depression since the introduction of the “selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor” (SSRI), Prozac, twenty-five years ago. In effect, the new research findings turn conventional wisdom on its head, since they suggest that insomnia can be a main cause of depression, rather than just a symptom or a side effect, as previously assumed. If you can successfully treat a depressed person’s insomnia, according to the new view, you eliminate one of the main factors causing the depressed state.

New research findings turn conventional wisdom on its head
suggesting that insomnia can be a main cause of depression
rather than just a symptom or a side effect as previously assumed

As we followed reports on this breakthrough research on insomnia and depression, we were especially encouraged to read comments like the one from Washington DC psychiatrist James Gordon, who has advocated an integrative approach to treating depression. Here’s his letter to The New York Times: 

I welcome a new report’s finding that cognitive behavioral therapy is improving the outcome for depressed people with significant insomnia (“Sleep Therapy Seen as an Aid for Depression,” front page, Nov. 19). 

It reminds us that changes in attitude and perspective, and a therapeutic relationship, can right biological imbalances — like disordered sleep — and significantly enhance the lives of troubled people. The study also puts the therapeutic role of antidepressant medication in perspective: the depressed participants who received behavioral therapy did equally well whether or not they were taking the drugs. 

I hope that these results will encourage the National Institute of Mental Health, researchers, clinicians and all of us to expand our horizons. 

There are a number of other nonpharmacological therapies, including meditation, physical exercise, dietary change and nutritional supplementation, acupuncture and group support, that show promise for improving clinical depression and enhancing brain function.

At NYBC we have long believed that non-prescription therapies, such as supplements, are valuable alternatives for treating mood disorders and sleep disorders When the Centers for Disease Control surveyed use of antidepressant drugs in 2008, it found that one in 10 Americans was taking an antidepressant, and many had taken these drugs for years. Over a period of ten years, antidepressant use in the U.S. had shot up by 400%! So the question arises: how much of this spectacular increase represented real gains in treatment, and how much was over-prescribing? As Dr. Gordon mentions in his letter above, in some cases behavioral therapy for depression has worked just as well whether people were taking antidepressants or not—hardly a strong argument for the value of the prescription drugs.

A well-publicized 2008 report in the New England Journal of Medicine
found that pharmaceutical companies had consistently reported

only the most favorable trial outcomes for their popular antidepressants

A well-publicized 2008 report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that pharmaceutical companies had consistently reported only the most favorable trial outcomes for their popular antidepressants, passing over evidence that suggested a more limited effectiveness. Furthermore, as with many drugs, especially those used over a long period, antidepressants have side effects. Higher bone fracture risk and multiple cardiovascular risks have been identified; sexual side effects are common with antidepressants in both men and women; and withdrawal symptoms for those tapering off antidepressants include a long list of problems, such as panic attacks, insomnia, poor concentration and impaired memory.

Turning to the alternatives, we describe below supplements that NYBC has highlighted over the years for sleep and mood disorders. Note cautions about their use, but also note that some of these products may actually carry added benefits, rather than unwanted side effects.

1. Melatonin is a hormone occurring naturally in the body, but some people who have trouble sleeping have low melatonin levels. Melatonin has been used for jet lag, for adjusting sleep-wake cycles for people doing shift work on varying schedules, and for insomnia, including insomnia due to high blood pressure medications called beta-blockers. It is also used as a sleep aid when discontinuing benzodiazepines (Klonopin, Xanax, etc.) and to reduce side effects when quitting smoking.

2. Fish Oil. Epidemiologists have noted that populations that eat fish regularly have low rates of depression. And research has found that omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements can be of benefit in treating depression and bipolar disorder. Fish oil can also be taken with other anti-depressants as an adjunct therapy. Doses found effective in treating depression are quite high, 3 to 9 grams per day, so be aware of potential problems related to the supplement’s blood-thinning properties. Added benefit: fish oil can help manage cholesterol, and supports cardiovascular health.

3. Deficiencies in the B Vitamins, especially B12 and folate, can result in neurologic symptoms — for example, numbness, tingling and loss of dexterity — and the deterioration of mental function, which causes symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, disorientation, depression, irrational anger and paranoia. A number of studies have shown that vitamin B12 is deficient in a large percentage of people with HIV, and the deficiency can begin early in the disease. Supplementing with a B complex protects against deficiency and supports cognitive health and mental function.

4. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to depressed states. Lack of the “sunshine vitamin” may be especially associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the “winter blues.” Vitamin D also supports bone health, and may protect against colds and flus.

5. Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, acts as a relaxing agent by increasing levels of certain neurotransmitters (=brain chemicals that shape your mood), including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA (gamma amino butyric acid). Human studies have been limited to date, but one small study showed that theanine decreases stress responses such as elevated heart rate. Another investigation compared theanine’s calming effect to that of a standard anti-anxiety prescription drug, and found that theanine performed somewhat better. Note that NYBC stocks Theanine Serene (Source Naturals), a combination supplement that includes theanine and GABA.

6. Probiotics. Very recent research has looked into the communication between the digestive system and the brain, with a goal of understanding how gut health may influence chronic conditions, including mood disorders like depression and anxiety. For example, it has been shown that certain probiotics promote production of the calming, anti-stress neurotransmitter GABA in the body, pointing to a direct influence of probiotics on mood. Other potential links between the gastrointestinal system’s microorganisms and brain function are currently being explored.

7. L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP (5-hydroxy L-tryptophan). These closely related supplements are converted in the body to serotonin and to melatonin. (Take L-tryptophan with carbohydrates to make it effective.) Their use as antidepressants has been studied, and they have also been found to aid sleep and suppress appetite. (To minimize appetite suppression, take the supplement an hour before bedtime.)  Although L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP are close relatives, people may respond somewhat differently to them, so it may be worthwhile to try the other if the first doesn’t produce an effect An added benefit: 5-HTP may also decrease symptoms of fibromyalgia and migraine headaches.

8. In research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) was found to be an effective therapy for mild-to-moderate or severe midlife depression, on par with some prescription drugs. Moreover, the research showed that taking DHEA promoted both a significant lifting of depressive symptoms and an improvement in sexual functioning. Note that dosing recommendations vary for men versus women, and DHEA is not recommended for those diagnosed with prostate conditions or cancer.

9. SAMe (S-adenosyl-l-methionine) is produced naturally in the body from the amino acid methionine. Supplementing with SAMe increases concentrations of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Several studies show SAMe having an antidepressant effect comparable to that of some prescription drugs. SAMe should be avoided in people with bipolar disorder, and should be used cautiously with other antidepressants, because the combination may push serotonin levels too high. Taking a B-complex vitamin while using SAMe can counter build-up of homocysteine, which has been linked to heart disease SAMe may also support joint health and liver function. Caution: the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has posted a warning that SAMe may increase likelihood of pneumocystis infection in immune-compromised people. Note: see also Trimethylglycine (TMG), which includes the raw materials that the body uses to manufacture SAMe. TMG is much less expensive than SAMe.

10. St. John’s Wort is a widely used herb with clinically demonstrated (multiple, well-controlled studies, mostly in Europe) anti-depressant effects for mild to moderate depression – generally without the side effects of prescription antidepressants. High doses of the herb may cause a sensitivity to light (phototoxicity), so avoid direct sunlight or sunbathing while using. Do not take St. John’s Wort with 5-HTP, serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (like Prozac), or with protease inhibitors, as it may affect beneficial liver enzymes. St. John’s Wort may also have activity against Epstein-Barr and herpes infections.

11. Finally, we’ll mention another combination supplement that NYBC has stocked: GABA Soothe (Jarrow). The GABA in this supplement is the neurotransmitter that promotes calmness coupled with mental focus. Also included is theanine (see above for a description of its anti-anxiety effects) and an extract of ashwagandha, an herb which has long been used in the Ayurvedic tradition of India to reduce fatigue and tension associated with stress.

 

supplement-header-2014
This article from the Spring 2014 edition of SUPPLEMENT: Newsletter of the New York Buyers’ Club, available for download at http://www.NewYorkBuyersClub.org

 

References:

CDC statistics on antidepressant use in the US, 2005-2008: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db76.htm

Turner, E et al. Selective Publication of Antidepressant Trials and Its Influence on Apparent Efficacy. New England Journal of Medicine,  2008; 358:252-260 January 17, 2008 doi: 10.1056/NEJMsa065779

Logan, A.. Omega-3 fatty acids and major depression: A primer for the mental health professional. Lipids Health Dis. 2004; 3: 25; doi:  10.1186/1476-511X-3-25

Sudden cardiac death secondary to antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs, Expert Opinion on Drug Safety, March 2008; 7(2):1081-194

Alramadhan E et al. Dietary and botanical anxiolytics Med Sci Monit. 2012 Apr;18(4):RA40-8.

Rogers PJ, Smith JE, Heatherley SV, Pleydell-Pearce CW. Time for tea: mood, blood pressure and cognitive performance effects of caffeine and theanine administered alone and together. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2008;195(4):569–77.

Kimura, K et al. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol. 2007 Jan;74(1):39-45.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at NIH. S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine (SAMe): An Introduction Accessed at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/supplements/SAMe

Carpenter, D J. St. John’s wort and S-adenosyl methionine as “natural” alternatives to conventional antidepressants in the era of the suicidality boxed warning: what is the evidence for clinically relevant benefit? Altern Med Rev. 2011 Mar;16(1):17-39.

Foster, J A et al. Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression Trends in Neuroscience. 2013 May;36(5):305-12. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2013.01.005.

Rao, A V & Bested, A. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of a probiotic in emotional symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. Gut Pathog. 2009; 1: 6 doi:  10.1186/1757-4749-1-6

Omega-3 fatty acids and brain health

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association looked at the relationship between consumption of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and some physical measures of the brain that have been linked to “brain health” and “cognitive health.” This research was a bit different from many other studies of omega-3 fatty acids and potential health benefits, because most other studies have looked for relationships between dietary intake of these compounds (found especially in deep water fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel) and major health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease or depression. The JAHA article, on the other hand, narrowed the focus by examining measurable small-scale physical changes in the brain over a period as long as five years.

The results: people with higher omega-3 fatty acid levels showed a significantly lower number of the small-scale physical brain changes that may be associated with brain dysfunction or cognitive decline.
The study authors concluded that, among the older men and women who were the study’s subjects, higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, “and in particular DHA, were associated with specific findings consistent with better brain health.”

Our comment: a fascinating study, because it adds another level of evidence contributing to the already widely accepted view that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for your brain, and indeed may provide important help in maintaining brain function as you age.

See the NYBC catalog for a selection of fatty acids, and note especially the Nordic Naturals Pro Omega choices, which are excellent quality fish oil supplements, containing the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids studied in the JAHA article:

FATTY ACIDS in the NYBC CATALOG

Of special interest is the Jarrow supplement Max DHA, which provides an enhanced dose of the omega-3 fatty acid often associated with brain health:

MAX DHA (Jarrow)

Reference:

Virtanen JK, Siscovick DS, Lemaitre RN, Longstreth WT, Spiegelman D, Rimm EB, King IB, & Mozaffarian D (2013). Circulating omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and subclinical brain abnormalities on MRI in older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2 (5) PMID: 24113325

Supplements for Bone Health: A Special Note for People with HIV

Bone health has been a growing concern for people with HIV, since studies have indicated that HIVers experience higher than expected rates of osteopenia (bone mineral density lower than normal) and osteoporosis (bone mineral density very low, with heightened risk of fractures). A 2012 review from Johns Hopkins researchers, for example, concluded that the “increasing prevalence of osteoporosis in HIV-infected persons translates into a higher risk of fracture, likely leading to excess morbidity and mortality as the HIV-infected population ages.”

The Johns Hopkins study urged more attention to Vitamin D deficiency and supplementation as one way to counter these HIV-related bone issues. But we think it’s also worth looking at recent Canadian research, not focused especially on people with HIV, but with some striking findings about the value of multiple supplements to support healthy bone mineral density levels. The supplements investigated included vitamin D(3), vitamin K(2), strontium, magnesium and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), all chosen because of previous evidence about their benefit to bone health. Following a year-long study of patients with varying levels of bone loss, the Canadian researchers determined that this supplement regimen was as effective as a class of drugs often prescribed for osteoporosis (bisphosphonates, such as Fosamax or Boniva). And, they found that the combination of supplements was even effective for people who had failed to benefit from the prescription osteoporosis drugs.

We hope to see further study of supplement combinations for bone loss in people with HIV. It’s an acknowledged problem as HIVers get older, and if there’s a potential way to lower this health risk over the long run, let’s take a serious look at it!

Note: NYBC stocks Jarrow’s Bone Up or Ultra Bone Up, plus Max DHA or EPA-DHA Balance, which provide most of the micronutrients in the Canadian study (missing is the Strontium, but NYBC hopes to have a recommendation for that in the near future).

Visit the NYBC website for more information:

http://www.newyorkbuyersclub.org/

References:

The Johns Hopkins study: Walker Harris V, Brown TT. Bone loss in the HIV-infected patient: evidence, clinical implications, and treatment strategies. J Infect Dis. 2012 Jun;205 Suppl 3:S391-8. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jis199.

The Canadian study: Genuis SJ, Bouchard TP. Combination of Micronutrients for Bone (COMB) Study: bone density after micronutrient intervention. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:354151. doi: 10.1155/2012/354151.

Omega-3 fatty acids (especially DHA) may protect against ulcerative colitis

Omega-3 fatty acids (for example, the EPA and the DHA in your fish oil supplements) have an anti-inflammatory effect, of interest to researchers in a recent study of inflammatory bowel disease, specifically ulcerative colitis. This large study, which focused on people from 45 to 74 years old, found that those with the highest consumption of DHA (410 mg to 2,000 mg per day) had a 77% reduction in the risk of developing ulcerative colitis over an average period of four years than those consuming the lowest amount (up to 110 mg per day). On the basis of their research, the study authors suggest that higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, could have a protective effect against development of ulcerative colitis.

For more information on DHA, EPA and other fatty acid supplements, see the NYBC category:
Fatty acid supplements
Note that NYBC stocks a variety of these supplements, both from fish oil (Nordic Naturals and Jarrow), and from vegetarian (algae) sources.

Reference:
John, S et al. Dietary n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the aetiology of ulcerative colitis: a UK prospective cohort study. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010 May; 22(5):602-6

New FDA warnings on statins; NYBC reviews supplements to support cardiovascular health

In February 2012 the FDA added new safety warnings about statins, the cholesterol-lowering medications that are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. The side effects cited by the FDA include memory loss, muscle pain (myopathy), and now a significant diabetes risk as well. Reports of memory loss, confusion, and forgetfulness were found in all types of patients taking statins, according to the new warnings.

In addition, a 2011 review in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine concluded that statin-related muscle pain was much more common than previously reported. (The main reason: clinical trials of statins often eliminated patients more likely to develop muscle pain as a side effect of the medication.) The same article estimated that muscle pain as a side effect may help explain why up to 25% of adults stop taking statins within six months, and up to 60% stop taking them within two years.

There is good evidence that statins can be valuable in preventing heart disease, and there is widespread consensus that they remain a crucial option for many dealing with cardiovascular disease and risk. However, it’s also more evident than ever that statin side effects are significant. And given the side effects, there is some disagreement among doctors about what cholesterol levels should call for treatment with statins, and what levels can better be dealt with through changes in diet or exercise habits.

It’s a complex subject and of course involves many individual factors including age, family history and blood pressure, so, as you’d expect, NYBC advocates that everyone make decisions about how best to manage cardiovascular risk and disease in consultation with their healthcare provider.

Given the new FDA warnings about statins, NYBC also believes that it’s more important than ever for people to be aware of the potential of dietary supplements in supporting cardiovascular health. Here are some of the supplements we often recommend for consideration:

–Plant products called sterols have been shown to inhibit cholesterol. See, for example, Douglas Labs’ Cardio-Edge.

Fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids). Research has found a strong effect on lowering triglycerides, one measure associated with cardiovascular risk. Recommended to support cardiovascular health by the American Heart Association.

Flaxseed: 40-50 grams per day can have a substantial impact on cholesterol.

Pomegranate concentrate. Needs more study, though recent research found that diabetic patients taking pomegranate concentrate were able to lower their cholesterol significantly.

Finally, if you are taking statins, consider supplementing to lessen the risk of certain side effects. A 2011 research report suggested that Vitamin D deficiency might contribute to muscle pain caused as a side effect of statins, and that supplementing with the sunshine vitamin could reverse that side effect. (Reference: Glueck, C J et al. Curr Med Res Opin. (2011 Sep). “Vitamin D deficiency, myositis-myalgia, and reversible statin intolerance”) Also, a 2007 pilot study suggested that the supplement CoQ10, used to support cardiovascular health in a variety of contexts, could diminish statin-related myopathy and improve a person’s ability to continue normal daily activities. (Reference: Caso, Giuseppe. Am J Cardiol. 2007 May 15. “Effect of coenzyme q10 on myopathic symptoms in patients treated with statins”)

For more on Vitamin D and CoQ10 see the NYBC entries:

CoQ10

Vitamin D3

DHA Omega-3 (algae-based, no fish)

NYBC recently added to its catalog this omega-3 fatty acid supplement which is derived from a vegetable source (algae) rather than from fish:

DHA Omega-3 (Natrol) Each bottle, 30 softgels. Each softgel, 100 mg of DHA derived from algae (no fish/vegetarian). Suitable for vegetarians who wish to avoid fish/menhaden sources. This product recently passed a consumerlabs test as the only example of a non-fish-based omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Suggested use is 1 softgel with a meal or as directed.

See other entries under Omega-3 fatty acids on this Blog for evidence and recommendations for use.

Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin A for retinitis pigmentosa

A study published in Feb. 2012 reports that adding omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, and also in fish oil) to Vitamin A palmitate supplementation significantly slowed the decline in distance and retinal visual acuities in adults with retinitis pigmentosa. Retinitis pigmentosa affects approximatley 1 in 4000 adult Americans. The combination Vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids, according to the study authors, may essentially preserve life-long vision for these patients.

Read the article at
http://archopht.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/archophthalmol.2011.2580v1