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

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Supplements have a role in treating depression/sleep disorders

As 2013 drew to a close, 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 Prozac 25 years ago. In effect, the new research findings turn conventional wisdom on its head, since they suggest that insomnia may be a main cause of depression, rather than just a symptom or a side effect, as has usually been assumed. So, if you can successfully treat a depressed person’s insomnia, you may be eliminating one of the main factors causing the depressed state.

As we followed news stories about this breakthrough research on insomnia and depression, we were especially encouraged to read comments from Washington DC psychiatrist James Gordon, who has advocated for 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.

It is time to undertake authoritative studies of integrative approaches that combine these therapies, perhaps as well as behavioral therapy, in the treatment of both depression and insomnia.

JAMES S. GORDON
Washington, Nov. 19, 2013
The writer, a psychiatrist, is the author of “Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression.”

We at NYBC have long been interested in exploring research on supplements and mood disorders, and supplements and sleep disorders. In fact, you’ll find these categories of supplements in a single section of our catalog, at

Supplements for Mood and Sleep Disorders

Please feel free to browse this section, and learn more about supplements such as melatonin, theanine, SAMe, DHEA, and others. There is considerable research on many of these already published, and we believe they will have a role to play in a new, more integrative treatment strategy for depression.

Supplements for anxiety

A while back, we posted a review of holistic M.D. Hyla Cass’ recommendations for avoiding the dependence-inducing benzodiazepines for anxiety. Her prescription was to use supplements instead, and she had some specific recommendations:

In her 2007 book, Supplement Your Prescription: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Nutrition, Dr. Hyla Cass has an interesting section (pp. 139-140) dealing with supplement alternatives to benzodiazepines and other drugs such as Ambien. (These drugs are generally prescribed as anti-anxiety agents and as sleep aids.)

Of benzodiazepines (the best-known tradenames in this category are Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Librium, Halcion), Dr. Cass writes that a principal problem is that these drugs develop dependence, and so can require steadily increasing dosages as time goes on. (Ideally, she says, they are intended as short-term therapies, but in fact many patients end up being prescribed them for a much longer time.) Withdrawal from these drugs can be quite hazardous, and should be done only under medical surpervision. Moreover, the effect of this class of medications is often a dulling of response, so their use can be associated with accidents.
[…]
She states that in her own practice she has often successfully substituted supplements for these prescription drugs. Among the calming supplements that she has used:

5-HTP: 100-200mg at bedtime
Melatonin: 0.5-3.0mg at bedtime
L-theanine: 200mg, one to three times daily, as needed

In Dr. Cass’s view, supplements such as these, sometimes used in combinations, can provide a good alternative to the addictive benzodiazepines and their side effects.

—–

See the following NYBC entries for additional information on the supplements mentioned above:

Melatonin 1mg and Melatonin 3mg

Theanine Serene (includes L-theanine)

NYBC also stocks 5-HTP and the closely related Tryptophan.

If you do decide to take one of the prescription benzodiazepines, Dr. Cass further notes, it is advisable to supplement to offset the key nutrients that these drugs tend to deplete in the body. We note that the Jarrow supplement Bone Up very closely matches the set of depleted supplements listed by Dr. Cass (Calcium, Magnesium, Folic acid, Vitamin D, Vitamin K).

One last note: rather small doses of melatonin may do the trick in terms of helping you to sleep. A 1mg dose may be all that’s necessary.

Drugs versus supplements as sleep aids

One of the reasons people turn to supplements is that drugs often have side-effects which make their use, especially over the long term, more damaging than helpful. That may be the case with long-term use of some common over-the-counter drugs to aid sleep.

A 2010 study published in the journal Neurology, for example, looked at drugs called anticholinergics, which block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter. They include such common over-the-counter brands as Benadryl, Dramamine, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, and Unisom. They are taken for a variety of common medical conditions including insomnia or allergies. Unfortunately, according to this Indiana University study, over the long term these drugs also produce cognitive impairment. According to the study authors, taking “one anticholinergic significantly increased an individual’s risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and taking two of these drugs doubled this risk.”

Given these risks, it makes sense to consider such alternatives as Melatonin or 5-HTP. While these supplements, like many others, should be taken carefully and according to recommendations, we don’t know of any research suggesting that they produce cognitive impairment over the long run!

GABA Hey! Blood Pressure and Sleep

NYBC carries Pressure Optimizer and GABA Soothe to help manage a range of issues. Among them, the data below suggest a benefit for managing borderline hypertension (high blood pressure). A related item in the NYBC catalog, Theanine Serene, also has a fair amount of GABA along with green tea-extract theanine; this combination was designed especially as an anti-anxiety or anti-stress formula.

The second study below looked at a combo of GABA and 5-HTP and found some benefits for helping to get a restful sleep.

Shimada M, Hasegawa T, Nishimura C, Kan H, Kanno T, Nakamura T, Matsubayashi T. Anti-hypertensive effect of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-rich Chlorella on high-normal blood pressure and borderline hypertension in placebo-controlled double blind study. Clin Exp Hypertens. 2009 Jun;31(4):342-354.

Abstract
The anti-hypertensive effect of GABA-rich Chlorella was studied after oral administration for 12 weeks in the subjects with high-normal blood pressure and borderline hypertension in the placebo-controlled, double-blind manner in order to investigate if GABA-rich Chlorella, a dietary supplement, is useful in control of blood pressure. Eighty subjects with Systolic blood pressure (SBP) 130-159 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure (DBP) 85-99 mmHg (40 subjects/group) took the blinded substance of GABA-rich Chlorella (20 mg as gamma-aminobutyric acid) or placebo twice daily for 12 weeks, and had follow-up observation for an additional 4 weeks. Systolic blood pressure in the subjects given GABA-rich Chlorella significantly decreased compared with placebo (p < 0.01). Diastolic blood pressure had the tendency to decrease after intake of GABA-rich Chlorella. Neither adverse events nor abnormal laboratory findings were reported throughout the study period. Reduction of SBP in the subjects with borderline hypertension was higher than those in the subjects with high-normal blood pressure. These results suggest that GABA-rich Chlorella significantly decreased high-normal blood pressure and borderline hypertension, and is a beneficial dietary supplement for prevention of the development of hypertension.

PMID: 19811362 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

***
Shell W, Bullias D, Charuvastra E, May LA, Silver DS. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of an amino acid preparation on timing and quality of sleep. Am J Ther. 2010 Mar-Apr;17(2):133-139.

Abstract
This study was an outpatient, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of a combination amino acid formula (Gabadone) in patients with sleep disorders. Eighteen patients with sleep disorders were randomized to either placebo or active treatment group. Sleep latency and duration of sleep were measured by daily questionnaires. Sleep quality was measured using a visual analog scale. Autonomic nervous system function was measured by heart rate variability analysis using 24-hour electrocardiographic recordings. In the active group, the baseline time to fall asleep was 32.3 minutes, which was reduced to 19.1 after Gabadone administration (P = 0.01, n = 9). In the placebo group, the baseline latency time was 34.8 minutes compared with 33.1 minutes after placebo (P = nonsignificant, n = 9). The difference was statistically significant (P = 0.02). In the active group, the baseline duration of sleep was 5.0 hours (mean), whereas after Gabadone, the duration of sleep increased to 6.83 (P = 0.01, n = 9). In the placebo group, the baseline sleep duration was 7.17 +/- 7.6 compared with 7.11 +/- 3.67 after placebo (P = nonsignificant, n = 9). The difference between the active and placebo groups was significant (P = 0.01). Ease of falling asleep, awakenings, and am grogginess improved. Objective measurement of parasympathetic function as measured by 24-hour heart rate variability improved in the active group compared with placebo. An amino acid preparation containing both GABA and 5-hydroxytryptophan reduced time to fall asleep, decreased sleep latency, increased the duration of sleep, and improved quality of sleep.

PMID: 19417589 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Chinese herbal combination as sleep aid: HerbSom

NYBC is now stocking HerbSom Capsules (Zhang) a proprietary extract of corydalis root, jujube seeds and schisandra fruit.

Corydalis, known also as jin bu huan, grows in China and has some evidence suggesting it can help people suffering from insomnia to fall asleep.

Jujube seeds, from Zizyphus jujube, has a long use in Chinese medicine for managing insomnia associated with weakness (as defined in that tradition). Subhuti Dharmanand notes “Zizyphus Combination treats weakness fatigue, and distress due to weakness, which causes insomnia.” Zizyphus is the main ingredient of the formula both in terms of the quantity used and its central action for the treatment of deficiency and insomnia, which are the formula’s main indications.

For more information on these herbal components, as well as recommended dosage, see the NYBC entry at

HerbSom

NEW! Managing and Preventing HIV Med Side-Effects

To mark its fifth anniversary, the New York Buyers’ Club has prepared a special edition of SUPPLEMENT. In it you will find a concise Guide to managing and preventing HIV medication side effects with supplements and other complementary and alternative therapies.

This is an invaluable introduction to how nutritional supplements can be used to counter those side effects that can make life miserable–or even disrupt treatment adherence–in people taking antiretroviral medications for HIV.

Read about approaches to dealing with diarrhea, nausea, heart health issues, diabetes, insomnia, fatigue, liver stress, lipodystrophy, anxiety and depression.

This FREE Guide is available online at:

http://newyorkbuyersclub.org/

On the NYBC website you can also SUBSCRIBE to the nonprofit co-op’s quarterly FREE newsletter, THE SUPPLEMENT, which continues to offer a unique perspective on current evidence-based use of supplements for chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes/insulin resistance, hepatitis and other liver conditions, anxiety/depression, osteoarthritis, cognitive and neurorological issues, and gastrointestinal dysfunction.