Everyone deals with mild symptoms of depression from time to time, but no one should have to live with chronic feelings of hopelessness, despair, anxiety, and sadness. Unfortunately, nearly 20 million adults in the United States suffer from a depressive disorder, with 30 percent of those cases being severe. Statistics show that women are 70 percent more likely to develop depression than men, and sadly, children aren’t immune either. The rate of teen depression is increasing by an alarming 23 percent each year.
Doctors are quick to prescribe pharmaceutical drugs, which often help to “lift the fog” that depression causes. However, these meds also come along with a slew of unwanted side effects like fatigue, nausea, weight gain, and sexual dysfunction—just to name a few. The good news is that there are natural alternatives to these prescription drugs, which are proving to be just as effective as pharmaceuticals without the adverse side effects. GHL recently sat down with three experts in the natural health industry—Dr. Ajay Goel, Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, and Dr. Jozsef Haller—to discuss their top natural recommendations for those dealing with symptoms of depression.
GHL: Dr. Goel, you’ve spent over 20 years investigating the curative effects of botanicals. Do you have a favorite recommendation for those dealing with depression?
Dr. Goel: Well, first and foremost, I believe the best product you can take for symptoms of depression is curcumin. But before we get into why, let’s talk a little about depression and the serious implications it has on the lives of those affected.
It’s important to understand that depression isn’t merely sadness. It’s a serious health condition that can trigger the crushing inability for people to cope with life and the world around them. People with depressive disorders experience feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, and even physical pain. And the cause is complicated. Short-term depression can be the result of stressful or tragic life events, while chronic depression can be caused by long-term trauma. However, most people with either short- or long-term symptoms have something in common: high levels of inflammation in the brain.
Inflammation is the cause of nearly every state of disease in the body, and mental health is no exception. When it comes to depression, high levels of inflammation in the brain impede the body’s ability to create new brain cells. It also causes the brain to become deficient in creating important “feel good” and balancing chemicals, like serotonin, noradrenaline, and tryptophan.
GHL: And curcumin can help?
Dr. Goel: Tremendously. Unlike prescription meds, curcumin acts on multiple pathways in the body to stop the cycle of chronic inflammation in the brain. It also helps to rebalance neurotransmitters and stimulate the formation of new brain cells. Curcumin can enhance noradrenaline and tryptophan levels and increase the production of dopamine, another neurotransmitter that controls emotional response and the ability to experience pleasure and pain.
The proof is in the research. There are some fantastic studies taking place that show curcumin is more effective than certain prescription drugs for depression. In a published study comparing a highly absorbable form of curcumin called BCM-95 to two popular prescription drugs, fluoxetine (Prozac) and imipramine (Tofranil), the curcumin was found to be just as effective as the two drugs. Unlike the drugs, however, curcumin didn’t cause any adverse side effects. In this particular study, subjects were taking 500 mg of BCM-95 twice daily.
In another placebo-controlled study, BCM-95 curcumin showed antidepressant effects in people with major depressive disorders as early as four weeks after treatment. Additionally, people with atypical depression, a form that often doesn’t respond well to antidepressant drugs, responded exceptionally well to curcumin.
GHL: Wow, the more we learn about the benefits of curcumin, the more we are amazed!
Dr. Goel: I agree! And I believe we’re only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the amazing life-changing benefits of this nutrient. For those who decide to take curcumin for symptoms of depression, my advice is to give it enough time to take full effect, which could be between three to six months for some people.
GHL: Dr. Teitelbaum, you do a lot of work based on how food affects mood. What do you consider to be a vital daily nutrient to help stave off depression?
Dr. Teitelbaum: I can’t stress enough how critical omega-3s are to healthy brain function. The brain consists almost entirely of fat, which makes your dietary intake of essential fatty acids (EFAs) crucial to brain composition and mental well-being. As you mentioned, your mood is affected by the food you eat, especially healthy forms of fat. Your brain loves good-for-you fats and thrives when they’re present in your body in a healthy ratio. The two most important EFAs are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which appear to help improve mood, and treat depression and other mental disorders. The best way to get these essential fatty acids is to eat wild seafood sourced from clean water a few times a week. If that isn’t particularly feasible, it’s important to take an omega-3 supplement.
GHL: There are so many omega-3 products on the market. Do you have one form in particular that you like to recommend?
Dr. Teitelbaum: That’s a great question. Supplementation can be complicated! Fish and krill oil are so common these days, but many types are of low quality, don’t absorb well, and are prone to rancidity. My favorite way to obtain omega-3s is through a phospholipid-bound form of
salmon, where omega-3s are concentrated from the head of freshwater salmon and processed within an hour of the catch. This unique process enables certain omega-3 products to provide a beneficial combination of DHA, EPA, phospholipids, and peptides.
Phospholipids and peptides are especially unique in an omega-3 product. Phospholipids help your body absorb and use omega-3s efficiently, and protect the mitochondria in your cells from oxidative damage. They also help build the myelin sheath that surrounds nerve cells, keeping your brain signals firing properly and supporting a stable mood. Phosphatidylserine is a specific kind of phospholipid that is important for cell membranes in the brain, as well as helping to create neurotransmitters that support memory, attention, and focus.
Peptides are a type of amino acid that protect the delicate blood vessels in your brain. In one scientific study, peptides were found to promote a calm, relaxed state of mind in 14 days. The researchers also discovered that it reduced oxidative damage of neurons by 21 percent. All of these benefits can help improve overall brain health and ultimately lessen symptoms of depression.
GHL: Do you have a recommendation for how much omega-3s someone would take to reduce symptoms of depression?
Dr. Teitelbaum: Most people can benefit from approximately 300 mg to 600 mg daily from an omega-3 product that contains both phospholipids and peptides. If additional support is needed, it’s perfectly safe to increase that dosage. The good news is that while a person needs to take 7-14 large fish oil capsules to get the therapeutic effect for depression, they only need to take 1-2 of the vectorized omega-3 tablets or capsules that contain the phospholipids. This means lower cost and no toxins or “fish oil burps.” I also will routinely add 1000-1500 milligrams a day of a highly absorbable curcumin with added turmerones. This allows two tablets or capsules a day to have the same effect as 14-100 tablets or capsules a day of regular turmeric or curcumin. People love not having to be part of the “handful club,” where they have to take handfuls of supplements all day!
GHL: Dr. Haller, depression often occurs hand-in-hand with anxiety, something you’ve researched a great deal. Can you tell us what you recommend for this common, often debilitating symptom?
Dr. Haller: While depression and anxiety are technically not the same thing, individuals with depression often experience anxiety symptoms, like nervousness, irritability, and sleep problems. And like depression, anxiety can have a detrimental effect on every aspect of a person’s life. Everything from your workplace productivity to family relationships to overall daily life can suffer due to anxiety. The good news is that there’s an amazing solution available for people dealing with anxiety symptoms. Best of all, it’s safe, fast-acting, and highly effective.
GHL: This solution is going to surprise some people, isn’t it?
Dr. Haller: Yes! Because it’s echinacea, which most people only associate with cold and flu symptoms. But echinacea has a unique key compound called Echinacea angustifolia, which has proven to be extremely effective at reducing anxiety and nervous tension. Research has shown that Echinacea angustifolia is able to attach to cannabinoid receptors in the brain to elicit a sensation of calm and relaxation, without making the user feel sedated. It’s the perfect solution for people who deal with persistent worrying, unrealistic fears, nervous jitters, or other unpleasant anxiety-related symptoms.
GHL: How was this type of echinacea discovered for anxiety relief?
Dr. Haller: My colleagues and I discovered the anxiety-reducing benefits of Echinacea angustifolia during research at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest. While analyzing the plant, we found that it contained compounds that could influence brain chemistry, including the cannabinoid receptors. Endocannabinoid receptors influence the way the brain experiences anxiety and have become a recent focus of behavioral research in their own right.
GHL: Some people fear taking natural botanicals because they feel there is little proof to support their safety and efficacy. How can we help people feel comfortable about taking echinacea for anxiety?
Dr. Haller: This echinacea extract is extremely well-researched. In one study, seven types of echinacea extracts were compared to a popular anti-anxiety prescription drug. Only Echinacea angustifolia demonstrated a robust ability to reduce anxiety. This extract not only met the drug’s anti-anxiety effects, it exceeded them. It also didn’t cause any drowsiness—a common side effect of prescription drugs for anxiety.
In another published human clinical trial, the special purified extract of Echinacea angustifolia was tested with individuals experiencing increased anxiety and tension. After just one day, the participants noticed a significant reduction in stress and anxiety, with an even greater reduction in just seven days. Another study showed that the herb significantly reduced anxiety after the third day of use, with continued improvements over the course of three weeks. Best of all, Echinacea angustifolia can greatly reduce anxiety without causing side effects or issues with addiction or dependence.
GHL: Where can our readers find this unique extract of echinacea?
Dr. Haller: There is a standardized form called EP107 that is sold in many health food stores across the United States. Make sure to be specific with your retailer that you are looking for Echinacea angustifolia so that you don’t end up taking a remedy for immune health instead. As far as dosing, it all depends on severity of symptoms. If you are struggling with considerable anxiety and stress, I recommend taking 40 mg twice daily for at least one week, then reducing to 20 mg twice daily. If you’re looking to take it for occasional anxiety, try 20 mg before stressful events.