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Depression and Its Causes
One of the most misused terms in use today is “depression.” Many symptoms are attributed to the general category of depression. The National Institute of Mental Health has set forth these symptoms:
- Ongoing sad, anxious or empty feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Feeling irritable or restless
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyable, including sex
- Feeling tired all the time
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, or difficulty making decisions
- Not able to go to sleep or stay asleep (insomnia); may wake in the middle of the night or sleep all the time
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Thoughts of suicide or making suicide attempts
- Ongoing aches and pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not go away.
All of us have probably experienced one or more of the symptoms listed above. However, most of us have overcome these feelings on our own, either through lifestyle changes or eating better or exercising more, or just letting some time pass. Others seem to not be able to overcome these symptoms and they start adversely affecting their lives.
THEORIES OF THE CAUSE OF DEPRESSION
CHEMICAL IMBALANCE IN THE BRAIN
Most drug companies and most psychiatrists propose that the cause of depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain—a physical cause. While the antidepressant labels state they don’t know exactly how their drugs work, they promote that their drugs are thought to increase the amount of these chemicals in the brain.
Of course, the problem with this theory is that there are presently no medical tests to determine the amount of any chemical needed in the brain or even the amount of the chemicals that are there at any one time. This is probably why a recent comprehensive study of anti-depressant drugs found that they were no more effective than placebos (sugar pills).
Another theory of the cause of depression symptoms is that, if there is no organic damage to the brain—like that caused by an accident or surgery—the cause is most often related to an actual medical illness or physical problem that, if corrected, will eliminate the symptoms.
The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (doctors who study glands and hormones) stated, "The diagnosis of subclinical (without obvious signs) or clinical hypothyroidism (low thyroid activity) must be considered in every patient with depression."
In 1994, “Clinical Practice Guidelines For the Evaluation and Treatment of Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism Developed by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American College of Endocrinology” were released, advising doctors that patients with hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid) could present (appear to have) the following:
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
- Memory and mental impairment
- Decreased concentration
- Nervousness and irritability
- Heat intolerance/increased sweating
- Mental disturbances
- Sleep disturbances including insomnia
If you compare this list of symptoms with the list of depression symptoms, you will see many are the same.
HOW COMMON ARE THYROID PROBLEMS?
A study reported in the February 28, 2000 issue of Archive of Internal Medicine revealed that of more than 25,000 people given blood tests, 9.9% had thyroid problems they probably did not know about. Another 5.9% were being treated for thyroid problems. This means nearly 16% of the population in the study had thyroid dysfunction.
Dr. Broda Barnes, author of Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness, estimated that as many as 40% of the public may have low thyroid function, much of which is not detectable by modern blood tests. He recommended a simple and more reliable body temperature test.
Dr. Barnes’ thyroid self-test, discussed in his book, is as follows: “You take an old-fashioned mercury-type thermometer, shake it down and put it on the nightstand before going to bed (if you’re going to do it on yourself – on someone else just shake it down below 95 degrees before you take the temperature). In the morning on awakening, before arising or moving around, the person puts the thermometer snugly in his armpit for 10 minutes by the clock. If the temperature is below 97.8, the person likely needs thyroid supplementation or, if they’re on a thyroid supplement already, they need more. The temperature should be between 97.8-98.2.”
In an article entitled Depression and Physical Illness, Dr. Alan Thomas, a psychiatrist and lecturer, said, “Mood changes and depressive illnesses are more common in people suffering from physical illnesses than in people who are well… There is good evidence that some of the above illnesses directly affect the parts of the brain and the chemical systems that control our mood and behavior. For example, vascular diseases (those affecting the blood vessels) and Parkinson’s disease damage important areas of the brain, making people vulnerable to depression… Endocrine conditions directly interact with, and upset, important chemical systems governing mood and other features of depressive illness.”
It is widely reported that women experience depression about twice as often as men. As we have seen at Novus, many of our female patients left Novus and went to see a holistic doctor who determined that there were hormone imbalances and, once treated, their depression and anxiety disappeared.
A study by the National Institute for Mental Health showed that some women who had severe pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) experienced relief when a hormone imbalance was corrected. These hormonal imbalances may explain why some women feel postpartum depression after they give birth.
There is also increasing evidence that hormonal imbalances may be responsible for feelings of depression in men.
OTHER COMMON PHYSICAL PROBLEMS LINKED TO DEPRESSION
There are a number of medical doctors who are finding that treating the following conditions will often result in the reduction or elimination of depression symptoms:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Lack of exercise
- Candida (yeast infection)
- Poor adrenal function
- Hypoglycemia (unusually low blood sugar)
- Food Allergies
- Heavy metals (such as mercury, lead, aluminum, cadmium, and thallium)
- Selenium toxicity
- Heart problems
- Lung disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic pain
- Chronic inflammation
- Brain tumors
- Head injuries
- Parkinson’s disease
- Liver disease
- Drug side effects
CONCLUSION ABOUT DEPRESSION
Another reason to look for the medical cause is that there is increasing evidence that in addition to their side effects, antidepressants don’t work. As two articles in the March 23, 2006, New England Journal of Medicine point out, 70 percent of people taking antidepressants are still depressed.
One article describes a study of 565 subjects who took the antidepressant Celexa for 12 weeks and were still depressed. The researchers continued to give the subjects Celexa but added another antidepressant. The result—70 percent of the subjects now taking two dangerous antidepressants were still depressed.
The second article discusses a study where 727 subjects were taking Celexa and were still depressed. The subjects were divided into groups and one group was given Wellbutrin SR, another Cymbalta, and another Effexor XR. These results were even worse than the first study because at the end of the trial, 75 percent of the subjects were still depressed.
Dr. Randall Stafford, professor of medicine at Stanford University, co-wrote an article entitled “What Are the Public Health Effects of Direct-to-Consumer Drug Advertising?” The placebo effect is discussed and the authors concluded, “The effect is profound: about one-third of patients report relief from postoperative pain, cough, headache, depression, and other conditions when given a placebo.”
Even more damning is the February, 2008 study released by researchers at the University of Hull, in the United Kingdom. This study concluded that compared with placebo, the new-generation antidepressants do not produce clinically significant improvements in depression. Because of all the side effects of antidepressants, this makes their use even more suspect and dangerous.
What does all this tell us? There is no one test to conclusively determine the cause of depression. However, we know that there are medical tests that, if properly and thoroughly done, will eliminate many of the symptoms of depression. It is logical to look for physical causes before taking any type of drug, particularly since the antidepressants and antipsychotics have so many dangerous side effects and there are rising doubts that they work for most people better than placebos.
Some of us have not been blessed with the best of health and many of have had physical problems that caused us to exhibit some of the signs of depression listed above. However, many signs of depression don’t require an antidepressant to treat the symptoms but instead a good medical exam to find the actual cause.
Once we find and handle the actual cause, life changes and we will be able to enjoy the benefits of this Irish blessing:
May your thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks,
May your heart be as light as a song,
May each day bring you bright, happy hours,
That stay with you all the year long.
NOTE: This information is provided for general educational purposes only and is not intended to constitute (i) medical advice or counseling, (ii) the practice of medicine, health care diagnosis or treatment, or (iii) the creation of a physician patient or clinical relationship. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or that this information may be useful to you or others, please consult with your health care provider before applying any information from our articles to your personal situation or to the personal situation of others.
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