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10/12/2003 Archived Entry: "Possible help for depression"

WITHIN MINUTES OF MAKING A BLOG ENTRY ABOUT NATIONAL DEPRESSION SCREENING DAY, I received a very thoughtful message from a reader about the nature of depression and an alternative way to deal with it. Anyone who ever suffers depression or lives with someone who does should click "more" to read what he has to say.

The points about having good reasons to be depressed are well taken.

I've struggled with this disease, or whatever you care to call it, myself. Being a nerdy engineer type, I've also spent a fair amount of time reading and thinking about the way the brain works and what might cause depression.

For me, the sure sign of a depression coming on is when things are going pretty good in life, but I stop taking any pleasure in it. Food is tasteless, I don't feel like sex, I don't sleep well, but work is good, wife is good, food and wine are at least as good as before. It's the disconnect between how I think I would normally feel and how I actually feel that clues me in.

I'm not talking about how I'm "supposed" to feel, which you accurately skewer. Sometimes I feel low for good reason, like creation of the DHS, or toting up my small business tax bills and confronting the fact that my long days and weekends at the office resulted in me taking home less than $50k, while I sent the government $700k, which they used to "disarm" a 12-year old Iraqi boy.

At any rate, it turns out that most of the newer anti-depression drugs like Prozac and Zoloft work by slowing down the intake of serotonin by brain and nerve cells. By interfering with the intake of serotonin, the amount left to float around between brain
cells goes up. Serotonin is one of several neurotransmitters, responsible for the relaying of messages from one nerve or brain cell to the next. Increasing serotonin levels has been shown to help everything from depression to migraines to obsessive behaviors to anorexia to insomnia to PMS and a whole slew of other psychological and physiological ailments. No one
fully understands why, or how "imbalances" in serotonin levels develop, or why increasing intercellular serotonin levels helps so much.

Here's where my engineer brain kicks in. If increased serotonin levels are good for me, it seems that there must be at least two ways to accomplish that goal. I can interfere with the uptake of serotonin via Prozac and i's relatives, but that carries a
big price tag, destruction of my privacy via fedgov-mandated doctor spying, and lower serotonin levels INSIDE my little grey cells.

The other approach is to increase the overall level of serotonin, so that there is more both inside and outside the brain and nerve cells. How do you do that? Well, it turns out that an amino acid called 5-hydroxy-tryptophan is the precursor to
serotonin. Your body takes 5-HTP and converts at least some of it to serotonin.

You can buy 5-HTP at vitamin shops and health food stores everywhere. The FDA banned the pure tryptophan for reasons only they can understand, but for now, 5-HTP is legal, and safe, and not very expensive. I've been taking it for a year now. You have to take it before bed, as it makes you drowsy, but you sleep like a baby and wake up feeling refreshed. I've
lost 30 lb, not all due to 5 HTP but rather to it's helping me to stick to my diet, and best of all my mood has been reasonable. I get depressed, for good reason, but I no longer feel down for no good reason.

I agree that we need to examine our life choices carefully before reaching or the pharmaceuticals. In the final analysis, there isn't a great philosophical distinction between taking a man-made selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor and taking a serotonin precursor. Both are done to manipulate your mood.

But I must admit to feeling a bit more comfortable taking a supplement that I get naturally in food, like turkey. Perhaps if I moved my body for a living instead of sitting in front of a computer I would eat enough food so that I wouldn't need serotonin assistance. And last but by no means least, the late Dr. Atkins recommended 5 HTP for essentially the same reasons I've
outlined. I always liked Dr. Atkins; anyone who can single-handedly piss off and threaten the entire American medical
establishment must have something on the ball!

I don't make any money or have any other interest in selling 5-HTP. You mentioned your own struggles with depression. Even on your modest income, you can almost certainly afford 100 mg of 5 HTP per night. (I am a big guy and take 200 mg.) Do your own research, maybe try it, and see if you don't feel a bit better.

Posted by Claire @ 09:05 AM CST

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