Depression: Feeling Blue?

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At any point of a person’s life a depressive episode can be triggered, this may be caused by an event such as losing your job, a divorce or bereavement. However, some people suffer chronically with no direct life event for which to tie it to.

Classical symptoms of Depression include:

  • low mood or overwhelming feeling of sadness
  • feeling of looming anxiety
  • feeling tearful
  • irritability
  • loss of interest in hobbies, people, work
  • loss of confidence
  • loss of motivation
  • inability to sleep
  • and in the worst case scenario, suicidal thoughts.

What are the causes?

There are many proposed causes of Depression but the biological cause of Depression is believed to be because of an imbalance of chemicals within the brain. The two neurotransmitters thought to be responsible for this are Serotonin and Noradrenaline.

How can the symptoms be managed?

There are numerous ways a person can help themselves and their disorder. A person may want to seek help with a doctor or prescribed medication, take up a hobby, find a self-help group, or concentrate on nutrition or take supplements.

One supplement that sparks interest is called 5-Hydroxytryptophan or 5-HTP. 5-HTP is a precursor molecule of Serotonin. It has been clinically proven that taking 5-HTP can improve symptoms of Depression [2].Normally in our body we take in dietary Tryptophan (an essential amino acid) and convert it to 5-HTP. However Tryptophan rich foods are not always consumed in adequate amounts in the modern diet. When natural 5-HTP levels are supplemented it leads to an increase in Serotonin within the body. Serotonin is one of the “happy hormones”. People that have Depression either produce less Serotonin or have fewer receptors for Serotonin and so it has reduced effect. By taking 5-HTP and boosting Serotonin there is a higher chance of the chemical being received and improving mood.

The study of 5-HTP and Depression was stumbled upon in the 1960s when developing medication for schizophrenia. It was originally thought that blocking certain Serotonin receptors in the brain would aid Schizophrenia, instead they found it elevated mood. Furthermore, modern studies have confirmed this idea. A study by Nakajima et-al (1978) found a 67.8% of patients that took 150-300mg of 5-HTP had symptoms that were described as “markedly improved”[2,5]. In 2001 one study investigated the use of 5-HTP for the treatment of Depression, they found that the use of 5-HTP over a placebo led to improved symptoms in almost all patients.

How to take 5-HTP?

5-HTP is a herbal supplement extracted from the Griffonia Simplifica plant. It is processed into a powder which can then be pressed into tablet form. A daily dosage of 5-HTP is between 50-100mg, however for Depression an intake as great as 150-300mg can be prescribed. Oxford Vitality urges you not to take more than 200mg/day without your doctors permission. You are advised to start low and build the dosage until you reach an effective dose for you. Many see 5-HTP as an alternative to anti-depressant medication because anti-depressant medications negatively interact, and should not be taken alongside 5-HTP. You must consult a doctor before taking this tablet instead of your medication.

There are very few adverse effects of taking 5-HTP. It is not advised for use if pregnant or breastfeeding but otherwise is considered safe. Also, you must buy from a reliable source because poor extraction processes can lead to a reduced quality product. There has been a strong link between the use of these poor products an Eosinophilia-myalgia (EMS) [7]. While there needs to be more research on this connection, EMS can be lethal so this is an important you buy from a good quality supplier.

Depression can be a long and treacherous journey, however with the aid of a completely natural mood booster such as 5-HTP, it may become just a little bit more manageable.

  1. RCPsych. (2015).Depression. Available: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/depression.aspx.
  2. Birdsall, TC. (1988). 5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor.Alternative Medicine Review : A Journal of Clinical Therapeutics. 3 (4), Pg. 271-280.
  3. Bouchez,C. (2014). Serotonin: 9 Questions andAnswers. Available: http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/serotonin.
  4. Jacobsen,J. Medvedev,IO. Caron,M.. (2012). The 5-HT deficiency theory of depression: perspectives from a naturalistic 5-HT deficiency model, the tryptophan hydroxylase 2Arg439His knockin mouse.Philosophical transactiopns of The Royal Biological Sciences. 367 (1601), Pg. 2444-2459.
  5. Nakajima.T, et-al. (1978). Clinical evaluation of 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan as an antidepressant drug.. Folia Psychiatrica et neurologica japonica. 32 (2), Pg. 223-230.
  6. Shaw KA, Turner J, Del Mar C. Tryptophan and 5-Hydroxytryptophan for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD003198. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003198
  7. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. (2009). 5-HTP. Available: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-794-5-htp.aspx?activeingredientid=794.
  8. Byerley,WF.. (1987). 5-Hydroxytryptophan: a review of its antidepressant efficacy and adverse effects.. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. 7 (3), Pg. 127-137.

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