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It’s not something to try cold-turkey, but here are some tips for determining if you’re ready and
Kiss Those Psych Meds g oodbye!
By Lisa Moretti
how to get happy.
ore than having just a bad week, depression is a very real condition that can leave you feeling sidetracked from your life. There are serious psychiatric conditions that require medical interventions to change the brain’s chemistry, but the fast-draw-from-the-hip response of prescribing pharmaceuticals for even the slightest case of the blues can have disastrous consequences. According to WebMD, here are some of the common symptoms people with depression experience daily for an extended period of time: • difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions • fatigue • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, emptiness • feelings of hopelessness • insomnia, irritability, restlessness
• excessive sleeping • loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex • overeating or appetite loss • thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts Dr. David Sack, CEO of Promises Treatment Center, notes that antidepressants serve a purpose: they relieve acute symptoms quickly and they can often hold deep depression at bay. He cautions, “When people come out of depression their nervous system remains vulnerable to stress for at least one year. During this time they are much more likely to get depressed again.” Antidepressants are the fourth most commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals in the United States according to IMS Health, a company that analyzes the pharmaceutical industry, and they pull in about $9.9 billion a year. Accord-
ing to the National Institute of Mental Health, close to 15 million people in the United States suffer from major depression and another 40 million live with anxiety. Records show that American use of antidepressants doubled in the last decade! To be sure, just “get over it” is not the solution to depression. However, at the other end of the spectrum, your physician’s “cure” can be worse than the disease and can often lead to a domino effect of more medications to deal with the side effects. Medication Madness by Dr. Peter Breggin (breggin.com) provides more than 50 fascinating, frightening and dramatic cases in which psychiatric medications played a role in suicide, murder and other violent/criminal/ bizarre behaviors. Dr. Sack notes that most people stop antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications because of the side effects: massive weight gain, sexual dysfunction, emotional blunting and total loss of motivation. But stopping medications too fast can result in severe anxiety, nightmares, insomnia and agitation, according to Dr. Sack.
Come On, Get Happy!
Many people are now looking to reclaim their lives, but getting off depression or anti-anxiety medications can be tricky! Dr. Tara Peyman and Dr. Sara Gottfried, both integrative physicians, agree that the first step is to acknowledge and address why medication was begun. Dr. Peyman, a naturopath at Arizona Natural Health Center who specializes in the treatment of bipolar disorder and mental illness, recommends talking with your doctor about your goals. If your doctor isn’t sympathetic – find a new doctor! She also counsels people to write down their questions before a visit. Doctors often express frustration that their patients don’t bring up the true reason they came in until the doctor believes the appointment is finished and is walking out the door. So, be prepared and also be prepared for some resistance. Dr. Gottfried, a Berkeley, Calif. gynecologist, also recommends
finding and addressing hormonal imbalances that may be causing depression. She points out that women are more than twice as likely to be treated for depression, which suggests hormones may be an underlying cause. Dr. Gottfried also encourages her patients to find and treat their nutritional deficiencies and food allergies as both of these can be linked to anxiety and depression. Surprisingly, gut inflammation is linked to depression. The gut is often called the “second brain” and when it’s broken by foods like gluten and casein (two common food allergies), neurotransmitters are impaired. You can try an elimination diet or food allergy testing to determine how your body reacts. Dr. Michael Wald of the Integrated Medicine and Nutrition Clinic in New York uses several laboratory tests to determine if patients are ready to transition from medications. He tests urinary amino acids for neurotransmitter levels, salivary melatonin levels, red blood cell magnesium and does an overall evaluation of nutrition, sleep habits, exercise habits, thyroid function and blood sugar. He often turns to custom formulations of amino acids made by compounding pharmacies to rebalance and restore hormones and neurotransmitter levels.
It’s All In Your Head
At the Physician’s Institute, doctors from around the world learn a precise protocol to interrupt the electrical impulses in the body’s circuitry that transmit signals resulting in pain, addiction, anxiety and chronic distress – all without drugs or pain. They have been very successful in reversing bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety. Fisher Wallace Labs (fisherwallace.com) manufactures a home-use device that has been cleared by the FDA since 1991 and has more than 90 studies behind it. The device uses radio frequencies to stimulate serotonin and dopamine production in just 20 minutes a day. Of special interest, the product is being used by the military to help alleviate Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).
Got a Drug Question?
Dr. Curtis Alexander is a doctor of pharmacy. He maintains a helpful website (ask-curtis.com) and readily answers questions submitted to him as quickly as possible. Not one to readily dismiss home remedies because they aren’t backed by clinical research, Dr. Curtis offers people a valuable service and thoughtful evaluation of their questions. Dr. Curtis also recommends natural therapies like SAM-e and exercise for depression. In all, he has a wealth of knowledge just waiting at your fingertips.
Get Good Rest!
A big handful of cashews provide between 1,000 and 2,000 mg of tryptophan and can work as well as a prescription anti-depressant!
Dr. Steven Park, an Otolaryngologist and respected author, notes that many people with anxiety and depression aren’t getting good sleep. Lack of restful deep sleep can trigger hormonal and other biochemical changes. Many sleep medications actually suppress deep sleep making the problem worse. If you are weaning off of depression medications, be particularly attentive to your sleeping patterns, says Dr. Park!
Dr. Barry Sears, author of the Zone Diet series and other bestsellers, has spent the last 30 years researching the interplay between diet, hormones and health. In his research he has found that hormonal responses to foods we eat can cause inflammation. “Cellular inflammation… disrupts hormonal signaling necessary for daily activities, both physical and mental,” he said. He helps people reinterpret food as medicine to be used biochemically to restore balance.
up her diet. All the setbacks she had braced herself for didn’t happen! She says, “The worst thing about weaning off depression meds is the sleep disturbances. Exercise really helps with that.”
I’ll Have What She’s Having
Coming Out of the Dark
All four doctors recommend revamping your food habits and lifestyle. Dr. Sears recommends that people transferring off depression medications increase their omega 3 fatty acid intake to 2.5 grams of EPA and DHA daily. These are derived from high quality fish oils. In her treatment regimens, Dr. Gottfried often uses the herb Maca, but cautions it should be done with a physician’s help for safety. Maca also helps rebuild adrenal health, another factor that can influence anxiety and depression. She also uses 5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin, the “happy feeling” neurotransmitter, for weaning off Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs, which regulate serotonin, can make things complicated so you’ll need a good physician to ensure that you don’t end up with serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition from too much serotonin. Dr. Gottfriend noted that Lexapro is one of the most difficult depression medications to kick. Dr. Peyman also uses homeopathic remedies to help remind the body what “normal and healthy” are biochemically. Risk of suicidal thinking and over aggression in young people who use depression medications make homeopathy a far safer first line of defense. She notes homeopathy has no side effects. Shelly Byrd, a certified nutritional therapy practitioner (NTP) in California, uses many natural remedies in her practice. Products she turns to combine St. John’s Wort, 5-HTP, Rhodiola, B vitamins and specific flower essences. She, too, recommends omega 3 fatty acids plus a therapeutic dose of vitamin D to help relieve inflammation in the brain, which has been shown to be higher in people who are depressed. She notes that all of these formulas are affordable ($20 to $25), so they create a cost barrier versus pharmaceuticals covered by insurance.
What we put in our bodies can have a dramatic impact on our mental health. Many people are dehydrated, which can lead to emotional dysfunction and anxiety. A large percentage of people have undiagnosed hypothyroidism and/or adrenal fatigue. Many foods and chemicals like fluoride along with heavy metals like copper and mercury impair endocrine function and diminish neurotransmitter levels. If you suspect you have a problem, avoid foods that can suppress the thyroid like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, peanuts, broccoli, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, refined sugar and soy. If you have been feeling blue, consider the advice of Andrew Saul, formerly of the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine and author of Fire Your Doctor!. He recommends using food to do what Prozac and Paxil try to do artificially – raise your serotonin levels. Increase your consumption of beans, peas, cheese, nuts and wheat germ as these are high in tryptophan and also convert to niacin (which induces sleep). He emphasizes including carbohydrates in your meals to help get tryptophan to your brain as you need carbs to cross the blood-brain barrier. He notes that crackers with cheese work better than just cheese and eggs with toast are better than just eggs alone. Saul says five servings of beans or a few portions of cheese or peanut butter, or a big handful of cashews provide between 1,000 and 2,000 milligrams of tryptophan and can work as well as a prescription antidepressant. The reasons your world seems bleak and heavy might be easily adjusted with some simple but powerful changes to your diet, your lifestyle and your mindset. You’ve already taken the first step – deciding you want to move away from the meds. Find a compassionate health professional, evaluate your current condition and start moving toward a happier, brighter and more fulfilling tomorrow! MS&F
THREE THINGS TO REMEMBER
Be Patient. It took time to get to the place you are now, it will take time to return to health. While you may want to do this overnight, the best course of action is to plan first and pace your changes. You Are Unique. Every body is different. Find the physician who is right for you, check references, be honest with your physician(s) and remember that the therapy that worked for your mom/sister/ brother/friend may not work for you. Communicate. Make sure your doctor knows you are weaning yourself off pharmaceuticals. Ask him/her to be involved and support your choice. You may be surprised by his/her willingness to help.
Source: The Holistic Chamber of Commerce, www.theholisticchamberofcommerce.com
Moving On Up
Exercise can blast away the blues, but most of us don’t know why. Andrew Johnston, a holistic strength training coach, notes that when you exercise, your muscles draw all the amino acids that compete with l-tryptophan out of your blood, which allows a greater concentration of the amino acid to travel through the bloodstream and cross the blood-brain barrier. L-tryptophan raises serotonin levels, so exercise increases the amount of the happiness factor building blocks in your brain! College educator Sue Ingebretson, author of FibroWHYalgia, agrees – from personal experience. After years of chronic pain, she was depressed and anxious… and medicated. Her doctor was not happy about her choice to stop her medications so she knew she had to support herself. Anticipating that the transition could be very difficult, she stepped up her fitness routines and changed
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