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Natural Mood Lifters: Nature's Blues Busters

Many people prone to depression have found that they can control their moods very well with natural supplements, which don't have the side effects of antidepressant drugs. The information that follows will help you to know which ones to take and the anticipated effects.

While SSRIs tend to increase the supply of neurotransmitters by inhibiting reuptake or by preventing their breakdown, nutritional supplements provide the basic "construction materials." If your mood problems are due to a deficiency in the materials that make up the neurotransmitters, then simply inhibiting their reuptake won't solve your problem in the long run. That is one reason why the drugs often stop working after awhile.

The key mood-enhancing herbs and nutrients are:

  • St. John's wort.
  • L-tryptophan and 5-HTP.
  • Phenylalanine and tyrosine.
  • SAMe and TMG.
  • Omega-3 fats – EPA and DHA.
  • B vitamins, vitamin C, and zinc.
St. John's Wort Versus Antidepressant Drugs
St. John's wort:
  • Its side effects are not nearly as severe or frequent.
  • Mixing it with alcohol doesn't lead to adverse reactions, as with the pharmaceutical antidepressants.
  • It is not addictive.
  • It does not produce withdrawal symptoms when you stop.
  • It does not produce habituation or the need for increased dosages to maintain its effects.
  • It can be easily stopped and restarted without requiring a long buildup period.
  • It enhances sleep and dreaming.
  • Unlike SSRIs, it does not inhibit sex drive – and can actually enhance it.
  • It does not make you sleepy in the daytime. Experiments show that it can enhance alertness and driving reaction time.
  • According to one report, the annual rate of death by overdose on antidepressant drugs is 30.1 per 1 million prescriptions. No one has ever died from an overdose of St. John's wort.
St. John's Wort: Wonder Weed
Imagine an antidepressant that is as effective as prescription drugs but has mild side effects, if any, and even boosts libido. Sound like a fantasy? It's not. You've just met St. John's wort, an herb taken by many thousands of people every day. In fact, in Europe, Hypericum perforatum is prescribed by doctors five times as often as Prozac.

Animal studies show that St. John's wort inhibits the reuptake of serotonin and possibly also of dopamine and noradrenaline. It appears to act like both SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants, but without their side effects.

A 1996 review of twenty-three randomized clinical trials on St. John's wort, involving a total of 1,700 people, showed an equivalent response to antidepressants with minimal side effects. At a dose of 300 mg a day of a 0.3 percent hypericin extract, St. John's wort appears to help those with mild to moderate depression. There is even some evidence that doubling this dose can help those with severe depression. St. John's wort is also useful in calming your nerves and in helping you to sleep more soundly.

While hypericin has been generally accepted as the active antidepressant ingredient and is used as the marker in standardization, there is newer evidence that the hyperforin may actually be the more active antidepressant compound. As a result, you may begin to see more St. John's wort products on the market that are standardized to hyperforin, in addition to the usual hypericin.

Because St. John's wort was originally believed to work through MAO inhibition, some articles still list the MAOI food restrictions. However, it is now quite clear that St. John's wort in normal doses does not have this effect. But there are a number of cautions associated with the herb, as you'll see below. To put it into perspective, though: Most of the cautions here relate to a rather small minority of the population. Also, many common drugs and even grapefruit juice will have similar effects, since they activate the same liver enzymes that St. John's wort does.


From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright © Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.

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