During this period between the end of winter and the arrival of spring, many people find themselves suffering from low mood and generalised anxiety. Work and family pressures, combined with the demands of everyday life, can significantly disrupt emotional equilibrium. Our bodies can feel overwhelmed and unprotected.
At this time of year, targeted and appropriately dosed supplementation provides a quick and easy solution to easing temporary or seasonal depression and helping restore a positive outlook on life.
Depressive disorders encompass states of malaise that range from sadness to more incapacitating diseases. Generally, these conditions manifest in a variety of ways:
- Mood changes: feeling low, sad, irritable or anxious, crying, having negative thoughts, losing interest in daily activities,
- Diminished intellectual activity – impaired ability to think clearly, make decisions and plan for the future, as well as memory loss,
- Loss of energy and muscle tone,
- Disturbed sleep patterns (hypersomnia or insomnia).
When we talk about depression, there is one plant that immediately springs to mind: St. John’s wort
Though highly effective for mild to major depression, it nevertheless produces side-effects after two to three weeks’ use, interacting with or reducing the efficacy of oral contraceptives, blood thinners and blood pressure-lowering drugs.
In the first instance, therefore, it is preferable to choose nutrients and/or plant extracts that do not have these disadvantages.
Effective plants that are safe to use
Though little known by the general public, this wild Asian plant has actually been used for more than 600 years in traditional Chinese medicine, and has proved invaluable in the treatment of low mood and mild to moderate depression.
Its properties come from the glycoside flavonols abundant in the plant’s leaves - kaempferol, isoquercitrin and hyperoside.
Hyperoside is recognised for producing a state of mental relaxation comparable to that generated by benzodiazepines but without the risk of dependency associated with this class of drugs. It is its effect on the GABAergic system which is responsible for its anxiolytic function. Kaempferol too, may produce such an effect in cases of anxiety.
Posinol is an extract of Apocynum venetum leaf, standardised in glycoside flavonols but free from hyperforin (the phytochemical in St. John’s wort). In clinical trials, 100mg/day of this extract has been shown to successfully reduce symptoms of mild to moderate depression.
It mimics the anti-depressant effects of imipramine, acting on levels of dopamine and noradrenaline in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that plays a key role in generating feelings of well-being.
Griffonia simplicifolia and its precious 5-HTP
The seeds of this African plant are rich in 5-HTP, a metabolite of L-tryptophan. Supplementing with these extracts is now widely acknowledged to increase levels of serotonin, an inhibitory neurotransmitter synonymous with well-being.
Indeed, doses of 50-100mg/day of 5-HTP have produced significant increases in brain serotonin levels, similar to – and sometimes greater than - the effects of SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants, and without side-effects.
In addition, by acting on serotonin levels, 5-HTP reduces cravings for sugary foods and the often-accompanying addiction to sugar.
In some individuals, however, 5-HTP is unable to cross the blood-brain barrier. In such cases, taking 500-1000mg/day of L-tryptophan
on an empty stomach will treat winter blues and mild to moderate depression effectively.
Klamath standardised in PEA
This blue-green algae, and more specifically the patented extract obtained from it, contains significant amounts of phenylethylamine (PEA), identical to the endogenous neuro-hormone produced naturally in the brain and which is associated with feelings of pleasure and enthusiasm.
Levels of PEA are almost non-existent in people suffering from seasonal depression or bipolar disorder. Oral supplementation increases levels of dopamine and noradrenaline and thus quickly alleviates depression, within just a few days or even hours, with no contraindications, addiction or side-effects.
It can be taken on its own or is often recommended alongside Mucuna pruriens
standardised in L-dopa, for its anti-depressant effects.
SAM-e, or S-adenosylmethionine, is a sulphur-containing substance produced naturally by the body from methionine and ATP.
From the age of about forty, however, concentrations of SAM-e start to decline, potentially even more so when an individual is deficient in vitamin B9 and B12.
Obtained via microbiological fermentation, this very fragile molecule requires gastro-resistant encapsulation to ensure its survival.
Studies have shown it to be particularly effective for emotional problems such as low mood and moderate depression. Seven to ten days’ supplementation results in increased production of neurotransmitters with psychotropic effects:
- Dopamine and adrenaline which have a stimulant effect
- Serotonin and melatonin which have a calming effect.
It has even been shown to be more effective and faster-acting than standard prescription antidepressants as well as being free from side-effects.
800mg/day is recommended for maximum efficacy, to be taken on an empty stomach in either a single or several doses. The full effects will be felt after seven to ten days’ supplementation
In addition, to start the day off on a good foot and continue in the same vein, it is important to includeN-acetyl-tyrosine
, the most bioavailable and rapidly-absorbed form of L-tyrosine, which increases levels of dopamine and noradrenaline naturally. A daily dose of 900mg is recommended, to be taken on an empty stomach, in conjunction with vitamins C, B6 and B9, in order to facilitate L-tyrosine’s conversion into neuromediators.
Modify your diet
Along with taking nutritional supplements, it is also essential to conduct a complete review of your diet.
In fact, rebalancing your eating habits should be your first step, in order to ensure that the brain - the body’s emotional centre - gets all the nutrients necessary to manage negative emotions.
Above all, you should ensure you are consuming enough protein – including some at each main meal if possible. The amino acids provided will help in the synthesis of various neurotransmitters which directly affect mood, such as ‘calming’ serotonin and ‘stimulating’ dopamine.
To obtain the full range of essential amino acids, it is therefore important to choose a source of animal or vegetable protein such as oily foods, dairy foods, eggs or ham, at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Certain fats are also vital, particularly the long-chain omega-3s. It is therefore sensible to include fish rich in EPA and DHA in your diet: sardines, herring and mackerel, and to a lesser extent, tuna and salmon. You can also consume the plant precursor of EPA and DHA, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), in the form of rapeseed-, nut-, camelina- and flaxseed-oils.
Alongside these dietary changes, it is important to avoid foods with a high glycaemic index. Some carbohydrates, particularly those with a high GI and the family of sugars, can have a dramatic effect on mood, provoking mood swings, anxiety and irritability. Starches with a low or moderate GI should therefore be prioritised: sourdough bread, wholegrain cereals, dried fruit and fresh fruit and vegetables.