Depression is intricately connected to nutrition and a person’s individual genetics and biochemistry. Dr. William Walsh, author of “Nutrient Power” and president of the nonprofit organization The Walsh Institute, has been studying the influence of nutrients on mental illness since the 1970s. He has collected thousands of blood samples and patient histories to support his theory of depression and best treatment practices. In “Nutrient Power,” Walsh presents depression as an umbrella term that encompasses many different conditions with different root causes. In general, symptoms of depression may include chronic sadness, feelings of guilt, social withdrawal, agitation, problems with concentration, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.
According to Walsh, there are five major bio-types of depression with differing root causes. The five causes include:
2. Folate deficiency
3. Copper overload
4. Pyrrole disorder
5. Toxic metal poisoning
While some may have multiple causes of depression, such as a combination of under-methylation and copper overload, each issue should be separately addressed to eventually help improve or resolve depression. Each type of depression has a specific effect on neurotransmitters, which are the brain’s chemical messengers. (Some causes of depression fall outside Walsh’s sub-types and may be caused by a variety of physical problems such as thyroid imbalance, gut problems, food sensitivities and autoimmune conditions.)
Depression caused by under-methylation (a lack of methyl groups available in the body) results in low serotonin and dopamine activity. Serotonin is responsible for feelings of well-being, while dopamine affects feelings of reward and pleasure. Under-methylated depression is the most common type of depression, with almost 40% of those evaluated by Walsh having this type.
A common characteristic of under-methylated depression is a good response to the commonly used class of antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Common SSRI medications include Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. Common traits of under-methylated (low-serotonin) individuals include OCD tendencies, perfectionism, tendency for seasonal allergies, calm exterior with high inner tension and family history of high accomplishment.
Nutrients for the treatment of under-methylated depression include the amino acid methionine, vitamin B-6, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C and magnesium. High intake of folates through food or supplements is often not well-tolerated because it can lower serotonin activity. Those who are under-methylated do best on a varied diet with an emphasis on good quality animal proteins like pasture-raised beef, pork or chicken, as well as seafood. Supplements with large amounts of niacin or folate/folic acid should be avoided by those with under-methylated depression.
In contrast to those with under-methylated depression, those with folate deficiency-type depression thrive on folate-rich foods and supplements. They often have a bad response with a worsening of symptoms to antihistamines and SSRI antidepressant medications, but may experience a lessening of symptoms with benzodiazepine class anti-anxiety medications (such as Xanax, Valium, Klonopin and Ativan). Anxiety is often paired with depression in this type, with many of those afflicted also having panic attacks. Common traits of depressed people that are low in folate are high anxiety, non-competitive personalities, low achievement in school, artistic tendencies and lack of seasonal allergies.
The most helpful nutrients for treatment are folate, vitamin B-12, niacin, choline, manganese, B-6 and zinc. An ideal diet for those who are folate deficient should include plenty of folate-rich plant foods such as dark leafy greens, okra, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, avocado, blackberries, beans, lentils and sunflower seeds. The best animal protein choices include eggs, dairy products and liver.
About 17% of those in Walsh’s patient database have elevated copper levels that result in a dopamine deficiency, as well as high norepinephrine and adrenaline levels. During times of stress or danger, adrenaline and norepinephrine are elevated and result in the “fight-or-flight” stress response. Elevated levels of these substances can cause problems with high anxiety and panic disorder.
Walsh believes copper overload is also the primary cause of postpartum depression. Women experience this type of depression more often than men because estrogen tends to increase copper levels. Beside depression, common symptoms of copper overload include severe anxiety, sleep problems, hormone imbalances, ringing in the ears and onset during hormonal events (i.e. puberty, pregnancy, menopause, birth control use, hormone replacement therapy, etc.)
The most useful nutrients for treating copper overload are vitamin B-6, vitamin C, and especially zinc. Zinc levels are often low in those who have a copper overload, it is an important nutrient involved in the removal of excess copper from the body.
Foods rich in copper such as dark chocolate, liver and shellfish should be avoided or limited for those with confirmed copper overload. Multi-vitamins and other supplements containing copper also should be avoided. Dietary emphasis should be on good quality animal proteins to increase zinc and B-6 intake such as pasture-raised beef, pork and chicken, dairy products and eggs. Plant-based diets could exacerbate copper overload in susceptible individuals due to diminished zinc intake and higher-than-average intake of dietary copper. Since most fruits and vegetables are low in zinc, vegetarians should aim to include soaked, sprouted and fermented grain, nut and legume products in their diet to increase the amount of zinc available in those foods.
About 15% of depressed individuals studied by Walsh have a pyrrole disorder that is contributing to depression symptoms. Pyrrole is a stress disorder that is often triggered by a severe emotional or physical trauma and is characterized by high levels of oxidative stress. It causes a marked deficiency in B-6 and zinc resulting in low brain levels of serotonin, dopamine and GABA. Common symptoms and traits include severe mood swings, poor stress coping, rages, no dream recall, nausea in the morning, a tendency to sunburn easily and sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises. Many of these individuals are fearful and obsessed with natural or manmade disasters.
The most helpful nutrients for those suffering with pyrrole-related depression are zinc and vitamin B-6. Other helpful nutrients to assist with detoxification and reducing oxidative stress include vitamin C, selenium, glutathione and vitamin E. An ideal diet is rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as an emphasis on high-quality animal proteins such as beef, pork, poultry, dairy and eggs to provide plentiful zinc and vitamin B-6.
Toxic metal poisoning
Around 5% of those evaluated by Walsh for depression exhibited toxic metal overload, primarily of lead, mercury, cadmium or arsenic. Common traits and symptoms include sudden onset of depressive symptoms, abdominal pain, headaches, muscle weakness, irritability, poor energy and lack of response to anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications.
Toxic metal overload is difficult to diagnose with normal lab tests. High-quality calcium, zinc, vitamin C and glutathione can be useful for various metal toxicities. Susceptible individuals should avoid seafood high in mercury. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and high-quality animal proteins with an emphasis on organic foods is best for those with toxic metal-type depression.
It is helpful to know that depression is actually caused by a variety of underlying biochemical issues that can be addressed with the wise and individualized use of diet, supplements and medications. This explains why specific treatments (such as certain antidepressant medications or supplements) work for some but not others. Proper diagnosis of any specific sub-type of depression requires specific blood tests and a thorough patient history by a physician trained in Walsh’s methods.
For more information about getting individualized treatment for depression, read “Nutrient Power” by Walsh and visit WalshInstitute.org for a list of Walsh Institute-trained physicians.
To schedule a consultation with Angela, visit the MediSlim clinic at 3806 S. Medford Drive in Lufkin or call (936) 632-1996 for more information.