Some Practitioners Believe that Most People on Antidepressants
Could Really Just Use a Better Diet

Alternative Medicine Magazine
March, 2005
By Karin Evans

By the time she turned 44, Rebecca Jones (this name has been changed) felt like she was falling apart. "Some times I was plagued by a crushing fatigue, I was moody, and just moving through my day was a major chore," she says. "I wasn't sleeping well, had lots of headaches and a sluggish libido, and my memory was often foggy." Jones chalked up some of her woes to perimenopause, so she followed some of the standard advice for that, like cutting out caffeine, for instance. But she still felt wobbly and low.

A clinical psychologist by profession, Jones recognized that some of her symptoms pointed to depression. She figured she needed some serious attention, so she made an appointment with Los Angeles psychiatrist Hyla Cass.

Like most psychiatrists would, Cass asked Jones how she was feeling. But that was just the beginning. Jones soon found herself detailing what she ate for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in between. She was asked to describe her energy and mood swings throughout the day, her sleep patterns, and any worrisome symptom she could think of.

Cass sent Jones for a battery of tests - blood tests that went far beyond the usual screenings - to look for anemia, blood sugar levels, and thyroid function, factors widely believed to contribute to depression. Cass also tested Jones for candida and checked her chromium, magnesium, and estrogen levels, as well as her adrenal function and her risk for toxic overload, among other things.

After analyzing the results, Cass opted not to recommend antidepressants. Instead, she told Jones to start taking supplements, including chromium, which evens out blood sugar levels, and magnesium, vital for brainpower. She gave her a specific supplement for candida, plus a menopause support formula, and another remedy to help restore adrenal function.

"Within the first week of following her program, I felt much better," says Jones. After three weeks she went back for more tests, and Cass prescribed additional supplements. "It's still unbelievable to me," says Jones, "but after six weeks, my mood swings and anxiety disappeared completely." These days, she continues to take supplements to control her depression and boost her energy, and has yet to take a single antidepressant.

For those accustomed to the notion that therapy means talking through problems and getting a prescription for antidepressants, this may seem an unusual approach. But Cass, an expert in nutritional medicine and an assistant clinical professor at UCLA, long ago became convinced that no form of psychotherapy can be fully effective if the brain isn't functioning properly. And to do that the brain needs optimal nourishment, something she says is increasingly hard to come by in the typical American diet. "Depressed, tired, overweight women are often told they need Prozac," Cass says, "when in fact all they really need to get their brains and bodies on track is a steady supply of real food." She recommends that her patients drink lots of water and eat organic vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and lean protein. "Diets high in refined foods, sugars, and unhealthy fats can actually interfere with our natural brain chemistry," says Cass.

Modern eating habits are part of what makes many people depressed, says Michael Lesser, a psychiatrist in Berkeley, California, who also bases his treatment on an evaluation of a patient's diet and lifestyle. "Ironically, though we live in a wealthy society, our diets are deficient in crucial nutrients," says Lesser, author of The Brain Chemistry Plan.

Nutritional deficiencies can contribute to chemical imbalances, like anemia and hypothyroidism, which in turn can lead to anxiety, insomnia - and depression. Cass has observed that people with depression are commonly diagnosed with low levels of zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, essential fatty acids, and amino acids. In fact, Lesser firmly believes that most cases of depression in this country are either caused or exacerbated by poor nutrition.

Indeed, the last few years have seen increasing numbers of studies finding that specific nutrients can help manage, and even reverse, depression, along with anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and even autism. One of the most compelling, a study from Harvard, found that omega-3 fatty acids in conjunction with medication worked so powerfully on manic depression that the study was halted so every subject could take them.

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