Antidepressant drugs known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) only work for about one in seven depressed patients. And that one patient out of seven probably only feels better because of a placebo effect. Plus, as I told you last week, a new report shows that the scientific theory on depression, and how SSRIs work in the brain, may be completely wrong. In fact, some think it’s “backwards.” So we can finally understand why these toxic drugs have such a poor track record.
Fortunately, you do have many natural treatment options if you suffer from depression. Today, I will present some encouraging findings about the role of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) and vitamin D for improving the health of both the brain and the mind.
Unlike conventional medicine, in the world of natural medicine, there is no real distinction between brain and cognitive health versus emotion, mood and mental health. In other words, there is no artificial, imaginary barrier between “neurological” or “cognitive” disorders, thought of as brain conditions…and “psychiatric” disorders, thought of as mental conditions. Brain, mind and mood all function together naturally.
In a new paper published in the FASEB journal (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology), researchers made four excellent points.
First, the researchers recognized the connection between “cognitive” and “psychiatric” disorders. And they theorized if a treatment works for “cognitive” disorders, it should also work for “psychiatric” disorders.
Second, they pointed to the wealth of previous research that shows omega-3 essential fatty acids (found in marine or fish oils) and vitamin D improve brain function.
Third, they theorized that omega-3s and vitamin D should then also work for “psychiatric” disorders like depression. The researchers even highlighted a “mechanism of action” that could help explain how and why omega-3s and vitamin D support mental health.
A mechanism of action explains how something works in the body. And this point is important because scientists in the 21st century can’t just accept that a treatment works. They need to know how and why it works.
Fourth, the researchers brought up the very good point that the brain needs essential fatty acids and vitamin D to support normal production of serotonin. But drugs like SSRIs act by “blocking” the reuptake of serotonin back into brain cells.
As I’ve said before, drugs that chemically “block” normal metabolic processes are a bad bet. Whether it’s a statin drug that “blocks” normal cholesterol. Or a bone density drug that “blocks” and kills normal bone cells. Or an SSRI that blocks the reuptake of serotonin. Using drugs that “block” normal functions don’t follow a normal or natural path to good health. “Blockers” belong on a football team, but not in your body. I’m much more inclined to recommend nutrients that support normal functions so the body can preserve or restore normal health.
So back to the new research at hand…
First, let’s take a look at vitamin D. As the researchers pointed out, vitamin D acts more like a hormone than a simple nutrient in the body. Also, it regulates the conversion of the essential amino acid tryptophan into serotonin.
Of course, serotonin isn’t the only important neurotransmitter in the brain. But it does influence a wide range of cognitive functions and behavior. Including mood, decision-making, social behavior, impulsive behavior, and social decision-making.
Plus, research links many clinical conditions to disordered serotonin activity, including from autism (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia.
Next, let’s look at essential fatty acids.
One type of fatty acid called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) facilitates serotonin release from brain cells into synapses between cells. EPA appears to act through its anti-inflammatory properties. It reduces inflammatory molecules in the brain called E2 prostaglandins. These inflammatory prostaglandins negatively impact serotonin in brain cells. They also block the release of serotonin into the synapses between cells.
Another type of fatty acid called docosahexaenoic (DHA) influences serotonin receptors. It makes the receptors more accessible by increasing cell membrane fluidity.
Now–how do vitamin D and essential fatty acids work together?
Your body converts vitamin D into a steroid hormone that regulates more than 1,000 different gene pathways, many in the brain. Then, the essential fatty acids interact with these pathways in the brain, including the serotonin pathway. These pathways are important for mood, cognition and decision-making.
The problem is, most people don’t get enough fatty acids and vitamin D into their diets. Most people don’t eat enough fish, which is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA. Of course, your skin will produce plenty of vitamin D on its own if exposed to enough sunlight. But at this time of year, the sun isn’t strong enough to activate vitamin D on the skin if you live anywhere north of Atlanta, GA.
I suggest supplementation. Improving your intake of vitamin D, EPA and DHA with supplementation will naturally support serotonin activity in the brain. It will also help prevent and improve depression and other cognitive functions. The one thing it won’t do is cause adverse side effects. The only “side effects” it will cause are other proven health benefits provided by these essential nutrients.
You can find EPA and DHA in high-quality fish oil supplements. But you want to make sure the manufacturer prepares the fish oil supplements according to specific procedures. See the October issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter for specific guidelines for choosing a fish oil supplement. (Subscribers can access this archived issue on my website at www.drmicozzi.com. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.)
When it comes to vitamin D, I recommend everyone take 5,000 IU per day year-round. It’s especially important during this time of year. You can find vitamin D in an easy-to-use liquid form, together with the carotenoid antioxidant powerhouse astaxanthin.
- “Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia, and impulsive behavior,” FASEB journal (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology), Published online before print February 24, 2015