Orthomolecular Psychiatry and Nutrition

By Corinne P Bottrell, N.D., Ph.D.

Orthomolecular psychiatry and orthomolecular nutrition emphasize the use of supplemental vitamins, minerals, and other factors in high amounts to treat mood disorders, mental health concerns, ADHD, and even Autism Spectrum Disorders. (Example: using tens of thousands of milligrams of intravenous vitamin C to fight cancer or using several thousand milligrams of niacin per day to treat psychosis.) Research has shown that a high dose of vitamin C is a remarkably safe and effective treatment for viral infections. In high doses, vitamin C neutralizes free radicals, helps kill viruses, and strengthens the body’s immune system. 

Depression Takes a Toll on Public Health

It is evident that depression is taking a major toll on public health.  Sadly, pharmaceutical antidepressants that target neurotransmitters have very disappointing rates of effectiveness, with an overall failure rate of about 60 percent, plus numerous adverse health effects as well.

Chronic stress is now widely believed to be a leading cause of depression. Long-term stress has been shown to harm cells in your brain and body, and stressful experiences are closely linked with the development of psychological and neuropsychiatric disorders. Traumatic childhood experiences may be the primary cause of a significant percentage of depression worldwide.

Depression can be viewed as a collection of symptoms driven by inflammation, oxidative stress, and mitochondrial dysfunction, with disruption to our gut ecology being the major factor. 

The links between processed foods and depression continue to grow. Food ingredients and additives that can cause or aggravate depression include refined sugar, processed fructose, gluten, GMO’s, glyphosate, and artificial sweeteners, to list a few. Aspartame has been linked to depression and panic attacks. It is now known that gluten is associated with many neurotoxic reactions, including mood disorders, schizophrenia, and autoimmune neurological issues. Gluten intolerance has been shown to produce headaches, seizures, anxiety, ataxia and neuropathy, and has recently been directly linked with depression—even among non-celiac patients.

How do you tell if someone is depressed?  

The usual symptoms include a change in sleeping pattern and appetite, feeling sad or less expressive, an inability to concentrate, irritability, easily angered or tearful, no longer taking pleasure in things that were formerly pleasant, social isolation, negative or irrational thoughts.

Medications that are notorious for causing depression symptoms are: 

  • Chemotherapy - fatigue, depression and sleep disturbances are common adverse effects of cancer treatment.  
  • Hypnotics  - Based on data released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a meta-analysis found that hypnotics such as zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata), and eszopiclone (Lunesta), are associated with an increased incidence of depression.  
  • Statins - Depression, memory loss, confusion and aggressive reactions have been reported from statin drugs. The link between lipid-lowering agents and adverse psychiatric reactions likely relates to inadequate cholesterol for proper brain function, as cholesterol is a chief component of brain cell membranes. 
  • Oral Contraceptives - Depression is the most common reason female patients discontinue oral contraceptive use.
  • Accutane Isotretinoin - This acne medication may increase risk for depression and/or suicide, although studies are not all in agreement. Researchers found mice injected with isotretinoin for six weeks at a human-equivalent dose exhibited depressive behavior.
  • Other Medications - Beta-blockers, calcium-channel blockers, hormones, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines

Non-pharmaceutical factors that may trigger or exacerbate symptoms of depression include the following:

  • Nicotine - Exposure during adolescence has been linked to depression in adulthood.
  • Vitamin B12 Deficiency - B12 deficiency can mimic psychiatric problems. One study identified markers of B12 deficiency in 27 percent of depressed women. Many studies find links between low B12 levels and depression.  Folate deficiency may also be involved. 
  • Electromagnetic Frequencies (EMFS) - It is challenging to perform controlledstudies about the links between EMFs and depression.  However, it has now been shown that just 30 minutes of exposure to cellphone radiation affects brain activity in both hemispheres, with a number of potential biological effects. 
  • Circadian Rhythm Dysfunction - Out-of-sync body clocks are especially common with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) but can also be a factor in other mood disorders, such as depression.
  • Infections - Some viruses and other infections, such as mononucleosis, hepatitis, and HIV can produce symptoms of depression.
  • Immune System Diseases - One example is lupus, but living with any long-term illness is stressful and can raise the risk for depression and anxiety.
  • Endocrine Imbalances -Problems with the parathyroid or adrenal glands can cause them to produce insufficient or excess hormones, throwing moods off balance in the process.
  • Degenerative Neurological Conditions - Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease and stroke can raise your risk for depression.

We have been taught to connect serotonin with feeling good, but now we know that high serotonin is actually associated with low mood, as well as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and autism. Increased levels of serotonin, and its metabolite are associated with suicide, violence, alcoholism, bulimia, and exhibitionism.  When it comes to serotonin, more is not better, and flooding the brain with it does not restore balance.

Long-term treatment with antidepressant drugs produces notoriously poor functional outcomes. That is where orthomolecular psychiatry can be helpful in treating mental illness and restoring mental wellness. Niacin, or vitamin B3, is a vitamin directly linked with your mood. Niacin deficiencies may contribute to neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. Antidepressants may actually cause niacin deficiency, especially for those whose diets are suboptimal because these drugs alter normal tryptophan and serotonin pathways. Your body uses the amino acid tryptophan to manufacture both niacin and serotonin (interestingly serotonin also requires vitamin B6 and magnesium for synthesis). You can only get tryptophan from food – our bodies cannot manufacture it. Niacin or tryptophan deficiency can lead to insomnia, depression, anxiety and irritability. 

If you suffer with low moods, mood instability, anger, irritability, low frustration tolerance, anxiety, and/or sleep issues, you may be trying to cope with an inadequate balance of enzymes, vitamins, and amino acids.  

Call the office today and book an appointment with Dr. Corinne Bottrell, N.D., Ph.D. 
Dr. Bottrell is a Naturopath, Psychologist, and Iridologist.

*Some excerpts from the above article were presented in ‘21st Century Solutions to Depression’.  

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