Why I say nuts to depression

The Good Life Letter 

2nd March 2018

  • This is how the researchers got it wrong about antidepressants
  • Four of the best...really healthy foods
  • This is the one I am reaching for!
Mental health is slowly becoming less stigmatised and sufferers are beginning to receive some of the help that they need.

We all know someone who has issues with anxiety or depression; these seem to be the symptoms of modern life and the stresses and challenges it places upon us.

Maybe you are one of the six million people in the UK who suffers with depression or anxiety yourself – that is the number that the most recent Psychiatric Morbidity Survey suggests are affected.

The real number may be significantly higher than this.

MIND, the mental health charity, cites a number of reasons why there has been an increase in sufferers in the last ten years. Among them are issues in childhood such as bullying and in adult life they indicate the common issues are problems with money, exhaustion and working long hours.

Interestingly they also make a link between high sugar foods and depression, saying that the intense stimulation damages our hormonal systems and leads to deep troughs of despair afterwards.

I find the whole topic one that draws parallels with much of what I have been saying ever since I first began writing these newsletters – health begins with good food and thrives on friendship and a little exercise.

One thing that I am definitely very sceptical of is the rise in prescriptions for the various antidepressant drugs to try to help control the effects of anxiety and depression and the fact that these are being used as the first and only solution, rather than looking at the issues in a wider context.

Now this is not to demonise anyone who is taking these types of medications, far from it, I understand how important the effects of them can be in normalising your responses.

But I am just worried that once again we have a problem that is only addressed with pharmacology rather than with a more encompassing holistic overview.

And the results of a recent paper published in the Lancet do little to convince me otherwise – let me explain.

The drugs do work. Really!

Several newspapers and news shows carried details about a trial that was conducted to ascertain how effective the commonly prescribed antidepressants were and in particular, one of the most popular types known as SSRIs.
These act by preventing a feel-good chemical produced by the brain, serotonin, being removed from circulation by cells designed to help balance mood. Brand names include drugs such as Sertraline, Citalopram and the old favourite Fluoxetine, more typically known as Prozac.

The trial concluded that these drugs really did make significant improvements to those suffering from anxiety or depression and that there were very few side effects.

Using this ‘proof’ of efficacy the research team advised that millions of people worldwide should be offered these drugs to help control an epidemic of mental health issues...

...but failed to mention a few of the other facts about how the study was conducted or that talking therapies were actually more effective than the drugs – funny that!

You see a lot was made in the press releases that this was the result of a six-year study and the reader was left to assume that the conclusions drawn were therefore related to a long-term project.

The reality was that the researchers looked at already published trials and identified the effect of using the SSRIs in the first eight weeks of use only – the six years was the time it took to find all the relevant papers and do the analysis.

A bit misleading some might say...or I would say a despicable sleight of hand aimed at justifying yet more revenue for the drug companies.

Writing in response to the publication, Professor John Read of the University of East London, himself a widely published researcher into mental illness, suggested that more balance was needed, saying:

“It is easy to artificially and temporarily lift mood with chemicals, but chemicals cannot address the social causes of human distress. The idea that antidepressants are treating a chemical imbalance that somehow causes depression has been debunked as a drug industry created myth. Several of the paper’s authors are employed by this industry.”

Perhaps more worryingly he stated that his own research and that of others in the field dispelled the notion that there were no side effects of the drugs:

“Our own study, the largest direct-to-consumer survey to date, found that more than half reported emotional numbing, sexual difficulties and withdrawal effects. Suicidality as a result of the drugs was reported by 39% and a reduction in positive feelings by 42%.”
I think I was right to be a sceptic.

Mood lifting food

As I said earlier in this piece I do not condemn anyone who is taking SSRIs nor do I want to make anyone stop taking them, many of my friends are only able to cope with their lives due to the benefits they get.

My purpose really was to present a more realistic assessment of the data which was reported and to offer a little insight into other ways of lifting mood.

  1. Oily fish, especially things like salmon, sardines and even mussels will boost the amount of the all-important Omega 3 and other polyunsaturated natural fatty acids such as DHA and EPA (also found in abundance in high quality, environmentally sourced fish oil supplements).

  2. Walnuts, almonds and peanuts are all rich in mood boosting oils and vitamins and can easily be added to salads and breakfast cereal or eaten as a snack.

  3. Chocolate, but not the overly sweetened kind. To have the desired effect it needs to be the rich, dark and unsweetened type, fabulous made into hot chocolate as a bedtime drink.

  4. High quality carbohydrates such as grain and brown rice are thought to boost the production of serotonin in the brain. Far from being the cause of obesity, research is showing that diets rich in complex carbohydrates are much healthier than those that restrict them.

I hope that the current batch of wintery weather isn’t depressing you too much...

...if it is reach for the chocolate, that is my motto!

Yours, as always

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