Sometimes depression is a common-sense response to an existential shitstorm that rains ham-sized turds down on your head. But, like all bad weather, clouds clear, mister sun comes out, and the shit is shoveled away to reveal a green, happy landscape.
Other times, though, depression is an illness that hangs around like nuclear winter, darkening your skies for weeks, months, or even years. Something has monkeyed with the chemicals in your head and you feel nothing but bleakness punctuated by occasional bouts of despair.
Science now has an idea what it is that monkeys with your head and spirits you away to that bad mental place. It's inflammation, the same thing that plays such an insidious role in physical ailments. As such, several anti-inflammatory substances like curcumin, creatine, and omega-3 fatty acids can be used to combat depression.
Many scientists noticed that cytokines – small proteins that signal other cells – zap through the roof during depressive episodes and then recede when the patient normalizes. They've also noticed that healthy people can become temporarily anxious or even depressed after receiving a vaccine that causes inflammation.
Those observations, coupled with growing heaps of similar evidence, have led many doctors and researchers to believe that depression has as much to do with the body as it does with the mind. Many are of the opinion that depression should be rebranded as an infectious, but not a contagious, disease; that it's as much biology as it is psychology.
How to Fight it Without Prescription Drugs
If it's true that depression is caused by inflammation, or even if it just has a co-starring role in depression, we can fight it and possibly even cure it with anti-inflammatory supplements. Three have proven effective so far:
Curcumin is unique among the anti-inflammatory, anti-depressive substances in that it's proven to help depression all on its own and not as an adjunctive therapy to a SSRI (selective serotonin uptake inhibitor). In other words, you don't need to combine it with Lexapro, Zoloft, Paxil, or any other anti-depressant drug.
One such study (and there are several) involved 56 people with major depressive disorder. They were treated with 500 mg. of curcumin twice daily, or placebo, for 8 weeks. From weeks 4 to 8, curcumin was "significantly more effective than placebo in improving several mood-related symptoms."
The two other anti-inflammatory supplements, creatine and omega-3 fatty acids, have also been tested, but in conjunction with SSRIs.
For instance, when creatine (3 grams a day for the first week and 5 grams a day for 7 weeks) and the antidepressant Lexapro were given to depressed women, they showed significantly greater improvements in mental status than women who were only given Lexapro.
Likewise, when omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil in the amount of 1800 mg. of EPA, 400 mg. of DHA for 9 weeks) and the antidepressant Celexa were given to depressed women, they showed significantly greater improvements in mental status than women who were only given Celexa.
What This Means to You
If you've been clinically diagnosed with depression, you might talk to your doc about combining your therapy with one or more of the supplements described.
If you occasionally suffer from bouts of self-diagnosed "shitstorm" depression that linger, you might want to experiment with using one, or all three, of the described supplements, too, just to see if they could coax you out of your gloomy mental state.
And if you're just a perpetually happy son-of-a-bitch, you might still take notice of how much of a hidden role inflammation plays in our physical and mental health. Whether you realize it or not, life is an inflammatory condition, and unchecked, chronic inflammation can lead to a host of medical maladies and poor health in general.
Related: The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Related: The Shocking Truth About Inflammation
- Adrian L. Lopresti, Michael Maes, Garth L. Maker, Sean D. Hood, Peter D. Drummond," Curcumin for the treatment of major depression: A randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled study. "Journal of Affective Disorders, Volume 167, October 2014, Pages 368-375.
- IK Lyoo, M.D., Ph.D.; et al. "A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial of Oral Creatine Monohydrate Augmentation for Enhanced Response to a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor in Women With Major Depressive Disorder," Am J Psychiatry 2012;169:937-945.
- Gertsik, et al. "Omega-3 Fatty Acid Augmentation of Citalopram Treatment for Patients With Major Depressive Disorder," Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, February 2012, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp. 61–64.