Dr. Laurie Marzell N.D., N.C.M.P.

 Naturopathic physician
Certified Menopause Practitioner



DEPRESSION:  Beating the Blues Naturally


Depression is a common problem.  Medications are available, but natural therapies are also available.  Let’s take a look at both.

Most medications for depression inhibit the breakdown of serotonin.  This drives up higher amounts in the blood.  Why is serotonin good for people who are depressed?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, meaning it stimulates the nerves to transmit messages.  It is produced in the intestines mostly, and brain.  It helps with people to increase a feeling of well-being and generally feel happier.  It is a precursor to the production of melatonin, so helps with sleep.  It is produced from a protein, tryptophan, therefor, it can be increased by eating high tryptophan foods.  Which food is the highest in tryptophan?  Think of families getting together and feeling peaceful.  What miracle food can help with this?  Turkey!  Think of how calm and sleepy people are after Thanksgiving dinner.

The drugs that increase serotonin have a few side effects that are worth noting.  One is that they often take several weeks to get to the dose of optimal function, sometimes 3 weeks.  They may well suppress the libido, up to 50 % of people who take this loose their sex drive or decrease it.  It may suppress appetite somewhat, but I note many of my patients who are on this, often gain weight.  It is also difficult to stop, and folks need to be weaned off carefully.

Are there alternatives to the anti-depressant drugs?  A resounding yes!!

It is essential to proper evaluation of a patient, that a physical exam and lab work be done.  Why?  Because the brain is an organ and needs nutrition. It is susceptible to deficiencies and blood sugar problems.  So, as the oldies remember Grace Slick recommending, “Feed your head!”.


Depression related to fatigue can be caused from low thyroid.  The thyroid is like the metronome of the body; the more thyroid hormone, the faster everything goes.  High thyroid levels produce more energy, faster digestion and production of hormones, etc. Low levels of thyroid, which is extremely common, produce fatigue and grogginess in the morning, slow digestion, constipation, low production of hormones.  An easy fix for the whole body.


Deficiency of turkey?  Yes, perhaps, but neurotransmitters are all made from proteins.  Is your diet low in protein?  If so, the production of neurotransmitters may be low.  This may also show in hair falling out and slow healing of tissues.  Some folks feel better with a good quality protein drink 1-2 times daily.  Some people have difficulty digesting protein and do well with an amino acid mixture.  This is the smallest part of a protein and therefor easy to digest and absorb.


Low estrogen in women, and low testosterone in men and women can result in fatigue and depression.  Have your levels checked!


Some people just feel better with B12.  It is in my opinion the most difficult vitamin to absorb so a shot, which is painless, may result in a smile on your face!

Vitamin D

Some psychiatrist in our area are using vitamin D to treat depression.  We are in a low D producing area due to the murky cloudiness and rain that blocks our sunshine.  This is another good lab test to have done.  Most Portlanders are deficient.

Folic acid

This is found in veggies, but may be cooked out and throwing out the cooking fluid removes much of the folic acid.  Eat lots of veggies, but a supplement is a good idea.

St. John’s Wort

This has been found very helpful in mild to moderate depression.  It may interact with some drugs, so please consult a practitioner who knows about interactions first unless you are not on antidepression drugs to begin with.


This simple herb can be a dynamo healing agent.  It not only helps with depression, but may help with weight loss by breaking down fat tissue.  It has been shown to increase cognition, shows some protection against cancer, and helps with energy production.

There are many other natural therapies using various amino acids which may increase endorphins (happy hormones).  These do not act by increasing serotonin.  Endorphins are the joyful feeling people get when they exercise, eat chocolate or are in love!  That is a good way to fight depression!

One very important warning.  5 -HTP is the immediate precursor of serotonin production.  It is available in supplement form over the counter.  If a patient taking an antidepressant drug, takes this as well, the levels of serotonin can accelerate upwards very quickly and cause a serious toxic reaction.  Never take these two together!

Every person is different, but drugs are not always the answer.  I hope that in reading this article, it has provided you with alternatives to treat depression by using natural products.  It is always a good idea to connect with a practitioner knowledgeable about using natural medicines.

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