Surprising cause of depression, and natural solutions
(NaturalHealth365) Persistent feelings of sadness, along with a pronounced loss of interest in pursuing normal activities – are classic signs of depression. Unfortunately, this distressing condition is not uncommon.
According to research released by the National Institute of Mental Health, a whopping 17.3 million Americans suffered from an episode of major depression in the year 2017, alone. Now, new studies are revealing that depression may be triggered by elevated levels of the amino acid homocysteine.
The good news: a peer-reviewed study has shown that a natural nutrient called 5-MTHF – a particularly bioavailable form of vitamin B9 – can lower elevated homocysteine levels while significantly improving depression. Impressively, 5-MTHF has been shown to offer relief even in cases in which depression is severe.
Warning: High homocysteine can trigger life-threatening issues
What exactly is homocysteine, and why should high levels of this naturally-produced substance present such a serious threat to health?
Homocysteine, a non-protein amino acid, is produced in the body as a byproduct of methionine – another amino acid found in a wide variety of foods including meat, dairy, seafood, cereals and beans. The body’s conversion of methionine into homocysteine involves a process called methylation – which in turn requires sufficient amounts B-complex vitamins in order to occur.
Scientists have found that deficiencies in B vitamins – particularly in vitamin B6, vitamin B9 (folate) and vitamin B12 – can lead to inefficient methylation, and cause homocysteine levels to soar.
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Research has shown that elevated levels of homocysteine can damage arterial linings and trigger cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke.
Bottom line: while homocysteine itself is a normal metabolic byproduct, high levels are both inflammatory and toxic – and can be truly “bad news” for your body.
Common gene mutation contributes to poor methylation and high homocysteine
Factors contributing to high homocysteine include common medications (such as sulfa drugs, antacids, NSAID drugs and methotrexate), cigarette smoking, alcohol use and normal aging. And there is another, more covert, trigger for high homocysteine.
Researchers say that a significant proportion of Americans – 30 to 50 percent – may carry a variant for the MTHFR gene mutation.
This common mutation – which can impair the ability to metabolize folic acid to its bioactive form – causes shortfalls of vitamins B6, B9 and B12 and impedes the body’s capability to neutralize toxins and heavy metals.
It can also cause homocysteine levels to rise.
The resultant unhealthy trifecta (of poor methylation, low folate and high homocysteine) forms a “triple whammy” that serves to raise the risk for a host of physical and psychological problems.
Health ALERT: High homocysteine contributes to neurodegenerative disease and depression
As it turns out, high homocysteine may be responsible for a lot more than heart disease and atherosclerosis. It is also implicated in dementia, cognitive decline and depression.
One study involving almost a thousand middle-aged men showed that men with the highest homocysteine levels had a two-fold increased risk of depression compared to those with the lowest levels.
While the study results were striking, they were not really surprising. Researchers have learned that elevated homocysteine can interfere with production of a neurotransmitter known as serotonin, which is indispensable for stable mood and restful sleep.
And, a separate study found that people with high homocysteine also had lower amounts of SAMe, another important nutrient with neurotransmitter-enhancing and mood-lifting effects.
Finally, researchers have found that in patients with high homocysteine levels (defined as over 14 micromoles per liter), the risk of Alzheimer’s disease is nearly doubled.
Good news about getting rid of the symptoms of depression
Upon finding that high homocysteine, low folate and depressive systems were linked, researchers set out to evaluate the ability of 5-MTHF to relieve major depression. What they found was not only intriguing – but truly heartening.
In a study of adults with major depression who were being treated with SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants, the team found that only a paltry 7 percent of the subjects experienced major improvement in their standard depression scores from the medications.
But, when patients added 5-MTHF (5-methyltetrahydrofolate) to their treatment, the number who experienced major improvements shot up to 19 percent. In the subgroup of patients who were most severely depressed, 5-MTHF performed even better.
A stunning 40 percent of the severely depressed participants improved while taking 5-MTFH with antidepressants – compared with 16 percent on the antidepressants-alone protocol! And, this subgroup of severely depressed patients began to improve in 85 days, compared to 150 days in the antidepressants-alone group.
In other words, relief from depression was swifter and more pronounced with the use of 5-MTHF.
In an article published in the respected medical journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, the team concluded that adding 5-MTHF to conventional antidepressants was more effective in improving depression symptoms and function than the medications alone. They also noted that the nutrient was “better tolerated” than the SSRI drugs.
Lower homocysteine and ease depression through natural methods
How much homocysteine is too much? While mainstream medicine recommends keeping homocysteine blood levels under 15 micromoles per liter, natural health experts go farther – and advise striving for levels below 8 micromoles.
Note: Homocysteine levels over 30 umols/L are considered “intermediate,” while levels over 100 umols/L are classified as “severe.”
So, many integrative healthcare providers tend to agree: the best way to control dangerous levels of homocysteine is with adequate intake of vitamin B9 (folate), along with vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.
You can increase your dietary intake of beneficial folate – and promote internal production of bioavailable 5-MTHF – by eating healthy amounts of organic cruciferous and leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli and kale.
Avocados are also rich in folate, along with brightly-colored yellow and orange fruits such as tangerines, oranges, papaya and mangoes. In addition, you can ramp up your intake of B vitamins with grass-fed beef liver, wild-caught salmon, organic whole grains and sunflower seeds.
However, supplementation with folate – in the form of 5-MTHF – may be necessary to boost sluggish methylation and control homocysteine. Studies have shown that 5-MTHF is seven times more effective than other formulations in dropping homocysteine levels.
Clinical studies have used 5-MTHF dosages of 1,000 micrograms to 5,000 micrograms a day – but consult your integrative doctor before supplementing. Your physician may also advise supplementing with the homocysteine-lowering vitamins B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (methylcobalamin).
Sharply decreasing or eliminating alcohol, avoiding cigarettes and excessive amounts of methionine-rich meat, dairy and seafood are also smart moves that can help you trim homocysteine levels.
Of course, other natural techniques and nutrients that have been shown to improve depression and relieve stress include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, exercise, biofeedback, meditation and acupuncture.
Depression can be a frustrating, painful and demoralizing condition, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture in your life. Full recovery is possible – and the latest research highlights the potential of 5-MTHF to help.
Sources for this article include: