Isn’t it strange that whilst we would probably all consider ourselves as reasonably tolerant and open minded that there is still such a huge stigma when we think about depression. If we haven’t experienced depression directly it’s highly probable that we know someone, be they a friend, relative or workmate, who suffers. I have a friend myself who was diagnosed with major depression just under a year ago. Slowly she has become quite reclusive – mostly because, she tells me, she’s ashamed and embarrassed. She talks about her black days. Days with no focus, and with very little meaning or purpose. “They come less often”, she had said to me, “but nevertheless they still come. You just learn to deal with it Nina, It’s like there’s a wall between you and the world but someone’s turned the lights off too. So what’s the point of living in isolated darkness? Oh and there’s pain too. Just to top it. Immense and unbearable pain. So there we have it. Pain, darkness and isolation that is the be-all and end-all of your life.”
I didn’t really know what to say to that. Who would? She’s been taking Prozac for the last 6 months and she tells me that whilst she sees a difference she feels sick most of the time. That’s not unusual though, because that’s the trouble with most anti-depressants – the side effects. And so we got talking and I asked what was it she did with her time, did she go out, what did she eat? “I can’t be bothered” was the main theme of her answers. Not because she was lazy, there was just a lack of motivation. She’d got into a negative pattern of not going out or doing much more than watching T.V. But it was her eating patterns that really made me think. She didn’t cook at all. Everything she ate (if and when she ate) came out of a packet. Her whole diet was pretty appalling really and she seemed to have very little understanding that the food we eat really can affect our mood. So I found myself asking more and more questions. One of them was “do you ever eat fish?” The answer was a straight no, well not since it was forced on her as a child (at this point she actually laughed). So we sat and talked about changes she could make and how certain foods could help. I told her how omega-3 from fish oils can benefit people with depression. In fact the American Psychiatric Association actually recommends treatment with at least 1 gram daily of fish oil for depression, as an addition to standard treatment. We don’t get offered that here. In fact there are probably very few GPs in the UK who know about the benefits of fish oils as an alternative or as an add-on, even though more and more trials are showing that EPA (the active omega-3 in fish oil) has a distinct anti-depressant role. If you compare EPA with Prozac, just 1gram daily can equal the benefits of a standard 20 mg Prozac dose and there are no side effects!
“But be fussy” I said. “Not all fish oils are the same, don’t go for cheap like most people do. There’s meaning to the saying that ‘you get what you pay for’. Interestingly, as the link between fish and depression risk strengthens, with it comes products formulated specifically to help. Remember that it’s EPA that you need to look for on the product label, and if you combine this with a good source of gamma linolenic (GLA) then you’re laughing, literally.
Recommended reading material:
An eminent psychiatrist and researcher, Professor Basant Puri, proposes an alternative option to conventional treatments for depression, arguing that standard treatments often fail to address the underlying biochemical factors. I thoroughly recommend his book The Natural Way to Beat Depression – The Groundbreaking Discovery of EPA to Change Your Life – a well-written, concise and informative read for anyone affected by this debilitating condition.