Saturday, July 08, 2006

First Capitol Counseling Connection - By Dr. Howard Rosenthal

What about those new natural cures for mental health?

One of the most common questions I am asked is whether natural remedies for mental health really exist. Let me begin by saying that I could fill an entire text with information about this exciting topic. Hmm, maybe one day I will.

Before I share any information with you, I must insist that you check with your physician or psychiatrist – you know, the guys and gals with MDs or DOs after their name – since natural treatments can interact with prescription medicinals. In addition, these substances can have side effects, although in general the undesirable effects would not be as common as those associated with prescription drugs.

A lot of folks erroneously believe that the natural mental health movement was spawned by a bunch of health nut hippies in the 1960s sitting at the corner of Haight & Ashbury munching on carrot sticks and kale. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Natural mental health, originally dubbed as orthomolecular psychiatry (don’t worry nobody is ever going to ask you to spell it), was popularized by the world famous biochemist Linus Pauling who began the vitamin C craze and the only man on the face of the planet to snare two unshared Nobel Prizes – 1954 for chemistry and 1962 for the Nobel Peace Prize. Pauling, along with psychiatrists Humphrey Osmond and Abram Hoffer, discovered that persons with severe emotional issues often had extremely low levels of nutrients. Thus, a guy who thought he was Napoleon might come to the conclusion that he was really Joe Smith if you gave him several hundred times the B-vitamins (usually B3 or niacin) that the average person would consume. Because of this, the trend was became known as “mega-vitamin therapy” which was also the title of a popular book in the early 70s.

Here is a brief vest pocket list of some of the more popular nonprescription treatments.

St. John’s Wort Wort (not wart for gosh sakes) is old English for plant. A ton of studies have revealed that St. John’s Wort is often an effective treatment for mild – not severe – depression. In Germany where alterative treatments are not so alternative St. John’s Wort is prescribed much more often than Prozac! The Lancet, the British Medical Journal, conducted meta-research and found that St. John’s Wort, is an excellent choice for a first line of defense for treating clinical depression. Like some prescription medicines, it can cause problems due to extreme sun exposure and is contraindicated for some transplant patients and persons taking certain AIDS medicines. Ask your doctor.

SAMe Enunciated Sammy, SAMe is often used for more severe depression and is touted as an excellent supplement for arthritis sufferers.

Ultra-refined pharmaceutical grade fish oil For years mental health workers have heard rumors that folks living in fishing towns suffered from less depression and their kids were rarely plagued with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). We know now that fish oil or fish body oil has a class of fats called Omega-3s that fight depression, build immunity, help keep our hearts and skin healthy, boost brain functioning, and even assist us to annihilate unwanted fat. (Yes, you read it correctly, a fat that fights fat) For those of you who are patting yourself on the back because you just gobbled down a greasy fast food fish sandwich or your freezer has a pack of those famous fish sticks . . . well I’m sorry to bust your bubble, but commercial fish products like these often have the beneficial omega 3’s removed so they won’t taste . . . well . . . too fishy! Since fish oil can thin your blood seek medical advice before ingesting fish oils. Barry Sears, who created the well-know Zone Diet, is adamant that supplementing with high grade fish oil is one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in years. Some research indicates that Omega-3’s can help people suffering from bi-polar disorder even if they are already taking prescription treatments. Supplementation is used in research studies instead of eating fish to control dosages and allow the person a much higher intake without the worries of mercury poisoning.

5 HTP This supplement was popularized by athletes who were depressed after engaging in excessive exercise. Although moderate exercise is a mild antidepressant, a 26 mile marathon or living in the gym and performing twenty sets of weight lifting per body part, does just the opposite and seemingly depletes brain chemicals. Some experts claim that this supplement is as strong if not stronger than prescription antidepressants because it raises serotonin levels. It also generally causes moderate weight loss. Since balance in life is essential and too much serotonin is not a good thing, you would do well to speak with your physician before combining 5-HTP, or for that matter any supplement described here, with a prescription medicine.

Lithium When most people think of lithium they visualize a prescription medicine and rightly so. Between 1948 and 1949 an Australian psychiatrist, Dr. John Cade, discovered that lithium salts could help control mania. Today, doctors often prescribe lithium for depression or for bi-polar disorder (formerly termed manic-depression). Blood tests are required because prescription lithium can have serious side effects that impact the thyroid and kidneys. Nevertheless, some experts insist that we all need very small dosages of this trace mineral (i.e., in parts per million or PPM). According to the new theory, we get our lithium from plants and the water supply. Unfortunately, even if you ate the perfect diet (and who does?) the soil has been depleted of lithium for years and thus you would still be deficient. Hence, some people have begun ingesting lithium supplements readily available at health food stores. Sometimes these are colloidal or ionic plant supplements, in the form of a liquid. For those who think this theory outlandish, you will be surprised to know that some research indicates higher suicide and homicide rates in areas where the water supply lacks lithium! Stay tuned, this is going to get interesting!

Sunlight Yes sunlight, it’s free. There is even a recognized form of depression called SAD or seasonal affective disorder that is caused by a lack of sunlight. For those who can’t catch enough rays full-spectrum light bulbs and phototherapy devices are available. Also, some exciting new research shows that vitamin D from the sun is not a vitamin after-all, but actually a hormone that can influence immunity and one’s emotional state. Vitamin D supplements are indeed available at health food stores. In the US Milk has been supplemented with vitamin D to prevent rickets, however, milk is an unreliable source that may be too weak to help those who need more of this vital nutrient. This, needless to say, has created a heated debate about whether the use of too much sunscreen might just be harmful. Hey, don’t look at me I don’t have the definitive answer on this one yet!

So see your doctor and don’t forget to take your vitamins!

Dr. Howard Rosenthal is a St. Charles resident and the author of a number of books including Help Yourself to Positive Mental Health and the Encyclopedia of Counseling. His website is Copyright 2006 Dr. Howard Rosenthal