Just below the appearance of normality, life is full of difficulty and sometimes suffering, the result understandable can be depression.

Like animals, human being learn that they can relieve their suffering by eating , drinking, inhaling or ingesting substances, or behaving in other pleasure-inducing ways.   Some of these methods have been around for a long time and are socially acceptable like alcohol and tobacco.  Others are considered taboo, or for medical use only.  Some are increasingly part of a culture of ‘no limits’ which uses drugs to change one’s mental and emotional space .  All these substances can easily become addictive and make demands on the body.  Some are relatively harmless, some can kill you.  The alternative of sinking into depression is just as dangerous for our well-being.

In the last few decades the science of nutrition has discovered that many nutrients can not only replace what is lost, but be a positive influence on our state, reducing depression and the desire for dangerous addictive substances, the hormonal system and the brain, its chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters are the main sites of action.  Three related hormones/neurotransmitters are known to be important in the response to stress and mood – adrenalin, noradrenalin and dopamine.  It is dopamine that is considered most closely allied with the brain’s response to pleasure.  For example when rats eat, become sexually aroused, or learn an action that rewards them with cocaine, their dopamine levels increase.

If dopamine is important in depression and addiction, then what is its precursor in the brain?   It turns out to be a normal fraction of dietary protein, an amino acid called tyrosine, found in animal and vegetable protein foods.  The concentration in the body of the three related neurotransmitters depends on the availability of tyrosine

In experiments in the sixties, tyrosine levels in rats were found to be depleted during stress.  But rats receiving extra tyrosine showed neither stress-induced depletion of noradrenalin nor depressed behaviour.   Laying up stores of these neurotransmitters could help us to come with stress, suffering and depression.  Tyrosine is also a precursor of thyroid hormones and by normalising the thyroid, energy levels, appetite and mood can be stabilised.

In 1980 Dr. A.J.Gelenberg at Harvard Medical School treated depressed and drug-resistant patients with large doses of tyrosine and noted significant improvement.  Later similar results were found with lower doses.  The normal dietary intake and use of tyrosine is about 1000mg a day and adding from 350mg to 1000mg might well be enough to make a real difference.  Since sex drive is also affected by dopamine, Dr. Carl Pfeiffer concluded, on the basis of clinical and experimental experience, that L-tyrosine may decrease adrenal hyperactivity to stress, decreased appetite and stimulate sex drive.

Reports of problems with large amounts of extra tyrosine include some schizophrenics, patients on ‘monoamine oxidase inhibitors, and those suffering headaches after taking it.   But according to Dr. Pfeiffer, ‘Toxicity is rare or almost non’existent in tyrosine therapy.  Tyrosine is generally recognised as one of the safe substances.’  Extra vitamin C usually sorts out any such problems.

Other amino acids can be very useful in balancing out depression and addiction.  For example L-glutamine is normally highly concentrated in the brain, where it can affect the amount of other neurotransmitters produced, but, perhaps even more important, it serves as an alternative fuel.   Lack of energy in the brain could be a central feature of the depression/addiction cycle because the brain is so sensitive to blood sugar levels, and experiments since the sixties have found glutamine to be effective at reducing alcoholism and other addictions.

The key to the nutritional approach is understanding how everything works together.  Several vitamins and minerals have an essential role in producing neurotransmitters and the energy required for a state of positive wellbeing.  These would include the B complex, especially B3 and B6, vitamin C, zinc magnesium and manganese.  So it is important to add a good multivitamin and multimineral as well as some extra C to the amino acids.

Nutrition is certainly not the whole answer to depression and addiction, but it can provide a very sound basis for a natural state of wellbeing that encourages recovery from these universal problems.