Having just read the tragic news item from India about the depressed thyroid lady who committed suicide and preparing as I am at present a lecture about thyroid and depression, which I shall shortly give to London’s Insitute of Optimum Nutrition’s Mind Conference, I felt it might be appropriate to remind people of the strong link and frequency of depression and hypothyroidism…
Depression causes untold misery and destroys lives. Perhaps one in five people will suffer from it sometime in their lives. A huge industry has arisen around the treatment of depressive illness and psychiatrists are gainfully employed in their thousands. Whether it is more widespread than it was is perhaps difficult to answer. There are more of us to be depressed; we have more to be depressed about, and we are more likely to seek help. But there certainly seems to be more people troubled by depression and the great panoply of antidepressant medication tells its own story.
Before having a look at thyroid deficiency and its link to depression, we should learn a bit about it, and how it is caused and why. People who are depressed are sad, unmotivated most of the day and are usually worse in the morning. They sleep poorly, and wake up tired; they feel worthless, they have a poor self-image. They may eat more or less and put on or lose weight. Sir Winston Churchill used to call it his Black Dog. In his case, as with many, it was self-limiting: probably an extra cigar and brandy banished itâ?¦
There are two sorts of depression fundamentally: the exogenous kind, which is the result of circumstance, and the endogenous form, an illness from within ourselves. It is the second form we are to deal with. Maintenance of mood resides in part of the brain called the hippocampus. Here brain cells release neurotransmitter hormones, which are taken up by receptors; the amount released and the number of receptors responding, governs whether we are depressed or not.
Probably the most important of these mood neuro transmitter substances are serotonin and noradrenalin, and treatment is directed at preventing the decay of these substances at the receiving nerve endings. This is what Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) antidepressants, Tricyclic antidepressants and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) do. However, thyroid hormone deficie ncy acts on the receptor sites and hastens the recycling of these neurotransmitters at the nerve endings or reduces the amount being secreted. The result is that the neurotransmitters that are responsible for maintaining mood do not work at optimum efficiency. Depression then takes over.
It has been estimated that more than one third of people suffering from depression are hypothyroid. Some are in hospital. They receive, over long periods, antidepressants of one sort or another when actually the problem is deficiency of thyroid hormones. It is simply that no one thought of thyroid deficiency as a cause when their illness began; or the simplistic tests failed to reveal it.
Any patient suffering from depression should be routinely assessed for hypothyroidism. There should be no exceptions; half to one third will be found to be hypothyroid, and as a result of treatment, their depression will begin to lift in weeks. Conventional medicine will turn with little thought to psychotropic antidepressants. The problem with these is that they are sometimes difficult to stop taking. Of the SSRIs, Seroxat in particular has a poor reputation in this respect; Prozac has attracted unfavourable reports and moreover contains a fluoride compound. Tricyclic antidepressants (eg Tryptizol, Imipramime) often have unpleasant sedating side effects, and the MAOIs (eg Parnate, Nardil) clash with a number of drugs and foodstuffs. St John’s Wort is an altogether simpler and safer alternative.
Hypothyroidism should not be considered in isolation. It is more than likely that there are other deficiencies at work and cortisol, testosterone, oestrogen, DHEA and progesterone deficiencies should be looked for and corrected. It is now clear that nutrition plays a much greater role in mental illness than conventional medicine would have us believe.
The brain and its neurotransmitters simply don’t work properly without the proper raw materials. An obvious one is that there should be a constant, even supply, of its fuel glucose. Hypoglycaemia is certainly associated with depression. The essential amino acids must be provided for the manufacture of the protein neurotransmitters; so must essential fatty acids, especially the omega 3 group, which make up the structure of the brain and the neurones releasing the neurotransmitters. The vitamin B complex, folic acid, vitamin C are needed to allow the amino acids to form complex proteins and the other mineral micronutrients have to be there.
Get the nutrients right (also ensuring thyroid manufacture and uptake), provide thyroid supplementation if required, perhaps as naturally as possible from glandular extracts, and we can fight the black tide of mind altering drugs that threatens to overwhelm so many of us.