"Orthomolecular Medicine for Depression:  One Person's Story"
by Robert Sealey, BSc, CA

    My episodes of depression began thirty years ago when I was seventeen. My black and blue moods came for no reason. I did not know that I had a mood disorder. By 1995, my symptoms included surges of variability, volatility, reactivity, intensity, hypersensitivity, energy and creativity. I was vulnerable to depression and hypomania. I felt helpless, hopeless, depressed and anxious. My sleep was disrupted, my appetite and libido were low, my memory was vague and it was hard to focus. The first doctor laughed at me and my concerns, so I saw another doctor, and then psychologists and psychiatrists who diagnosed depression, dysthymia and major depression. [By reading, I eventually learned that I have a ] bipolar II mood disorder.

    I started taking a popular antidepressant, monitored by a psychiatrist. I was not told about adverse effects like brain fog, poor sleep and reduced libido. Sessions with a psychologist taught me that my thoughts were negative and my feelings were numb. I realized that my negative patterns of thinking and feeling were not normal.

    When the first antidepressant didn't help, I tried others, alone and in combinations, following my doctor's orders. I was not told about adverse effects or risks. My blood levels and kidney functions were not monitored. My psychiatrist kept saying, "Not quite right? Take more pills." Side effects worsened as doses increased. It was discouraging to deteriorate when I wanted to shirt toward the positive, stabilize my moods and become well.

    My caregivers finally acknowledged the side effects. When I asked, "Why recommend medications if they make sick people worse?" one answered, "Not all depressed people get worse on antidepressants." [Later, I learned that] antidepressants can help some people cope with episodes of depression but other [people] suffer adverse effects while their symptoms continue. Mood pills can numb the pain of depression and stimulate energy. In my case, these medications did not restore normal mood.

    Desperate for answers, I began to question, study, research and interview. I got literature from drug companies. I wanted to learn how depressed people could restore normal mood without adverse effects. My brain's logic circuits worked even though my moods were black and blue. I read about psychiatry, psychology, scientific herbalism, European and orthomolecular medicine.

    I learned how an extract of gingko biloba is routinely prescribed by conventional doctors in Europe for people [who have] depression and other cognitive deficiencies. [At first] I did not believe it would help because I knew nothing about mankind's use of standardized plant extracts (herbs) for medicinal purposes. Even though these traditions have continued for centuries worldwide, local doctors would not recommend them for my depression. A pharmacist cautioned that herbs might be dangerous and difficult to use.

    After trying small doses of gingko biloba for a few days, I was surprised and pleased when my depression improved. A mild gastrointestinal upset prompted me to take odourless garlic with the gingko, both in small doses, four times a day. I recorded my progress and added valerian at night for sleeping. These supplements cost 1/8 the price of the synthetic [antidepressant and benzodiazepine medications which I was previously taking]. Self-employed with no drug plan, it was wonderful to find phytopharmaceuticals (plant-based medications) with so few adverse effects.

    Books by orthomolecular doctors encouraged me to try other supplements. Vital amines, trace minerals, amino acids and cellular energy co-factors are in the body normally without causing adverse effects. They can be taken as supplements if people deplete their normal supplies or need them to cope with chronic illnesses like depression. I learned about the optimum doses [and how different regimens work for different diagnoses]. I started taking small doses of vitamins B6, B1, B2, [B12] and C with zinc, manganese, co-enzyme Q10, l-taurine, methionine, choline and inositol. I gradually learned which supplements help with my depression. When I get too energized, I take small doses of a calming amino acid called GABA. I learned not to take vitamins B3, folic acid or glutamic acid because they make me worse, even though they may help other depressed people.

    After years of taking herbs and supplements [since 1996], I feel restored, with no adverse effects. I do not suggest that other people stop taking their antidepressant medications or experiment with herbs or supplements without medical supervision. If European and orthomolecular doctors recommend plant extracts and supplements to restore depressed brain function without adverse effects, I suggest that depressed people ask healthcare advisors for help with their mood restoration work. I coach depressed clients to ask their mental healthcare professionals to help them restore normal mood (without adverse effects). I advise depressed people to record their symptoms and day-to-day progress so their caregivers can assess [them] and monitor side effects from antidepressants. I encourage people to read about disorders and get information from mood disorder associations [e.g., MDAO, NDMDA] which offer free lectures and support groups. After thirty years of mood disorder problems, these methods helped me make positive progress. I believe [that restorative orthomolecular medicine] can help many other depressed people.

Published in Open Minds Quarterly
Vol 1, Issue IV, Winter 2000

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