Depression is at epidemic levels. In the United States, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reports that major depression is the most prevalent mood disorder today, affecting 17 percent of the population at least once in their lifetime. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one in ten people suffer with major or other types of depression at any given time. However, research from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation indicates that this number may be much higher because, for instance, men are far less likely to report their depression.

A study by Dr. Paul E. Greenberg and colleagues, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, showed that economic costs of depression in the United States exceeded $43 billion in 1990. A later study, again by Greenberg and colleagues, showed that in 1996, the cost had risen to $52.9 billion. This study used a refined approach to estimate workplace costs. Dr. Greenberg conducted yet another study in 2000, finding that the cost had risen to $83.1 billion. This number factored in direct medical costs, suicide-related mortality costs, and workplace costs such as absenteeism.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Report concluded that depression is the leading cause of medical disability for people ages 15 to 44 worldwide. According to the CDC, it is one of the leading reasons that people visit their doctors, along with hypertension, arthritis, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Depression comes in different forms. The most common form of depression is dysthymia, or atypical depression, a chronic, low-grade depression that usually lasts longer than two years and keeps us from feeling emotionally well or functioning effectively in our daily lives.

The most severe form of depression is major, or clinical depression. According to Stanford School of Medicine, this condition is evidenced by a combination of symptoms, including persistent negative moods, feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, sleep abnormalities, memory and cognitive difficulties, and persistent physical symptoms such as headaches and chronic pain. Together, these symptoms cause significant distress and interfere with our ability to work, sleep, eat, study, or enjoy once pleasurable activities. This form of depression can be dangerous because it incapacitates the sufferer and can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions.

In orthomolecular medicine, depression is approached by looking at biochemical imbalances. Depression is a multifaceted condition, and there are several physiological reasons why someone might become depressed. These can include heavy metal toxicity, decreased thyroid and adrenal function, food allergies, nutrient malabsorption, low tissue sugar, or deficiencies in essential fatty acids, niacin, vitamin C, vitamin B6, zinc or other minerals and amino acids.

To identify the root cause of a patient’s depression, practitioners would first identify nutritional deficiencies. Deficiencies in chromium, zinc, B6, GABA, and L-tryptophan, which are involved in the manufacture of neurotransmitters, are clearly linked to mood and behavioral disorders. Deficiencies in niacin and vitamin C, two anti-stress vitamins, are also linked to depression and mood disorders. Therefore, orthomolecular treatment for depression may involve these supplements:

• Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
• Calcium/Magnesium
• Selenium
• Zinc
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin D
• B Vitamins
• Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)
• Chromium

Most heavy metals act as free radicals in the body, inducing oxidative stress. These heavy metals, which include mercury, lead, aluminum, and copper, are able to damage brain tissue and compromise metabolism. According to Raymond J. Wenzel, coauthor of The Earth’s Gift to Medicine: Minerals in Health and Disease, these metals are linked to depression and other mood disorders.

Since World War II, Americans have been heavily exposed to copper because of the use of copper piping in modern homes. Mercury exposure has become widespread due to the use of vaccines and dental amalgams, which are 50 percent mercury, and increased electrical power generation.

Lead in gasoline and paint was widely used, but was eliminated in the 1970s due to serious health concerns. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead is still widely used in some commercial products, and is a serious health problem for people living in urban areas, near factories, or in older buildings.

According to Dr. Anita Pepi, D.C., aluminum exposure comes from over-the-counter medications such as aspirin and antacids, hygiene products such as antiperspirants and douches, food additives, stainless steel cookware, and foods cooked or stored in aluminum pots or foil.

Aluminum toxicity can cause nervous disorders, aching muscles, speech problems, memory loss, digestive problems, anemia, and lowered kidney and liver function, says Dr. Pepi, and the Alzheimer’s Society has concluded that there is circumstantial evidence linking this metal to Alzheimer’s disease. Aluminum has been exempted from safety testing by the FDA, and there are currently no restrictions on the amount or use of aluminum in commercial products.

Our body manufactures a protein called metallothionein, which removes these heavy metals from the body. In the process, the protein depletes zinc, compromising the manufacture of important brain proteins, including neurotransmitters. Zinc deficiency is associated with mental and nervous system disorders.

Orthomolecular medicine may be used to remove heavy metals from the body. This is achieved by stimulating the thyroid and adrenal glands, the liver, kidneys, and bowel. There are several ways to accomplish this. A study published in the Journal of Toxicological Sciences showed that the blue-green algae chlorella can expel mercury from the body and cleanse the liver, bowel, and blood. Other detoxifying supplements include N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), trace mineral formulas, fiber, enzymes, and probiotics. Antioxidants can also help to prevent the damage caused by free radicals resulting from heavy metal toxicity.

According to several studies, including one from 1991 published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, supplementing with essential fatty acids, particularly the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, was shown to benefit people suffering with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other mood and behavioral disorders. These fats make up 60 percent of the dry weight of the brain and are responsible for the development of the modern human brain. They are important components of nerve cell walls and are involved in neurotransmitter activity.

Most people have an imbalanced ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s. A healthy ratio is around 3:1, but it is estimated that as many as nine out of ten people have a 10:1 or even a 20:1 ratio. According to Dr. Gabe Mirkin, practicing physician, radio talk show host, and bestselling author of The Healthy Heart Miracle, this high ratio can cause inflammation, blood clots, constricted arteries, and increased risk for heart attack and stroke. It can also worsen symptoms of arthritis and psoriasis, and block our ability to respond to insulin, leading to high blood sugar, obesity, and diabetes.

According to Dr. Raymond J. Pataracchia of the Naturopathic Medical Research Clinic, in the majority of mental health cases, the adrenal and thyroid glands are compromised. In a depressed patient, both of these glands are less active and show common symptoms.

The adrenals are involved in the stress response, metabolism of sugar, regulation of blood pressure, electrolyte balance, and metabolism of sex hormones. Symptoms of low adrenal functioning include low stress tolerance, lack of pleasure, addiction, dizziness, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, PMS, PMDD, phobias, post-traumatic stress, and skin conditions.

Low thyroid activity is a common factor in mood disorders and often psychosis. Our brains rely heavily on the thyroid hormone in order to regulate the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepenephrine. Thyroid hormone production slows or shuts down when we are under stress. Symptoms of this can include fatigue, depression, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, weight gain, poor memory, indigestion, impaired mental function, PMS, and PMDD.

Orthomolecular physicians correct this problem by prescribing supplements that offer thyroid and adrenal support. These include iodine, iron, zinc, selenium, MSM, DHEA, digestive enzymes, vitamins A, C, E, B2, B3, and B6.

Author's Bio: 

Michael Locklear is the cofounder of The Global Peace Project, and has served as its President since 1986. He is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Total Health, and he has conducted more than thirty years of research into the science of the mind, health and nutrition, human behavior, and emotional well-being. He exposes the lies propagated by the government, medical professionals, the food industry, and the media and unveils the truth about what it takes to break the hypnotic trances that block our ability to achieve total health, wealth, and happiness.

For information on Michael’s research, visit his site,, which provides well-researched and scientifically supported advice on how to achieve a balance of the mind, brain, and body, resulting in total health.