As suggested in the title the amino acids we are interested in are those which will help us understand how to overcome depression. Specifically, the ones we will focus on are sulfur containing amino acids as well as tryptophan.
What are amino acids anyway?
Amino acids are what proteins are made of. To put that into context, they are the basic building blocks of life and make up about 3/4’s of our physique. The presence of the right amino acids and the proteins built from them is essential for every chemical reaction that takes place in our bodies.
Just about every bodily function is dependent on amino acids. Some of them are essential, which means that our bodies cannot produce them. Hence, if we don’t get them in a bio-available form from what we eat we will suffer dysfunction of one form or another.
In understanding how to overcome depression the most important amino acids are the sulfur containing amino acids, methionine, cysteine and cystine, as well as the aforementioned tryptophan. Methionine and tryptophan are essential and the other two are only in certain cases.
Let’s begin with tryptophan, which is a precursor of serotonin the “feel good” hormone. A precursor is a compound, which is essential to a chemical reaction which produces another compound. Serotonin, as I mentioned in a previous article on how to overcome depression, is what most of the currently popular antidepressant drugs attempt to emulate.
Tryptophan is commonly found in protein based foods and a well balanced diet should provide sufficient quantities. To make use of the tryptophan the diet must include methionine and, for some, cysteine as these amino acids are essential for neuronal connectivity.
All three of these amino acids work synergistic-ally to facilitate transporting the hormone serotonin across the blood-brain barrier. This is, in fact, the massive challenge pharmaceutical companies have in producing drugs to alleviate symptoms of depression.
In order for their drugs to get across the blood-brain barrier they must be designed to circumvent the natural processes designed to protect our most important organ! This, in my opinion, is why they often can produce such horrendous side effects.
Regular exercise has always been an effective way to combat depression. This has not only been clinically proven but research has uncovered why and how. Ironically, many depressed patients are prescribed selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRI’s), which I have written about previously.
The problem is that they have been shown to cause fatigue, which leads to inactivity. Just as sure as exercise alleviates depression, inactivity leads to it. Studies to remedy this problem have led researchers to discover that physical exercise improves dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmission.
These two hormones naturally produced by our bodies and improved by exercise, act much the same way as the aforementioned amino acids in transporting the serotonin across the blood-brain barrier. Researchers have further hypothesized that the effect is reciprocal.
Which means to say that improved transmission of dopamine and norepinephrine, in turn, enhances both the ability and motivation to exercise. This is not only a classical example of your “win-win” situation it is also a remarkable demonstration of the vast superiority of natural methods over manufactured drugs.
Let’s face it some depression, shall we call it “psychological depression,” is natural. It is nature’s way of dealing with traumatic events like the loss of a loved one. If these depressive events have no underlying nutritional cause they generally dissipate with time. Of course, the length of time differs with personalities and severity of the event.
On the other hand persistent “non- psychological depression” may well be caused by a lack of essential nutrients. My first recommendation is always aimed at natural solutions usually through diet and exercise. I am aware that not everybody can find the time for or stay motivated to regular exercise.
After a significant amount of research into how the corporatization of the food industry has affected our diet and health I concede that it is a major and time intensive challenge to ensure a well balanced diet these days.
Even though tryptophan is so common in both animal and vegetable based protein foods, natural tryptophan supplements are found beneficial by the vast majority of people who take them. This clearly demonstrates there are some essential elements missing in our nutrition or lifestyles or perhaps both.
On the other hand the sulfur containing amino acids, methionine and cysteine have their best source in meat and egg yolks. Due to media induced fear of cholesterol many people avoid these foods. If you fear there is not sufficient of these in your diet, supplements of methionine and cysteine are also available.
How exercise can help fight depression
Wall Street Journal
May. 10, 2005
Increased monoaminergic neurotransmission improves compliance with physical activity recommendations in depressed patients with fatigue.
Stenman E, Lilja A
The Centre for Primary Health Care Research, Lund University, Malmö, Sweden.