While depression is not new, the numbers affected have risen and the age group affected has dropped dramatically in the past few decades. The National Institutes of Mental Health notes that prior to World War II, depression typically affected people in their 50s. Today it occurs most among 24- to 44-year-olds.
In the 1980s, statistics began to show a startling increase in depression among young children and a dramatic increase in teenage suicides.
Research on the brains of suicide victims has indicated that they tend to have an abnormality in the production and use of serotonin, one of the many chemical messengers that brain cells use to communicate. Other research indicates that while the tendency to suffer from depression may be inherited, it is also impacted by biochemical and environmental influences, such as the reduced light during the winter months which results in seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in some people.
The Diet Connection
We can’t tell you that the Feingold diet will help depression, because there has not been enough research on such a connection; we can, however, tell you that hundreds of parents have reported that their own or their child’s depression has been lifted by simply removing the additives.
Omega-3 fatty acids, available in fish oil supplements, appear to have had a profound effect on helping people who suffer from a variety of mental disorders. During a clinical trial of fish oil and depression at Harvard University, the improvements were so favorable for those taking the fish oil that the study was stopped before completion, and omega-3 fatty acids were given to all of the 44 participants.
Fish oil is rich in the fatty acids which are believed to be vital for proper functioning of the brain, the eyes, the arteries, and virtually all parts of the body. They are essential in building and repairing cells.
Side effect of medication
Depression or irritability are often listed as side effects of medications. If you or your child are taking any medications – orally, by injection, or even eye drops – ask your pharmacist for a listing of all (not just the most common) side effects. Although we usually assume that if there is going to be a side effect it will happen with the first dose of medication, this is not always true. A side effect of the hair loss drug propecia, for example, involves depression that may not start until after the person has been on the drug for 9 months! If you believe that you (or your child) may be suffering depression as a side effect of a medication, discuss alternatives with your doctor. Remember to never stop medication on your own, because that may be dangerous.
For many years the public has been urged to reduce their intake of fat in order to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of a heart attack. Cholesterol-reducing drugs are among the most-prescribed drugs in the United States, and suggestions have been made to begin prescribing them for children as well.
However, newer studies have raised questions about the assumption that less is better – it appears that when cholesterol is reduced, the risk of a heart attack may be reduced, but the risk of depression and violent behavior increases. One theory is that low cholesterol is associated with a decrease in serum free tryptophan, the primary building block of the brain chemical serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are strongly linked to depression, suicide, and impulsive aggression. Steegmans (1996) found that plasma serotonin concentrations are lower in men with naturally low serum cholesterol concentrations than in men with average cholesterol concentrations, supporting the hypothesis that “serotonin metabolism may be implicated in the observed association between low cholesterol concentrations, behavioral changes, and violent death.”