Depression and Nutritional Health
Last fall I started to feel that my antidepressant medication (Wellbutrin) wasn’t working. I had noticed that I hadn’t really been getting anything done around the house for a while, but things started to get worse. I started actually having depressed thoughts, and having more issues with anxiety. I called my psychiatrist and made an appointment to talk about adjusting my medication or trying another antidepressant.
I was scheduled to meet with my psychiatrist on Christmas Eve. A couple of days before that, I was doing some errands on my lunch hour when I noticed that I was having trouble breathing and heart palpitations. I thought this was somewhat odd, as I didn’t feel at all stressed out. By the end of lunchtime, I was on the phone to my husband, asking him to bring me an asthma inhaler. A few minutes later, I was literally gasping for breath, and an ambulance was called.
At the hospital I was hooked up to oxygen and blood was drawn for a battery of tests. An hour or so later, the nurse came back with six huge tablets. “You’ve very deficient in potassium,” she said. Another hour or so after I swallowed the potassium supplements, I was able to go home. When I followed up with my GP the next day, he explained that potassium is instrumental in regulating our muscle movement. My low potassium, also known as hypokalemia, affected the function of the muscles we use to breathe. He gave me a prescription for potassium supplements and an order for another blood test in six weeks.
I started reading up on low potassium to find out how to prevent this from happening again, and stumbled across something that, upon reflection, I realized I had heard before. Low levels of certain types of nutrients can cause symptoms of anxiety and depression. I already knew that folic acid could help supplement my antidepressant treatment and that there appears to be a link between Vitamin D and depression.
Given that my potassium deficiency was low enough to put me in the hospital, it seemed reasonable to assume that it might also have been causing me to experience a moderately serious bout of depression. Sure enough, by Christmas my depressive thoughts had vanished, although I wasn’t completely back to normal (more on that in a later post).
My potassium deficiency was probably caused partly because my diet is somewhat restricted by my acid reflux. I haven’t had orange juice, a good source of potassium, in a while because for me it’s like drinking a big cup 'o acid. But it’s also possible that one of the prescription or over the counter medicines I take for my Multiple Sclerosis and allergies depleted my potassium.
The main reason that I always urge people to go to a doctor for a depression diagnosis, even if you do not plan to have treatment, is that your depression could have an underlying medical cause. It could be a thyroid condition or it could be a nutritional deficiency.
So if you have been suffering from depression or anxiety symptoms, you might want to have your doctor order a blood test to check for nutritional deficiencies. Sometimes eating well is not enough to prevent a deficiency, so don’t rule out this possibility even if you are eating a balanced diet.
Please note that it is definitely not a good idea to try to treat your depression simply by taking nutritional supplements. There are countless sites online that will tell you that doctors are bad and their supplements are the only way to “cure” your depression. Bear in mind that there is always a chance that you have an undiagnosed medical condition that is causing or contributing to your depression, and get a thorough check-up from your doctor if you haven’t already.
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.