Depression: A disease of energy production

Depression is often considered complex problem, but many so called experts overlook and ignore the nutritional aspects of depression. One wonders why, because it is well known that the precursors to the neurotransmitters in the brain, their enzymes and coenzymes (vitamins and minerals) all derive from the food we eat.

We cannot expect psychotherapy to be of much help if indeed depression is a biological disorder. Yet, drug therapy does not treat the underlying biochemical imbalance and most patients are advised that they may have to take drugs for the rest of their life. With the inevitable side effects of drugs it does not provide an optimistic future. Thus according to the drug and/or psychotherapy model, depression is incurable. This of course could benefit the pharmaceutical corporations and their investors who benefit from the rise of degenerative (incurable) diseases in the community, including depression.

The alternative is to look and investigate an alternative model that relies less on the drug/psychotherapy model. The psycho-nutritional model aims to look at the causes of depression from both a nutritional and biochemical point of view.

We could start off with the idea that all biochemical machinery in our body - including in brain cells - is driven along by energy. The molecule of energy is called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), that could be compared to a biological battery. An active cell in the body may use up as much as 2 million molecules of ATP per second, and hence biological energy is very important to us. When it gives up its energy it becomes adenosine diphosphate (ADP). The only way to recharge that battery is through nutrition.

The source of all energy is ultimately glucose found in food sources, that is then converted along a biochemical pathway - called glycolysis - by 13 or so biochemical reactions to form ATP. At each step proteins, enzymes, coenzymes, all derived form food, are necessary to complete the biochemical conversion to the next step. Thus there may be many biochemical reasons why the body has problems manufacturing its energy sources, to produce for instance serotonin - our happy hormone. And without energy we become depressed!

Thus if we are deficient in vitamin B6, - a coenzyme involved in the conversion of tryptophan (found in food) to serotonin - then this could be a factor in us becoming depressed. This is especially so if we are using xenobiotic drugs (strangers to our body) that requires high doses of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) for detoxification purposes.

There are of course a host of other nutrients - such as magnesium, vitamin B3 (niacin), zinc and chromium, essential fatty acids - that are necessary in the synthesis of a many other neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine.

Fortunately, we can simplify the problem by the fact that most of the obstruction in energy production occurs at the entrance point of glycolysis (glucose metabolism) that starts with the ingestion of various forms of sugars. In the Western world with the high sugar consumption hidden in all foods, we should not be too surprised to find a connection between sugar intake and depression.

It has been found that most people with depression have hypoglycemia or what is better called insulin resistance. When you have insulin resistance receptors for insulin fail to respond properly to insulin’s action of pushing glucose (along with other nutrients) across cell membranes into cells for conversion to ATP. In severe insulin resistance it may lead to diabetes type II.

For instance, SAM-e (S-Adenosylmethionine), a well-known antidepressant nutritional supplement, is a major methyl group (CH3) donator that alters the structure and function of other chemicals in the synthesis of many neurotransmitters, affecting moods and personality.

SAM-e is produced when methionine combines with a molecule of energy (ATP).

Thus people with insulin resistance (hypoglycemia) are likely to be inadequate in in SAM-e concentrations, and this could be responsible for depression and other forms of mental illness.

Insulin resistance (hypoglycemia) causes a steep rise in blood sugar concentrations (hyperglycemia), that will trigger more release of insulin from the pancreas (hyperinsulinism). This is then followed by a sudden crash in blood sugar levels, called hypoglycemia. The brain is now threatened with energy starvation and sends hormonal messages to the adrenal gland to rapidly increase adrenaline into the system. The latter stress hormones converts stored glucose molecules (glycogen) back into glucose to feed the brain again. This all happens in a blink of an eye.

The wild fluctuations in blood sugar levels, along with insulin and stress hormones, are said to be responsible for the mood swings, anxiety attacks, phobias, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, insomnia, shakes and all forms of mental illness. And treatment is so simple!!!!

The hypoglycemic syndrome can be treated without recourse to drugs by the adoption of the hypoglycemic diet, that will in time (maybe three months) normalize blood sugar, insulin and stress hormone levels.
However, when you have been using drugs it may take longer, for the body needs to rebuild proper receptors (damaged by drugs) for natural neurotransmitters derived from a high protein diet. Thus you should withdraw gradually from drugs under doctor’s supervision only whilst on the hypoglycemic diet.

This model also makes it clear that the idea that depression is caused by some malfunctioning in the brain itself is a misconception. The molecules of emotions - adrenaline, ATP, serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine and so on are produced throughout the body, starting from the digestive system, and controlled by the liver, adrenal glands, pancreas, pituitary and hypothalamus.

And if this sounds all very complicated we can reduce it to a simple formula which says:


A good book with a similar theme is

Pert, Candace B (1988), MOLECULES OF EMOTIONS: Why you feel the way you feel, London: Simon & Schuster

By Jurriaan Plesman BA(Psych), Post Grad Dip Clin Nutr
The Hypoglycemic Health Association of Australia

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD