Are There Safe Alternatives to Antidepressant Drugs? by Julia Ross

Serotonin deficiency is far and away the most common mood problem we see at our Recovery System Clinic in Mill Valley, California.  Serotonin starvation is a virtual epidemic in North America, inflicting its unique brand of dark-cloud misery on people of all ages, sexes and walks of life.

The reason that serotonin  is so emotionally vital is that it is our primary defense against both depression and anxiety.  Serotonin deficiency is a factor in many seemingly unrelated psychological and physical symptoms, ranging from panic and irritability to insomnia, PMS and muscle pain.  Some “dark cloud” types have only a few of the possible deficiency symptoms but many have almost all of them.  Yet they tend to function well, typically getting more done because of their tendency toward perfectionism, than other, less mood-impaired people.  As a result, they often assume that they are just stuck with some unfortunate but indelible personality quirks and try to work around them.  Some try serotonin-boosting drugs, like Prozac, with mixed results and resign themselves to a somewhat better but still limited emotional life.

However, concerns about eh safety of even the most common antidepressant medications are reaching an all time high since 2003 when Prozac and similar drugs Paxil, Effector’s, and Zoloft were banned for use by UK children due to their side effects and increased risk  of suicide.  This prompted the FDA to issue warnings about Paxil for use by US children.  Amidst the concern about the safety of these drugs, mental health professional and their patients have been looking hard for alternative solutions.

Fortunately, there are safe yet surprisingly effective alternatives to these controversial drugs.  This alternative approach is based on 25 years of clinical experience.  In the early 80’s when I began directing counselling programs in the San Francisco Bay Area, I discovered that even the most intensive counselling techniques were often no match for clients’ depression and anxiety.  Unlike most other psychotherapists, who have also come to acknowledge the limitations of conventional counselling approaches, I did not turn to pharmaceuticals for help.  Instead, I began hiring nutritionists and exploring research on how the brain uses specific ingredients in protein-containing foods to produce its own potent natural antidepressant, notably serotonin.  By 1988, my Recovery Clinic staff and I had began to recommend a high protein diet and amino acid supplements targeted to the specific brain cells that produce serotonin, as well as the three other primary mood-enhancing neurotransmitters:  endorphins, catecholamines, and GABA.  Most importantly, they found that the amino acid 5HTP (5 hydroxy tryptophan) quickly decreased winter and year-round depression and other symptoms of serotonin deficiency.  The effects of inexpensive and readily available 5HTP could typically be felt within 24 hours, just as the research studies had indicated.  A study by Eli Lilly, published in 2001, showed that 5HTP increased serotonin activity more that four times more effectively that Prozac did.  Head-to-head clinical studies have found 5HTP at least as effective as SSRI’s without the side effects.

In my book, The Mood Cure,  I note that research on the positive mood impact of omega-3 fats and other key nutrients like the antidepressant B vitamin, folic acid, had made for even more effective nutritional brain repair.  In a review of 100 of our clinic’s clients, published in the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry in 2001, 98 percent experienced a dramatic improvement in mood within seven days.


Not only does this holistic approach offer methods to improve mood, the same methods can also stop carb cravings and eliminate weight gain.  Since most antidepressants are now known to contribute to weight gain, this is double good news for those with both mood-boosting and weight-loss goals.  The use of amino acids and other nutrient supplements can make “good-mood foods” like protein and vegetables more appealing than “bad-mood foods” like ice cream and pasta.  It turns out that these key nutrients-by turning up our comforting neurotransmitters-turn off our cravings for comfort foods.  When a well-nourished brain begins transmitting a new sense of well-being, we simply don’t need the lift we used to get from carbs.

Exercise Demonstrations

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Want more out of life? Start by CLEARING CLUTTER!

Adele, a 45-year-old single woman who was obese, desired to lose weight at all costs. She was plagued with angina, diabetes and elevated cholesterol levels and had arthritis in her knees. She had all the right motivations for her to lose weight and appeared very committed. After each session with her holistic psychologist, she left with all the best intentions of exercising daily, preparing healthy meals for herself and going out and meeting new people. Unfortunately, these best intentions only lated until she arrived home after each of her sessions. She arrived at home feeling completely de-energized, would microwave two TV dinners and collapse on the couch in front of the television. She would stay there all evening, sleep all night on the couch and painfully wake up at 6 a.m. to go to work. Needless to say, her energy level was consistently low and self-confidence was even lower. She was in a vicious spiral that was only getting worse. Traditional diets, exercise therapist and psychotherapy all failed to get to the root cause of her health condition.

According to applied kinesiology, it was determined that environmental factors played a significant part in causing her weight problem and depression. It turned out that Adele was a pack rat. She saved everything from last year’s newspapers to utility bills for the last 12 years. Her living environment was chaotic with her kitchen table completely invaded by papers and miscellaneous objects. She had no room to prepare food, let alone eat. Although this environment may appear unliveable to most, to Adele, this was her normal everyday life. It is no surprise that she felt so depressed and continued to gain weight. Her environment was actually toxic to her well-being. Her clutter prevented her from seeing and acting clearly. She couldn’t possibly work on improving herself when her environment was a constant reminder of hr being stuck in her past. In order for Adele to recover, she needed to get some help fro numerous people to clear out the clutter in her home and life. Once she let go of the old, it was almost magical that she started to feel emotionally and physically lighter. Her weight problem is now under control and she is able to enjoy a better quality of life in a healthier home.

Are you like Adele? Do you feel tired, drained, unmotivated in a specific room or place? Do you often get a sense that you can’t wait to leave your space? Do you hold on to objects, clothes, papers and miscellaneous items in the hope that maybe one day you will use them again? Thetruth is taht the items you are hoarding are taking up your precious space, energy, time and money as well as adding stress to your life.

Make the decision to clear out the clutter from you environment. Remember that by giving and letting go of the old, you are making room for new, positive occurrences in your life. As soon as you feel stuck in an aspect of your life it’s time to clear out clutter. Whether you want to have more friends, more money, a new partner, a better job or improved health, start by de-cluttering.

Begin reducing the amount of clutter in your house. Throw it away, give it away, donate it to charity; it doesn’t matter how, just get rid of it. Remember the three golden rules of de-cluttering:

1. If you haven’t used/worn/needed it during the past two years, you don’t need it. Throw it out.

2. Surround yourself only with items that you find enhance your life in some way. If an item doesn’t truly inspire you with its beauty or symbolism…get rid of it.

3. Start small. Plan to clear out one drawer at a time, once a week. Once you start you may want to do more.

Letting to is a powerful action that generates freedom, peace and empowerment. Letting go also attracts abundance and manifestations of what we seek to create. Clearing clutter clears a pathway to personal well-being, authentic communication and a connection to the natural flow of life. Let’s get cleaning.

Flax Facts

From the cereals and baked goods we eat to the beauty products we use, flax is popping up everywhere. Why is this seed getting so much attention?

Although flaxseed has recently been praised for its many health benefits, it has been around for more than 4,000 years. It was used by Hippocrates in 650 BC for the relief of intestinal discomfort. Today, research shows that this sweet and nut-flavoured seed provides essential nutrients, including protein (20 percent), essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and fibre that all help protect our health.

Why eat Flax?

Omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds are the richestplant source for omega-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). About 41 percent of the seedis oil, of which 57 percent is omega-3 and 16 percent is omega-6.

Omega-3 fats have been shown to protect against heart disease and cancer, improve immune function, fight inflammation and helps ease the symptoms of rheumatiod arthritis and depression. In a study at the University of Toronto, healthy women ate 50 grams of milled flaxseed a day for 4 weeks. Results showed that total blood cholesteral levels dropped by 9 percent and LDL (the bad cholesterol) decreased by 18 percent.

Lignans. Flaxseed is the richest known source of lignans, naturally occuring plant estrogens that are thought to relieve symptoms of menopause as well as protect against cancer of the breast, prostate and colon. The shell has a very high concentration of lignans, whichare not present in significant amount in flaxseed oil unless groung flaxseeds have been added to the oil.

Fibre. Flaxseeds contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, about three grams of total fibre per serving. Insoluble fibre helps improve laxation, prevent constipation and reduce the risk of colon cancer. In the University of Toronto study, bowel movements of the participants increased by 30 percent per week while subjects consumed muffins with 50 grams of flaxseed daily for 4 weeks.

The soluble fibre in flaxseed is mucilage, a thick, sticky substance that con lower blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels.

Recommended Amounts:

According th the Flax Council of Canada, a daily intake of about 1-2 tablespoons of ground flax or 1-2 teaspoons of flax oil is likely to achieve the health benefits reported in clinical studies.


1. Ground flaxseeds are more readily absorbed and easier to digest that whole.

2. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are sensitive to light and heat, so keep them refrigerated in an airtight, opaque container.

3. Sprinkle roasted, ground flaxseeds on cereals, yogurt, cottage cheese, salads or use them for baking breads or muffins.

4. Add flax meal to casseroles such as pasta dishes and meat loaves or to breading on meats for baking.

5. Flaxseed oil is best used in cold foods such as salad dressings or smoothies.