“Interesting about the grasses and grains. While grains seem to be ultimately an unnatural food for humans, have they had a role to play since human brains declined over thousands of years - and are there better alternatives now? I have been taking asphalia , for natural sleep for about a week now. I wake up feeling extrordinarily refreshed - and what’s more i wake up just as early and in fact more easily - which I like as I have a lot of work i want to do before the children wake up and if I go to bed early i have had enough sleep long before dawn. This had been a concern when I was considering taking it. With synthetic melatonin supplements I have felt groggy in the morning. I feel a kind of increased calmness and clarity about life” Holly
Depression: is it real? Or just invented by the pharmaceutical industry?
In olden days there was melancholy, one of the four “humours” of mankind. It came from the
Greek words for “black bile”, so physicians in the middle ages firmly linked a sad and low
spirited emotional mood to a biochemical substance. Nowadays we speak of depressive
illness, bipolar syndrome, manic depressive illness, and there are statistics claiming to show
that it is on the increase. Depression even has an Emperor’s Clothes-like new name “Unipolar
A recent article in the Guardian by psychiatrist Paul Keedwell (27 February 2008) argued that
actually, depression is good for us because it makes us confront the reality of our lives,
instead of living in a euphoric mist of self-confidence and false and potentially destructive
self-esteem. Self-doubt, it would appear, is cathartic.
In the same issue of the Guardian, Darian Leader, reviewing (with arguably more importance)
the creation of the Prozac myth, reported that drugs companies like Eli Lilly have been
peddling anti-depressants with such success that some 40 million users have taken Prozac in
the 20 years since its launch, and millions more before them have been prescribed with
Librium and Valium. It now turns out that Prozac, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor
(“SSRI”) performs little if any better than a placebo. That Librium and Valium are strongly
addictive. And that Seroxat, another popularly prescribed anti-depressant peddled by Glaxo
Smith Kline (GSK), may even cause a sevenfold increase in the likelihood of suicide in young
people, a grim fact the makers knew and were censured for covering it up for many years.
Thousands of people have complained of severe withdrawal symptoms including nausea,
dizziness and agitation after trying to give up the drug, which is an SSRI like Prozac.
GSK says that Seroxat does not cause dependence because patients do not crave the drug or
need increasing doses to feel good as they would if they were addicted to heroin. But a court
in the US in 2002 banned television adverts for the drug, which claimed it was “non habit
What a world we now live in!
What are these SSRIs? How do they work? According to Wikipaedia, SSRIs increase the extracellular
level of the neurotransmitter serotonin by inhibiting its reuptake into the presynaptic cell, increasing
the level of serotonin available to bind to the postsynaptic receptor. They have varying degrees of
selectivity for the other monoamine transporters, having little binding affinity for the noradrenaline and
Serotonin, from the Greek word for evening, is sometimes referred to as the bright lights hormone.
When we fall in love our serotonin levels rise significantly. One expert, Prof Abdulla Badawi or
Whitchurch Hospital, Cardiff, pointed out with amusement that this elevated serotonin level lasts
around 2.3 years. And that happens to be exactly the same period as the average love relationship.
Newsletter - April 2008
The corollary of serotonin is melatonin, linked with it by a strong biochemical pathway
including an essential amino acid called tryptophan. It’s the tryptophan in turkey that
promotes the sense of well-being we associate with Christmas. As stated, Tryptophan is an
essential amino acid which means it is not produced by the body but rather must come
strictly from the diet. There are eight essential amino acids and fourteen non-essential amino
acids. The non-essential acids can be made inside the body from other components.
Dietary sources of tryptophan include :
turkey and other meats, soy products, cottage cheese, milk, brown rice and peanuts.
In the brain, tryptophan converts to serotonin, the neuro-transmitter responsible for feelings
of well-being, calmness, personal security, relaxation, confidence and concentration. Decreased
serotonin levels play a key role in the development of depression. The only source
for serotonin in the brain is tryptophan. It cannot be converted from any other substance. If
there is not enough tryptophan in the diet, it can lead to anxiety and depression.
Depleted serotonin levels are responsible for depression and other psychological disturbances,
such as anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, low concentration and low self-esteem. This is
what has increasingly become known as the Serotonin Deficiency Syndrome.
However, some serotonin is converted in the pineal gland to melatonin, which regulates
sleep patterns. Melatonin has been shown to be helpful in getting a good night’s sleep, as
well as a raft of other benefits. Clearly we need some serotonin to synthesise melatonin.
People with manic-depressive syndrome appear to benefit from external supplementation
with melatonin, since that way they do not necessarily need serotonin to make it. Unlike
serotonin moreover, melatonin has no side effects: indeed there are numerous reports
showing that melatonin has consistent calming effects on depressed patients. So why don’t
the drugs companies switch to melatonin? The answer is simply, money. They cannot patent
melatonin, it is too common a chemical, and attempts to make patentable melatonin analogues
have so far failed to avoid serious side effects.
Fortunately a few years back scientists discovered that plants also contain melatonin, and
that this kind of melatonin can be taken up and used by the body. What a surprise! What is
more, it turns out that gramineous species of plants have more melatonin than average. By
gramineous we mean plants like oats, barley, wheat, and wheatgrasses. In other words,
maize, millet, rice, oats, wheat, barley and couscous, - the stable diets of mankind since
Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden (In Genesis, 3: 18 God tells them as he expels them
from there “And thou shall eat the herb of the field”) – could be the best way of overcoming
Could it be then, that God and Nature know more about human psycho-biochemistry than
SFK and Eli Lilly? The moral of this story that if you are feeling a little low it might be better
to take a stroll in a meadow in the countryside and chew on a piece of grass than to pop the
expensive pills peddled by the pharmaceutical industry.
New discoveries about melatonin and depression
Melatonin’s involvement with depression is being better understood with newly emerging
research. Its synthesis is in the pineal gland, and ijn one study the pineal glands of suicide
victims were found to have atrophied and blocked by large calcium deposits. Dr Michael
Stanley at Columbia University reported that suicides had far less melatonin than controls,
especially when the act occurred at night. This is interesting because 13 of 15 studies report
elevated depressive illness among people more than usually exposed to electromagnetic
fields from powerlines and electrical appliances. Only last year an Egyptian University study
also found elevated levels of depression among people living near radiating cellphone masts.
Finally, seven different labs have now reported that melatonin synthesis is inhibited in
animals exposed to these “EMFs”. We measured a recent cluster of 17 suicides among young
persons in and around Bridgend, and found that their homes were only a few hundred
metres from numerous cellphone masts, much nearer than the national average.
From these studies and others reporting that people with high melatonin levels are generally
calmer and have a good sense of wellbeing, it would seem that a healthy supply of melatonin,
whether endogenous or from external sources like plants, protects one against depression.
Traditionally St John’s Wort, which contains high levels of tryptophan, an important precursor
of melatonin, has for centuries been used as an effective anti depressant. More recently
users of our own natural melatonin-rich plant supplement Asphalia frequently report that
they are calmer and more able to face the stresses of modern life. With suicide and
depressive illness becoming “almost an epidemic” to quote the Guardian, it would seem that
such natural remedies could help keep today’s frenetic society on an even keel.