We all get down in the dumps sometimes. Life has a way of coming along and producing strong emotions like stress, tension and sadness. Along the entire range of human emotions, each one has its place. After all, you can’t really experience the sweet without knowing a bit of sadness and emotional difficulty.
However, this type of sadness or hopelessness shouldn’t be a long-standing fixture in your life. When depression takes hold and begins interfering with your life, it’s important to take steps to relieve the symptoms and regain feelings of happiness, fulfillment and control of your world.
Treatment options for depression include modern pharmaceuticals, talk therapy, lifestyle changes and a range of vitamins, supplements and over the counter substances – many of which fall in the category of nootropics.
Many of the medications that fall within the standard line of treatment for depression come with significant known side effects. For this reason, those who suffer with depression are sometimes hesitant to jump on board with a medication with long list of adverse effects, especially if their condition indicates that treatment may be long term.
Concerns like these have prompted a renewed interest in alternative methods of treatment for depression. The use of nootropics in treating depressive disorders is an area of research that has been gaining more traction in recent years.
What are nootropics, and how can they be used in the effective treatment of the range of depressive disorders? Let’s take a look and find out.
Understanding the Many Layers of Depression
Depression is a disease that is often misunderstood. According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 17.3 million adults over the age of 18 in the United States have had at least one depressive episode. This number is significant, but it pales in comparison to the worldwide statistics.
The prevalence of depressive disorders is alarming enough on its own, but the issue becomes even more complex when we stop to consider that depression wears many faces, with layers that go deeper than many of us realize.
An article by Harvard Medical School lists six of the most common types of depressive conditions. These include:
- Major depression
- Persistent depressive disorder
- Bi-polar disorder
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- Perinatal/postpartum depression
- PMDD, a condition associated with severe premenstrual syndrome
Each type of depression can affect the individual in different ways. For example, symptoms of depression may include feelings of persistent sadness, guilt, fatigue, loss of focus, inability to make decision, pessimistic outlook, lack of self-esteem, appetite changes and thoughts of self-harm – just to name a few.
The Impact of Depression
What we don’t often stop and consider is the real impact of depression. Depression can settle in and affect every aspect of a person’s life. In a person who is experiencing true clinical depression, it doesn’t take long for the disease to reach out and begin affecting others around them.
The reach of depression often makes the condition even worse. It’s bad enough to be in experiencing the depths of depression but realizing how it is affecting those around you can cause it to spiral out of control.
To illustrate, we can look at one of the most common types of depressive disorders – major depression. A person with this type of depression will often find themselves in an incredibly dark place, one that feels devoid of interest in life and those things we normally find pleasurable. These changes can also greatly affect those closest to the person with the disease.
According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, women – who are often the emotional support for their family and friends – are almost twice as likely to suffer from depression than men.
There are other far reaching effects of depression that we don’t always consider. For instance, depression is considered the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is also the cause of two-thirds of suicides that occur in the United States.
Getting past the stigma, along with the continued research and acceptance of alternative treatment for depression, are huge factors in supporting and building a community around those who suffer from depression. The use of nootropics can be a valuable support component.
Am I Just Sad?
This is the question that many people ask. How can you tell the difference between normal, often healthy, bouts of sadness and a true depressive disorder. Technically speaking, if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression that last for two weeks, or have repeated bouts of symptoms, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about what you’re experiencing.
Sadness on the other hand, is completely normal in the range of human emotions. Sadness, when not related to clinical depression, is an emotion that’s usually triggered by a stressful, emotional or traumatic time in a person’s life.
The trigger for sadness might be something relatively minor, say feeling a little sad and hopeless after failing an exam you studied so hard for. Sadness can also be triggered by major life events, such as divorce, loss of a loved one, or grown children leaving the nest.
There’s a fine line between the sadness that occurs with a major life event and clinical depression. A person who has just lost someone close to them is obviously going to be sad for more than two weeks, which technically puts them in the category of being clinically depressed.
Likewise, a person dealing with extreme financial difficulties may experience long term sadness in relation to their financial situation, but not have those emotions carry over into other parts of their lives. Situations like these are the gray areas where sadness and depression intermingle.
Of course, only a qualified health professional can make a proper assessment, and if you’re feeling prolonged feelings of sadness, regardless of whether you can identify a cause, speaking with someone who can give you a proper diagnosis is certainly advised.
That said, most people who are experiencing sadness can find relief in certain activities – even if just briefly.
The person who failed the exam might feel better by venting to a guidance counselor and working towards finding a solution. A person who has lost a loved one might feel better by crying and talking to a support group. With sadness, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and you know life will carry on, even if it carries on differently than the way you have known.
Because sadness is considered a “normal” emotion, there isn’t much in the scope of medical treatments that help alleviate the symptoms. Sadness can be cathartic, and this cleansing can leave us feeling restored, with a new perspective on life. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to suffer through it unassisted.
Most doctors aren’t going to prescribe a medication for sadness. But there are vitamins, herbs and supplements that you can take to alleviate the symptoms of sadness while you process through the emotions. Nootropics have been shown to treat symptoms of sadness and depression alike.
Are Nootropics Alternative Solutions to Medications Used for Depression?
Nootropics is a bit of a buzzword in both the medical and alternative health communities today. Nootropics as a subject are a little complex to understand. We use the word “nootropic” to describe a class of substances, including vitamins, herbs, natural supplements and some prescription medications, that have an affect on cognitive function.
You’ve probably heard of them referred to as “smart drugs”. As nootropics have picked up steam, and media coverage, the list of substances that are considered to fall under this class has also grown. If you’ve been considering adding nootropics to health centered routine, it’s important to understand that they are not a one-size-fits-all solution.
For instance, CoQ10 is considered a nootropic, and according to the Mayo Clinic, it has a very low risk profile for most people. On the other end of the spectrum are nootropics that are either more tightly regulated or need to be. For example, Huperzine A is a nootropic that has the capacity to alter brain chemistry and may be addictive.
Individuals who are suffering from depression need to use caution in choosing a nootropic to help ease their symptoms. Having a depressive disorder has been connected to a higher risk of addictive behaviors, as well as the development of certain diseases. It’s key to find a nootropic that supports your health and well-being, rather than one that works against it.
It’s also important to note that nootropics shouldn’t be viewed as a cure for depression. Depression can be caused by a number of factors, and it’s often necessary to look at treating depression from a medical standpoint that takes physiological factors into consideration.
What nootropics can do is ease your symptoms of depression and help you get on the path to healing. Keep in mind that the way nootropics work to ease the symptoms of depression is often through the very same mechanisms and pathways used by pharmaceuticals for depression. They are powerful, and they may interfere with medications you’re already taking.
None of these warnings are to scare you off. In fact, they’re here to make your experience of using nootropics in easing the symptoms of depression a more positive one.
There is plenty of science backing up the use of nootropics in the treatment of depression, with research continually taking place. Keeping in mind what we know now, let’s take a look at some of the best nootropics for relieving the symptoms of depression.
Best Nootropics for Depression
While there are clinical definitions of depression, the disease affects each person differently. Even within the medical community, there isn’t a one-size-fits-most approach to treating depression as there is for many other mental health conditions. Often, the effective treatment of depression requires an individualized approach and plenty of trial and error.
Unfortunately, treatment for depression is out of reach for many people. An NPR article points out that there are more than 350 million people who are affected by depression, yet an overwhelming majority of them don’t receive treatment due to a number of barriers, both real and perceived.
Nootropics offer an accessible, real solution to depression for many people who suffer with the condition. While nootropics aren’t a substitute for proper medical care and diagnosis, nootropics offer a glimmer of hope for people who are suffering silently due to lack of medical resources, fear of the stigma or are simply unaware of how severe their condition is.
Depression isn’t a disease that should be taken lightly, and any nootropic you use to help ease your symptoms should be well researched and backed by science. To streamline your personal research, here are 5 nootropics that are best known for having a healing effect on depression.
The cognitive boosting effects of nootropics is one of the primary reasons that their use has become so popular today. When it comes to the nootropics that are currently available, Aniracetam is one of the first that many people reach for.
Aniracetam behaves as a positive modulator on certain excitatory receptors, and as a result, produces extended neurological stimulation. While aniracetam is reported to have a calming effect, it has also been shown to reduce depressive tendencies and work as an overall mood and memory enhancer.
The method through which Aniracetam works to counter depression is an area that still demands a great deal of research. It is believed however, that the nootropic creates a balance between the two hemispheres of the brain, and possibly enhances blood flow to the areas of the brain that influence depressive tendencies and behaviors.
Kava is tropical shrub that’s native to the South Pacific. Many people are at least somewhat familiar with Kava, even if their exposure is limited to seeing it on the shelf of their local pharmacy or supplement store. In its native region, Kava has a long-standing reputation of producing a relaxed, sedative effect in people who take it. This is due to an active ingredient in the root of the plant called kavalactones.
While Kava is often considered an effective treatment for anxiety, it also has a soothing and restorative effective on the symptoms of depression. According to Mental Health America, Kava has been shown in placebo controlled studies to be both effective and well tolerated in the treatment of depression – including co-occurring conditions, such as insomnia, stress and phobias.
N-Acetyl Cysteine is an amino acid that helps to regulate the amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in what motivates us and how we perceive rewards.
You know that feeling you get after landing your dream job or crossing the finish line in your first race? You can thank dopamine for those feel-good sensations.
When dopamine levels are low, or out of balance, it can create a situation where a person feels hopeless, helpless and unmotivated – all major signals of depression. N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) has been shown to affect dopamine production in a positive way.
Nootropics can be a valuable tool for people with mild to moderate depressive disorders. However, there are also studies, like the one published in the Biological Psychology journal that indicate N-Acetyl Cysteine is beneficial in relieving the depressive symptoms of more severe mental conditions, such as bi-polar disorder
Adrafinil is a synthetic nootropic that’s considered a dietary supplement in the United States. Originally developed to treat narcolepsy and extreme daytime sleepiness, Adrafinil was replaced by Modafinil as the treatment of choice for those conditions.
Adrafinil is known for promoting wakefulness and focus. The beauty of this nootropic is that is has a stimulant effect but doesn’t seem to produce any noticeable degree of hyperactivity. This makes it an excellent choice for individuals who are feeling bogged down by the symptoms of depression but stay away from other stimulant type supplements due to the hyperactive, anxious feeling they produce.
Like many of the other nootropics that are good for anxiety, Adrafinil helps to increase and balance dopamine and serotonin production. In addition to this, it also targets another neurotransmitter called hypocretin, which is important for maintaining peak levels of physical and mental energy – both of which are key for fighting depression.
Depression can take many forms. Some people deal with chronic depression their entire lives, while others are plagued for shorter periods caused by trauma or some other type of triggering event. Anti-depressant medications have an important place in modern medicine, but many people prefer to try something a little gentler at first, like Rhodiola Rosea.
Rhodiola Rosea is an herbal remedy that has been used for centuries as a mood enhancer and to increase endurance, especially in times of stress. Rhodiola Rosea has been looked at in comparison to an SSRI called sertraline.
In the study, Rhodiola Rosea had an antidepressant effect, although not as significant as what was noted in sertraline use. The advantage that Rhodiola Rosea did have over the SSRI was that it was significantly better tolerated and produced fewer adverse side effects, giving it a more favorable risk/benefit profile for treating depression.
Gaining Control Over Depression
Depression is one of the most common diseases in the entire world and when it presents itself, it has the capacity to destroy lives. It’s a powerful disease with a grip that’s difficult to loosen. As a society, we all need to do our part in raising awareness about depression and eliminating the stigma that prevents people from getting the care they need.
We need better solutions for depression, and the use of nootropics is an emerging area of science that looks promising. It’s time to rethink our approach and be more open to solutions that give us our power back over depression.
Again, if you’re suffering from depression, please reach out to someone. You’re not alone, you’re not broken and there is help. Reach out to a doctor, friend or trusted support person and let them help you receive the care you need. Depression requires a multi-direction approach to treatment, which nootropics can be an effective part of.
Angel Woodyard has a degree in biology, with a focus on genetics and an insatiable curiosity for neuroscience. She is also the owner and chief content strategist at Flourish Content Services, and has devoted several years of her career to writing articles and eBooks centered on health, natural healing and promoting sustainable, healthy lifestyles.