Most thoughtful people who take medication for depression, anxiety, or both do so with mixed emotions. The symptoms of these conditions can be pretty horrible, and when you’re tossed a life preserver in the form of an effective prescription med, you’re thankful to be living at a time when they’re are available.
Of course, good things like symptom relief rarely come without a price. While most users don’t experience the daunting side effects listed on the package insert, they can’t help but wonder what these meds are doing to their brains, especially when taken for years. Still, the thought of the depression/anxiety returning can be so unnerving there’s a justified fear about going off the meds to see what happens.
At a center like WholeHealth Chicago, it’s common to read “I want to get off my medications” written on the reason-for-visit line of our intake form. Not surprisingly, it’s the psych drugs–the SSRI/SNRI antidepressants (Prozac, Effexor and 20 others) and the “-pam/lam” antianxiety meds (diazepam, clonazepam, alprazolam–that lead these lists.
We try to transition patients to gentler products, such as St. John’s wort and SAMe for depression and L-Theanine, GABA, and kava for anxiety. Combined with nutritional counseling, Chinese medicine, homeopathy, and cognitive behavioral therapy, our results have been very encouraging.
Small Pharma: your brain-gut connection
What’s new on the horizon for depression and anxiety is research into the brain-gut connection. And while the phrase “I have a gut feeling” (Yiddish counterpart, “I feel it in my kishkes”) is deeply embedded in our culture, there’s a physiological reason for it too.
Half our body’s neurotransmitters (brain chemicals like serotonin) are made in our nervous system and the other half in our intestines. The white-hot area of research is the gut microbiome, comprising every individual gene of the various species representing the five pounds (!) of bacteria in your intestines. That mix of genes, estimated at about 3 million, is unique to you.
No one else on the planet has your gut microbiome, which is also your personal Small Pharma (as opposed to the Big Pharma manufacturing your Prozac). The molecules produced by your microbiome affect your weight, your immunity, your resistance to a variety of illnesses including cancer, and, yes, your mental health.
One really fascinating clinical study enrolled a group of patients diagnosed with depression or anxiety. Researchers gave half the participants capsules of two probiotics– Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum–and the other half a placebo. Within just one month, the probiotic users reported declines in anxiety, depression, obsessive thinking, paranoid thinking, and anger.
People who take probiotic supplements often take them with a prebiotic supplement to enhance the growth rate of helpful bacteria. (Those who prefer to get probiotics via food—such as fermented dairy products and fermented cabbage–also usually consume prebiotics in the form of vegetables containing soluble fiber, like cauliflower, broccoli, and greens. These act as food for the probiotics.)
One prebiotic product, galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), specifically increases the population of bifidobacter. Although GOS has not been tested for mental health issues, the combination of the two probiotics used in the study (L. Helveticus and B. Longum) combined with GOS seems a reasonable natural treatment for mild depression/anxiety or as part of a program to reduce your doses of conventional meds or eliminate them altogether. The two are available as the nutritional supplements ProbioMood (by Pure Encapsulations) and Galactomune (by Klaire Labs).
Oddly enough, this leads us to camel’s milk
Although scientists around the world have been devoting a lot of time to the health benefits of camel’s milk, typical of our academic arrogance in the US serious research is pretty much ignored here. Moreover, cow’s milk lobby groups are doing whatever they can to keep the public in the dark about camel’s milk and are blocking imports from developing countries that could really use the income.
What we do know about camel’s milk is that it’s highly nutritious complete food. You could live on camel’s milk and thrive. Populations in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia have relied on it for centuries. Camel’s milk is lactose-free and has a low-allergy casein molecule so it’s a great replacement if you have dairy sensitivities. It’s higher in vitamin C and iron and lower in saturated fat than cow’s milk. All in all, the camel milk molecule is much closer to the human milk molecule than that of our American cow.
So what can camel’s milk actually do for you?
If you have a child with dairy sensitivities (chronic digestive symptoms, skin eruptions, unexplained behavior problems), switching to camel’s milk may be worthwhile. If you yourself have chronic digestive symptoms, or you’re struggling with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, try a trial run of dropping cow dairy and using camel’s milk for a month. If you feel better, just keep going.
Here’s a link to the powerful story of a newscaster from Australia who tried camel’s milk for one month. She’s clearly pleased with the results: normal bowel movements for the first time in years, plus the most sought-after of health goals: no bloating and a flat stomach.
We come full circle
That camel’s milk can reduce agitation and enhance focus/attention among autistic children has impressed some scientists, and a lot of research is being directed there. How it actually works is up for debate. Autistic kids have a lot of food sensitivities, and switching over to a non-cow dairy nutrient like camel’s milk may be an important factor.
But camel’s milk also contains the two probiotics mentioned earlier, Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacter longum, as well as the prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharide, so camel’s milk may actually be altering the child’s neurotransmitters for the better.
Taste? Apparently, not too bad. Slightly sweet, a little salty, a bit like a very delicate cheese. Price? Definitely on the high side. At $18 a liter, a bottle should last three or four days.
Where to buy? There’s a camel dairy farm in Michigan and you can have it sent to your home, or if you live in Chicago, the Muslim Women’s Resource Center on Devon maintains a fresh supply shipped from the same Michigan farm.
David Edelberg, MD