Zinc, exercise, Vitamin D and potential stress busters top the list of new possibilities to supplement the widespread use of antidepressant medications.  This new research is groundbreaking because antidepressants have been found to only work about half of the time, and they tend to bring upon unwanted side effects.

The Importance of Stress Management

A method to view treatments in a new light is to look at them through different lenses.  In 2014, Current Psychiatry published researched regarding a new array of treatment methods.  Researchers Murali Rao, M.D., and Julie M. Alderson, D.O., described a range of management protocols including stimulation of the brain through electrical and magnetic prompts, stress management techniques from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) as well as new medications.

There is not one fix for reducing the symptoms of stress.  However, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, has proven to be specifically effective in lowering the symptoms of stress.  There are new medicines on the market that work to influence not only the archetypical neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin), but they also hit other parts of the brain.  Rao and Alderson have wanted “to look beyond neurotransmitters for an understanding of depressive disorders” and point to chronic stress as “the leading cause of depression.”

Stress has the ability to influence the brain in an assortment of ways, some of which include altering the communication pathways in the brain, initiating the death of brain cells (particularly in the hippocampus region where our ability to feel and recall information is formed), increasing inflammation, and changing neural density.  These new methods are not supposed to take over the old ones. Instead, the ideal situation would be to incorporate them into the treatment arsenal.

This research centers around identifying new biomarkers to indicate depression and work to return the necessary balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters as well as hippocampal neurogenesis and regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), part of the neuroendocrine system that controls our reaction to stress.

The researchers released some of the biomarkers being targeted include: Monoamine regulators (such as enzymes); proinflammatory cytokines and other inflammatory mediators (such as C-reactive protein); mediators of glutaminergic activity (such as kynurenic and quinolinic acid); and GABAergic activity.

Exercise, Zinc, and Vitamin D: Important to Happy Living

Let’s now discuss exercise, zinc, and Vitamin D; more specifically, the role they play in depression:

1. Exercise

Exercise enhances the protein BDNF (brain-developed neurotropic factor).  BDNF assists neurotransmitters in efficiency. To make it clearer, researcher Dr. John Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, considers BDNF as “Miracle-Gro for the brain.” 

Sure, there are other things to jump start BDNF, but exercise is one of the most natural, easy methods to do so.  Other methods, such as antidepressant medication and electroconvulsive therapy increase BDNF, but they often strike back with negative side effects (such as those listed above and memory loss with ECT).

Is exercise actually effective?  Now, exercise is considered an evidence-based treatment both as a stand-alone and an augmentation therapy for depression.  Exercise, in even its lesser forms, improves the success of neurotransmitters in the brain. Exercise has the ability to manage the symptoms of depression.  

2. Zinc

Zinc is considered a “essential trace element”.  It retains healing benefits and aids in treating colds and ear infections. Zinc has antioxidant qualities and can provide a great boost to your immune system. 

Zinc can be found in nuts, dairy, whole grains, and in some meats and seafoods.  It can positively affect wounds, night blindness, high blood pressure, and thwarting respiratory infections.  New research has found that zinc may indeed be a factor in understanding depression. 

In 2013 journal named Biological Psychiatry examined 17 studies on depression.  The found that those deemed depressed had lower levels of zinc in their blood than those not suffering from depression.  Furthermore, lower zinc levels can result in more severe depression when compared to controls.

Linking lower levels of zinc to depression doesn’t necessarily mean that these lower levels of zinc are causing depression.  It could possibly be that depression in individuals can be causing lower levels of zinc in their blood circulation. The authors in the journal determined that, “a causal association between zinc status and depression is biologically plausible.” The authors mention that lower zinc levels can be related to cardiovascular disease, which can coexist with major depressive disorder (MDD). 

3. Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin, vitamin D, is a prohormone—meaning it can be converted into a hormone.  The sunshine vitamin is different from many, because it doesn’t have to be attained through food. The skin can absorb Vitamin D through an adequate amount of ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight, hence the nickname.

Research has found a link concerning low levels of vitamin D and the symptoms of depression.  However, similar to zinc, it is not clear whether the low levels of vitamin D instigates depression, or vice versa.  No matter the causational relationship, the chances you aren’t getting enough vitamin D are high.

Over a billion people are vitamin D deficient. Select studies have discovered that upping your vitamin D levels can improve well-being, while others have doubted its value.

For now, exercise and CBT are the top evidence-based methods in alleviating the symptoms of depression.  With that being said, these measures tend to be more effective with the help of antidepressants or stand-alone interventions.