This article was originally published on ProHealth.com
Depression in Lyme disease is caused by many factors, including, but not limited to: infections, toxins, hormone and neurotransmitter imbalances, and inflammation. It can also be caused by psycho-emotional factors and circumstances of chronic illness, such as isolation and pain.
While I intend to one day write a book covering all of the causes of depression in people with Lyme disease, because I believe it is such an important concern for many with Lyme, for now I’d like to share about a fantastic nutritional strategy that radically reduced my own symptoms of Lyme and which helped me to overcome depression, among other problems.
When I was really sick with Lyme disease, I used to cry daily, for hours on end. It got so bad that I’d wake up and make it as far as the coffee pot before a barrage of tears would overcome me for half the day. I struggled to work, think, sleep and function. Some days, I could literally do nothing because the depression was so overwhelming.
My doctors gave me antidepressants, none of which worked for long, and which actually caused me to feel worse in the long run because they depleted my body of much-needed neurotransmitters. Because that’s what antidepressants do; they don’t provide serotonin or dopamine, or other mood-enhancing chemicals to the body, but instead cause you to more quickly use up your body’s own supply of these chemicals, so that you feel better for awhile, but then eventually crash.
About eight years into my healing journey, I discovered the power of amino acids to rescue my brain and the rest of my body from depression. A couple of doctors had recommended amino acids before, but these aminos had always made me feel worse, instead of better. Little did my doctors or I know that they didn’t work because I needed different types and amounts of these amino acids, along with other substances to make them work in my body. Taking random dosages and types of amino acids is a recipe for disaster; but when properly prescribed, they can work wonders.
Amino acid therapy helped me to become a new person, and to fight Lyme and function when depression had taken me down and out of the game of life. And, it was very validating for me to discover that the main reason why I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, or think positive thoughts, or do much of anything really—was simply because my body was screaming for some nutrition. I was relieved to discover that the reason why I couldn’t stop crying wasn't because I wasn’t trying hard enough to be positive. Maybe you can relate.
I'll keep the chemistry of this simple for the purposes of illustrating my point. Depression in people with Lyme disease can be caused, at least in part, by a serotonin or dopamine deficiency or imbalance. These are brain chemicals that regulate mood, energy, sleep, cognition, pain and more—and most depressed folks don't have enough of either, or they have an imbalance between the two. 5-HTP is an amino acid precursor to serotonin, and L-tyrosine is a precursor to dopamine. We all need both of these in the right amounts and in the proper proportions to be well. The same goes for other amino acids, but these two play a prominent role in mitigating depression.
But here’s the kicker. Amino acids don't tend to work well in people with Lyme disease, unless those amino acids are accompanied by specific vitamin and mineral co-factors, especially vitamin B6, magnesium, and Vitamin C. People with Lyme tend to be deficient in these nutrients, but the body needs them for proper neurotransmitter synthesis and function. I describe them in greater depth in my 2012 book, Beyond Lyme Disease:Healing the Underlying Causes of Chronic Illness in People with Borreliosis and Co-Infections.
Even more importantly, amino acids don't work well in people with methylation problems, such as yours truly and many others with Lyme disease. SAM-e, methyl-folate and methyl B-12 are methylators that can help the body to synthesize and utilize neurotransmitters. So if you take amino acids such as 5-HTP and L-tyrosine without SAM-e, and you have a methylation problem, you're likely to feel worse after taking amino acids. That’s what happened to me and I gave up on amino acid therapy for a long time for that reason. If you have responded poorly to amino acids in the past and not been tested for methylation problems, I encourage you to have your doctor to order methylation tests for you.
Amino acid therapy may fail to work or cause you to feel worse for other reasons. For instance:
1) If you have a severe deficiency of either serotonin or dopamine. You can feel worse before you feel better when you start taking amino acids, if you are very deficient in these vital neurotransmitters.
2) You aren't taking balanced amounts of amino acids. Perhaps your doctor gave you too much 5-HTP relative to L-tyrosine, or not enough L-tyrosine relative to 5-HTP. Balance is crucial.
3) You don't have enough of, or the proper type of methylation support. Some people do better with SAM-e than methyl-folate or methyl-B12. Or you may need less or more of a particular methylator.
4) Your body doesn't need the amino acids, or you are using products that have allergenic fillers in them, or which simply don't work. I found transdermal products to work better than oral ones, since I had digestive problems. You may find this to be true for you, too.
Amino acid dosing is an art, and it’s not always easy to sort out what your body needs. I had to visit multiple doctors, pick the brains of a couple of brilliant biochemists, and experiment for several months with amino acids before I was able to figure out what I needed. In the meantime, I endured some bumps in the road before I got better.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found many doctors who understand amino acid dosing all that well, but if you suffer from depression, I think it is well-worth doing the research to find one who does, as amino acid therapy can be life-saving and is a far better solution to depression than taking antidepressants. You may want to call a reputable lab that does amino acid testing, and ask the people there for a doctor recommendation in your area. I don’t recommend doing amino acid therapy on your own, as you'll want to get tested to determine exactly what you need, and enlist the help a skilled physician who can help you with that.
To learn more about how amino acids can help to heal you from depression, I also recommend checking out Jeremy Kaslow, MDs articles on neurotransmitter repletion.