Ketamine, which is used as an anesthetic at higher doses, can also relieve depression within hours when delivered intravenously. A 2016 study by Morteza Jafarinia and colleagues in the Journal of Affective Disorders suggests that oral ketamine may be helpful in the treatment of mild to moderate depression in people with chronic pain.
The study compared 150mg daily doses of oral ketamine to 150mg daily doses of the anti-inflammatory pain reliever diclofenac over 6 weeks. When interviewed at week 3 and week 6, the ketamine group reported significantly fewer symptoms of depression than the diclofenac group.
A systematic review of research on the value of pharmaceutical-grade nutritional supplements, or ‘nutraceuticals,’ in depression treatment has found that several do indeed improve depression symptoms.
The 2016 review by Jerome Sarris and colleagues in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that the following nutraceuticals primarily produced positive results compared to placebo: omega-3 fatty acids (primarily EPA or ethyl-EPA); vitamin D; l-methylfolate (a more potent form of folic acid); and S-adenosyl methionine or SAMe, a beneficial compound created from toxic homocysteine with the help of folate.
Editor’s Note: Most of these compounds can also be useful in bipolar depression. Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D are helpful to many patients. L-methylfolate is particularly helpful to the 30% of the population with a MTHFR deficiency that interferes with the ability of folate to break down homocysteine. SAMe is an exception—while it is effective in unipolar depression, it may cause switching into mania in patients with bipolar disorder.
The researchers identified a few additional nutraceuticals that each had one study supporting their use—creatine, sometimes used by weightlifters to provide extra energy to muscles; folinic acid, which can protect bone marrow and other cells during chemotherapy; and a combination of amino acids.
Results from studies that compared other compounds to placebo were mixed. Those included studies of zinc, folic acid, vitamin C, and the amino acid tryptophan. A study of inositol, a compound found in plants that is not normally digestible, had nonsignificant results.
No serious side effects were observed in any of the studies of nutraceuticals, though some caused minor digestive disturbances.
Editor’s Note: Another beneficial nutraceutical that did not appear in the review article is N-acetylcysteine. In 6- to 8-week studies, NAC improved depression and anxiety compared to placebo. It also improved bipolar depression and reduced many habits and additions in non-bipolar patients. These include cocaine and gambling addition, alcohol and nicotine use, trichotillomania (compulsive hair-pulling) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a risk associated with a vegan diet. B12 deficiency can lead to depression, anemia, and even irreversible neuron damage, according to researcher Drew Ramsey, who spoke on the topic at the 2016 meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.
A study of vegans showed that 52% were deficient in vitamin B12, while another 23% had insufficient levels of the vitamin. B12 is found in the highest concentrations in certain seafoods and liver. It is also found in dairy products, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, and is available in supplement form.
Women who eat a vegan diet while pregnant may not be providing their offspring with enough nutrients, according to researcher Emily Deans, who also spoke at the meeting. A case report on 30 vegan mothers found that 60% of their offspring had developmental delays and 37% showed cerebral atrophy.
Deans said that eating no meat is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and worse quality of life.
Ramsey believes that while the North American diet is probably weighted too heavily toward animal products, seafood remains an important source of B12.
A 2016 study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology confirms that high levels of inflammatory cytokines in the blood are linked to higher risk of depression following a stroke.
The study, by Hee-Ju Kang and colleagues, followed 222 stroke sufferers for one year. Two weeks following the stroke, their levels of inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and IL-18 were measured. They were also assessed for depression both at the two-week point and one year later. The researchers also observed whether or not the participants were treated with statins, which are often prescribed to lower stroke risk and also have anti-inflammatory effects.
Those participants who had depression following their strokes (either at two weeks or at one year) tended to be older, to have a history of depression or stroke, to have a more severe stroke, and to have a stroke location toward the front of the brain.
Having any depression following the stroke was associated with higher levels of IL-6 and IL-18. This was particularly true of those participants who were not taking a statin. Among those taking statins, the statins may have interfered with the link between inflammatory cytokines and post-stroke depression. In the statin group, the only significant finding was a link between levels of IL-6 and depression at the two-week mark.
Depression has been linked to increases in medical problems such as cardiovascular disease. A new study shows that depression is linked to increased risk of stroke, even when symptoms of depression are in remission.
The 2015 study, by Paola Gilsanz and colleagues in the Journal of the American Heart Association, focused on health and retirement. It included over 16,000 adults aged 50 and up who were interviewed every two years about their health history.
Previous studies have shown a link between depression and stroke risk. Like those studies, the study by Gilsanz and colleagues found that people who were depressed during two consecutive interviews were more than twice as likely to have a stroke in the subsequent two-year period than those who reported few depressive symptoms in the first two visits.
What is new is that in this study, people who were depressed in the first interview but not in the second interview were still at 66% greater risk for a stroke than those with no depression. Those who were depressed only during the second interview not at greater risk for a stroke, implying that depression takes more than two years to affect stroke risk.
Gilsanz and colleagues suggest that they don’t know how depression, remission, and stroke risk interact over the longer term. It is possible that stroke risk diminishes the longer a patient’s depression stays in remission.
It is not clear why depression increases strokes, though some have speculated that depression causes irregular heartbeats. There is not as yet any support for that theory, but high blood pressure, rigid veins, or sticky platelets may be other explanations.
The drug ketamine has been used intravenously for years to rapidly treat depression, because it can take effect within hours. Unfortunately, its antidepressant effects fade in 3–5 days, and it has some unpleasant side effects. In larger doses ketamine is used as an anesthetic and sometimes as a club drug, for its ability to induce hallucinations and dissociation. It can be addictive as well.
A 2016 animal study by Todd Gould and colleagues published in the journal Nature identified a byproduct of ketamine that may be able to provide the drug’s benefits without its side effects.
When the body breaks down ketamine, it produces several chemicals that are known as ketamine metabolites. The researchers found that one of these, called hydroxynorketamine, reversed a depression-like state in mice, without producing the side effects that would be expected of ketamine.
Gould and colleagues also determined that blocking the transformation of ketamine into hydroxynorketamine prevented ketamine’s antidepressant effects.
Ketamine’s unpleasant anesthetic and dissociative effects result from the blockade of a particular receptor for the neurotransmitter glutamate (the NMDA glutamate receptor). Researchers originally thought that the NMDA blockade was linked to ketamine’s antidepressant effects, but this appears not to be the case. Instead, hydroxynorketamine seems to activate a different type of glutamate receptor, the AMPA receptor.
Gould and colleagues plan to test hydroxynorketamine in humans soon. Because it has already been present in the human body following ketamine administration, they expect it to be safe.
Depression and poor cardiovascular health often go hand in hand. Now it seems a treatment for high cholesterol may also help treat depression. A 2016 study by E. Salagre and colleagues in the Journal of Affective Disorders analyzed evidence from 3 earlier studies of drugs called statins, which inhibit an enzyme needed for the production of cholesterol, for people with depression.
The three studies included a total of 165 participants taking an antidepressant (citalopram or fluoxetine) for moderate or severe depression. Of these participants, 82 were prescribed an additional statin (lovastatin, atorvastatin, or simvastatin), while the remaining were given a placebo. After 6 to 12 weeks, those who had received a statin reported greater improvement in their depression than those who had received a placebo in addition to the antidepressant. No serious side effects were reported.
These data are also consistent with other studies showing that women on statins had fewer depressions over subsequent years than those not taking statins.
Depression and Bipolar Disorder in Adolescence Linked to Early-Onset Cardiovascular Disease and Hardening of the Arteries
The link between mood disorders and cardiovascular illnesses has been clear for some time. Now there is evidence that this link begins early in life. In 2015, the American Heart Association issued a statement that adolescents with major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder are at increased risk for both accelerated atherosclerosis (narrowing and hardening of the arteries) and early-onset cardiovascular disease.
In the statement, the American Heart Association recommended that major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder be classified as “tier II” conditions (which also include HIV and chronic inflammatory disease) that confer a moderate risk of disease.
Until recently, it had been assumed that the increased risk of cardiovascular disease among people with depression or bipolar disorder was a result of behaviors linked to these illnesses, such as higher rates of smoking, obesity, or diabetes, which increases heart disease. Some psychiatric medication can also bring about risk factors for cardiovascular problems. It turns out that these types of factors could not fully explain the increased risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease among people who had depression or bipolar disorder in their teens.
It is not clear why depression and bipolar disorder make cardiovascular illness more likely, though it may be due to blood vessel damage resulting from inflammation or oxidative stress.
The American Heart Association recommends that pediatricians and cardiologists pay particular attention to this link by identifying and treating mental illness as early as possible and by making sure that their colleagues understand the role of mental illnesses in cardiovascular risk.
Vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) is an FDA-approved treatment for seizures and treatment-resistant depression. It typically requires an operation to insert a stimulator in a patient’s chest wall that delivers electrical impulses to their left vagus nerve via electrodes placed on the patient’s neck. New research by Bashar W. Badran and colleagues may have identified a less invasive and less expensive way to stimulate the vagal nerve—via electrodes placed on the ear.
The researchers tested different parameters for vagal nerve stimulation via the ear on 15 healthy volunteers and found that this type of VNS was feasible, tolerable, and reasonably safe. Among the different parameters tested, a stimulation pulse width of 500 microseconds at 25Hz had the greatest effect on heart rate, slowing it by about 4.25 beats per minute compared to a sham treatment.
Next Badran and colleagues plan to study the effects of this type of VNS on brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
A new study suggests that the nutritional supplement vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, can improve symptoms of depression when taken with an antidepressant. Edith Holsboer-Trachsler and colleagues presented the research from their randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study at a recent scientific meeting. In a 12-week study, about 50 adults (averaging 35 years of age) with major depression were prescribed a selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant. In addition, half received thiamine supplements while the other half were given placebos. Starting at six weeks, those receiving thiamine with their antidepressant showed more improvement in their depressive symptoms than those receiving the antidepressant alone.
Thiamine is an essential nutrient for humans. It is found in foods such as yeast, pork, cereal grains, and certain vegetables. Thiamine deficiency has been linked to irritability and symptoms of depression, while thiamine supplementation can improve mood and reduce feelings of stress. No side effects were reported in the study.
Holsboer-Trachsler and colleagues hope that thiamine supplementation may help patients adhere to their antidepressant regimens by decreasing the time it takes until their moods begin to lift.