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Depression is the most frequently searched-for topic at

And no wonder. Those of us that have experienced the depths of clinical depression know just how awful it really is. When you are in the bag, it is hard to think out of the bag. But there is a way out.

Yes, I have written a book on this subject, with nutritional psychiatrist Bo Jonsson, MD, PhD. It is called The Vitamin Cure for Depression. More information at It is also available in Spanish.

Rather than give a synthetic drug to block or mimic the body's chemical nerve messengers (neurotransmitters), it is possible nutritionally to encourage the body to make its own natural ones.

If we are what we eat, then our nerves also depend on what they are fed. Here is tremendous potential for the alleviation of depression and related disorders.

A depletion of the neurotransmitter called norepinephrine may result in poor memory, loss of alertness, and clinical depression. The chain of chemical events in the body resulting in this substance is:

L-phenylalanine (from protein foods) -> L-tyrosine (made in the liver) -> dopa -> dopamine -> norepinephrine -> epinephrine

This process looks complex but actually is readily accomplished, particularly if the body has plenty of vitamin C. Since one's dietary supply of the first ingredient, L-phenylalanine, is usually adequate, it is more likely to be a shortage of vitamin C that limits production of norepinephrine. Physicians giving large doses of vitamin C have had striking success in reversing depression. It is a remarkably safe and inexpensive approach to try.

Inside you, the amino acid tryptophan is broken down into depression-relieving niacin. Even more important, tryptophan is also made into serotonin, one of your body's most important neurotransmitters. Serotonin is responsible for feelings of well-being and mellowness. This is such a profound effect that Prozac, Paxil, and similar antidepressants artificially keep the body's own serotonin levels high. You can do the same thing naturally through diet. And no one can tell us that beans, peas, cheese, nuts, sunflower seeds, and good ol’ wheat germ are toxic if you eat a lot of them!

Carbohydrates in your meals helps tryptophan get to where it does the most good: your brain. In order to cross the blood-brain barrier and get in, carbs are required. So cheese and crackers provides a better effect than the cheese standing alone. Cover your ears, animal friends, for I am also about to condone eating the occasional bird. Poultry, especially the dark meat, is a rich (yet very cheap) source of tryptophan. Add potatoes or stuffing, and you have the reason everybody is sprawled out and snoring up a storm after a typical Thanksgiving food orgy. But to be able to look your parakeet in the eye after the fourth Thursday in November, you can stay vegetarian and still get tanked up on tryptophan.

Consider that five servings of beans, a few portions of cheese or peanut butter, or several handfuls of cashews provide 1,000–2,000 mg of tryptophan, which will work as well as prescription antidepressants—but don't tell the drug companies. Some skeptics think that the pharmaceutical people already know, and that is why the FDA is less than enthusiastic about tryptophan supplements. Here are two quotes in evidence:

"Pay careful attention to what is happening with dietary supplements in the legislative arena. . . . If these efforts are successful, there could be created a class of products to compete with approved drugs. The establishment of a separate regulatory category for supplements could undercut exclusivity rights enjoyed by the holders of approved drug applications."

(FDA Deputy Commissioner for Policy David Adams, at the Drug Information Association Annual Meeting, July 12, 1993)

"The task force considered many issues in its deliberations including to ensure that the existence of dietary supplements on the market does not act as a disincentive for drug development."

(FDA Dietary Task Force Report, released June 15, 1993)

Tryptophan is one of the ten essential amino acids you need to stay alive. It is by law added to liquid feedings for the elderly and all infant formulas. This says a great deal about its safety, as well as its importance.

And, tryptophan is really quite easy to get from the good foods listed below.

So go, eat, and be happy!

Foods High in the Amino Acid L-Tryptophan

(In milligrams per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) portion, about the size of a deck of playing cards. That is not a large serving, and in a single meal you might easily double or triple the figures listed here.)

Lentils 215
Dried peas 250
Navy 200
Pinto 210
Red kidney 215
Soy 525

Nuts and Seeds
Brazil nuts 185
Cashews 470
Filberts 210
Peanuts 340
Peanut butter 330 (natural, not commercial)
Pumpkin seeds 560
Sesame seeds 330

Tahini (ground sesame seeds) 575

Sunflower seeds 340

Other nuts generally provide at least 130 mg per small serving; usually more.

Wheat germ 265

Cheddar 340
Parmesan 490
Swiss 375

Other cheeses tend to be lower in tryptophan, but are still very good sources.

Eggs 210

Poultry 250

(Note how vegetarian sources are as good as, and often much better than, flesh sources.)

Brewer's Yeast 700

(Source: USDA, Amino Acid Content of Foods)

Meats are generally regarded as a good source of tryptophan, organ meats supposedly being the highest. However, most meats are in the range of 160–260 mg/100 g, with organ meats ranging between 220 and 330. These figures certainly do not compel meat eating. They compel split pea, cheese, and cashew eating!


Ample amounts of B-complex vitamins, especially B-6 (pyridoxine) must be present for for your body's normal, depression-fighting chemical reactions to occur. B-6 deficiency is very common in Americans, and that "deficiency" is measured against an already ridiculously low US RDA of only two milligrams. The amount of B-6 needed for clinical effectiveness in, say, rabbits is the human dose equivalent of 75 mg daily. That is over 35 times more than the RDA!

Really enormous doses of B-6 taken alone have produced temporary neurological side effects. It usually takes between 2,000 and 5,000 mg daily for symptoms of numbness or tingling in the extremities. Some side effects have been reported as low as 500 mg daily, but these are very rare indeed. Therapeutic doses between 100 and 500 milligrams daily are commonly prescribed by physicians for PMS relief. A daily total of a few hundred milligrams of individual B-6, especially if taken in addition to the entire B-complex to ensure balance, is very safe indeed.


A good summary article is George A. Eby, Karen L. Eby, and Harald Murk's Magnesium and major depression. Free full text at

See also: Eby GA, Eby KL. Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment.Med Hypotheses. 2006;67(2):362-70.


Click here to see Andrew Saul discussing niacin (vitamin B-3) therapy for depression, in a video excerpt.

NIACIN TYPICALLY CAUSES A "FLUSH" on initial use. Searching this website for "niacin flush Hoffer" will bring up more information on the flush and how to minimize it. "Hoffer" refers to psychiatrist Abram Hoffer, MD, PhD, probably the world's most experienced physician using niacin. He and I, with Harold Foster, PhD wrote NIACIN: THE REAL STORY.

Copyright 2019, 2007 and previous years Andrew W. Saul.

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )


Andrew W. Saul


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