holistic health magazine






Combating Depression with Diet and Lifestyle Choices

An Interview with Ed Bauman, Ph.D.

with Janice Hughes, Share Guide Editor

Ed Bauman, M.Ed., Ph.D. has been a ground-breaking leader in the fields of whole foods nutrition and holistic health for over 30 years. He is the Director of Bauman Nutrition, a natural health clinic in Sonoma County that provides nutritional consultation to individuals, families and business groups. Their work includes a wide range of functional metabolic assessments and health research for serious health problems. Dr. Bauman is also founder of Bauman College, a school for Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts.

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The Share Guide: Depression is a major problem in this country. How much of this do you think is affected by poor nutrition versus genetic causes?

Ed Bauman: It's both. One out of three people have a predisposition towards depression and addiction. And then the way that plays out will depend on their life experience. If they have a very healthy lifestyle, they won't be depressed, or it will come later in life; if they have an unhealthy lifestyle, the tendencies will surface quite early.

The Share Guide: So you're saying that their nutritional choices can affect an inherent predisposition towards depression and/or addiction?

Ed Bauman: Absolutely. The predisposition will express based on diet, lifestyle, attitude, and environment.

The Share Guide: You've written that changing the diet and adding certain supplements such as folic acid can dramatically help with depression and other mood disorders. This sounds better than taking antidepressants, which have lots of side effects. Do you feel that nutritional therapy is as effective as drug therapy in treating depression?

Ed Bauman: I think it depends…if it's an organic depression that is quite severe from birth, which is less than 10%, then no.  But for 90% of people, nutrition plays a tremendous role. There's good research to indicate that as people become optimally nourished for their own biochemistry, they recover and they do very well. So the thing to identify here: it's not one size fits all. Some people need quite a bit of additional B vitamins.  Back in the 1960s, Dr. Abraham Hoffer found that giving schizophrenics a couple of grams of niacin alleviated their schizophrenia.

The Share Guide: That's amazing. How come that's not more known?

Ed Bauman: I think it probably goes back to politics and business--there's quite an industry in treating illness, and mental health and depression is an illness. What I do is work with doctors and other health providers covering the nutritional side. I also insist on biochemical testing. I do this because someone will come to see me and they're on one, or two, or even three medications. So I ask, "What were the lab results?" And they say, "There was no lab test. They just suggested these medications." This is not good! There are relatively inexpensive tests--they cost about $200 or $300--and that's a small price to pay to look at the different neurotransmitters and the different nutritional needs such as amino acids, fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals.

The Share Guide: Would you say that the conventional medical establishment ignores the nutrition connection because it's easier to just write a prescription?

Ed Bauman: It seems that way. I can't speak for everyone, but it is a bit more costly and timely to delve into a person's life and a person's chemistry, but the outcome is much better for the client--and even for the doctor, who wants to see durable improvement.

The Share Guide: Why is folic acid such a common deficiency, and how is it related to depression?

Ed Bauman: Folic acid is a B vitamin. It really affects the BNA and the RNA of the cell, so it's intrinsic to genetics and to cell expression. It's easily depleted by alcohol; it's depleted by caffeine; it's depleted by environmental chemicals. Basically, all the things that are toxic in the environment deplete folic acid. It's relatively typical that a person with depression will be quite low in folic acid, as well as B12, B3, and quite a few nutrients across the board.

The Share Guide: Would you recommend a vitamin B complex, and how much?

Ed Bauman: I have a program called Eating For Health™. The way I approach it is that I advise people to get B vitamins through their diet--through eating whole grains, seeds, beans, green vegetables, and nutritional yeast.

The Share Guide: Do you think people can get enough B vitamins through food without supplementation?

Ed Bauman: I will sometimes recommend supplementation as well as diet changes, but having it in the diet means the metabolism and uptake to the cells is greatly enhanced. Also, if you take a therapeutic dose of B vitamins but have a poor diet, 95% is not absorbed, so it's not very effective. Folic acid is not that big of a nutrient, so in an average diet less than one milligram is considered the RDA (recommended daily allowance). And there's a variety of types of folic acid. It's not something a person could just go to the health food store and ask for. So there is a reason to test a person's levels of folic acid and B12 and magnesium.

The Share Guide: This is a common lab test?

Ed Bauman: Yes, even Kaiser could do it.

The Share Guide: What normally causes depression?

Ed Bauman: I think 80 to 90% of depression is from neurological exhaustion.

The Share Guide: Do you mean stress overload?

Ed Bauman: Yes. If you look at anyone, even a healthy person, when they become over-stimulated and exhausted, they fall into fatigue and pain and a foul mood. Then they do addictive coping, where they'll grab caffeine or sugar or chocolate or other poor-quality foods. So when I take a history I ask, "When did this depression come along?"  For some people, it was childhood; some people, it was adulthood. But in every single case, there's just this underlying exhaustion and fatigue--and I've worked with hundreds of people with depression who have gotten better. If they just recognize that they need to sleep, and they need to eat well, and they need to stop watching television or working on the computer after 9:00 at night (which causes a lot of stimulation), they begin to heal their nerves. The neurotransmitters are not only in the brain; they're all over the body, in the gut and in the peripheral tissues. 

The Share Guide: Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to helping depression. How effective would you say that is?

Ed Bauman: Everything plays a part. There's not a single magic bullet. For somebody with depression, they are definitely malnourished. They will have multiple nutritional insufficiencies, and usually toxicities as well. Omega-3 fatty acids and gamma-Linolenic acid (a special type of omega-6 fatty acid) are not commonly provided in the diet unless people are eating seafood or flax or greens. So there's a fairly common deficiency there, and the oils help with the receptor sites for both hormones and neurotransmitters.
When you're looking at a person who is depressed, this person is usually stressed-out and overproducing hormones--whether it's stress hormones or insulin or thyroid--and they overproduce active neurotransmitters to get going and work harder and all that. And then the receptor sites tend to close down because they can't process that onslaught of chemicals in the body, and then they become oxidized or damaged. And they become less permeable, which means the neurotransmitters and hormones don't really enter the cell. So with more omega-3s, there's less oxidation, and there's better cell membrane reception, so it helps with insulin and thyroid and brain chemistry as well. But if there's good omega-3 but there's insufficient B vitamins or insufficient amino acids, it won't work. Also, it does take time. I tell people it's six months to two years for recovery. It's very reliable that people will become less and less depressed and more stable, but it's not a six-week program.

The Share Guide: As opposed to taking a pill, which you can feel much quicker?

Ed Bauman: Actually, people taking things like Prozac or Celexa, they don't really feel particularly good; it's not like everything is fine. It's just they don't feel quite as anxious or quite as weepy, but they don't have a real level of comfort and health and clarity. With depression, there's very poor cognitive function, and so people feel stupid, and they can't keep up. The psychological implications of not performing or functioning well are also reinforcing the depression. From the nutritional side, people are bankrupt. There's basically been a "brain wreck." People have just collapsed on some level. Now, can they get better? Absolutely! But they have to do the work; they can't just take one formula or two and everything's hunky dory. They have to put their life together and identify their individual needs, and maintain a good relationship with a practitioner or other supportive people.

The Share Guide: Doesn't taking Prozac or Zoloft or any of those pills exacerbate some of the problems?

Ed Bauman: Yes, definitely. It depletes folic acid; it depletes B6; it basically stops your body from producing these chemicals that are necessary for your life. Now, in low doses, like five or 10 milligrams of Prozac, it's not as bad. But some people take 20, 40, 60 milligrams. If you or I were to take 60 milligrams of Prozac, we would be out of our minds! I'm serious. There are delusional states, and manic states, and all kinds of things can happen. In mainstream medicine, if somebody has a big problem, then they need a big drug, right? But that's not the way healing works. If somebody has a big problem, they need little bits of things across a long period of time so they can assimilate them and build up some integrity.

The Share Guide: Don't people having a very hard time getting off of those drugs?

Ed Bauman: Yes, it's quite hard. And you get pain; you get insomnia; you get extreme irritability. You basically go nuts. So that's why people don't quit. It says on the label of Prozac that it's a 30 to 90-day treatment. That's it. But people take it for years, and the effect wears off, because people become tolerant to the drug. They lose sensitivity, and it stops working, so in most cases people take even more medication. The natural approach is to minimize chemical overload and additive effects. People with depression need to learn how to take care of themselves, and get the support they need. And they need to go at a fairly slow rate, rather than anything sudden, because there's just an enormous amount of neurological and hormonal exhaustion. If you think about it, if somebody is depending on caffeine and sugar in the morning to get their energy, then there's nothing there to feed the brain. So I encourage people to have protein either before or with caffeine. Because caffeine is a neurological stimulant; it wakes people up. But for the brain to make good neurotransmitters to organize thoughts and activity, they absolutely need all the amino acids, and if they don't have that, it's gonna deplete whatever reserves they have. And then they're going to become more shaky and irritable and prone to other addictive coping, because they forget to eat, and they just run on the stimulants.

The Share Guide: Speaking of stimulants, you've said that it's especially important to quit smoking if you suffer from depression. Why is that?

Ed Bauman: Tobacco is one of the most complex materials that people ingest. It works to stimulate and sedate and create mood elevation all at the same time. But it is depleting of B vitamins and minerals, and it creates damage to the nerves and the brain and the lungs and the liver. So for a chronic smoker, they're going to become more imbalanced as time goes on. Smoking is also an appetite suppressant, so people don't eat right. There's nothing nutritional about smoking tobacco, but there is something biochemical and neurological. It's a trick. Then when people try to stop smoking, they go through withdrawal. And it's the difficulty in not being well supported during withdrawal that makes a smoker--or an alcoholic or someone who's doing speed or other drugs--give up on quitting because they can't tolerate the withdrawal. It's too uncomfortable.

The Share Guide: You've mentioned alcohol as another big problem. What is your position on that in relation to depression? Is it okay to have a glass of wine occasionally or do you have to rule alcohol out altogether?

Ed Bauman: First, I don't think it works for anyone to rule anything out forever--just in terms of the social-emotional impact. One of the researchers I really like says that people who have addictive disorder and brain chemistry imbalances suffer from a reward-deficiency syndrome. In their brain, they're not getting a sense of pleasure and reward and good feeling, and they certainly get that when they drink alcohol. So if you went a whole week without feeling good, and you say, I'll have a drink or two, and you feel good, there's actually benefit in that. But if you have to drink every day, or you become dependent on a substance such as alcohol or pot, then there's a problem. The occasional and moderate use is not a big deal if people have a solid nutritional program.

The Share Guide: What about caffeine? There's a big difference between someone who has one cup in the morning and somebody who drinks eight cups a day.

Ed Bauman: Caffeine is actually a useful substance for metabolism and circulation. As people get older, their metabolism slows down. So having a small amount of caffeine, about 50 milligrams--which would be a half a cup of coffee or a cup of black tea or two or three cups of green tea--has a generally beneficial effect, and doesn't tend to create insomnia or blood sugar crash later in the day. (For some people, it does, but for most people, it doesn't.) For women, they have much more sensitive nervous and hormonal systems, so if they get up to 100 milligrams of caffeine a day it can be problematic. And caffeine is a diuretic, so what happens is people start to lose calcium and magnesium and B vitamins and vitamin C. That's bad. People need to hold onto and absorb as much of these nutrients as they can.

The Share Guide: What about the combination of caffeine and refined sugar--the typical coffee and a doughnut?

Ed Bauman: That's much more volatile. If somebody had a quiche and a cup of coffee, that wouldn't be too bad. But if they had just coffee with lots of sugar and milk…they can pick up 400 to 600 calories with one of those mocha drinks and no nutrients. So they'll get a hyper metabolism, but then they'll become exhausted about 90 minutes later. Eating food around caffeine and eating food around alcohol is really what buffers it against becoming another form of depletion.

The Share Guide: How important is getting regular exercise?

Ed Bauman: I think exercise is very important, and it's not part of the everyday culture anymore. A lot of us have cars, and we don't generally do a lot of physical work. When people are depressed, and they're exhausted, their exercise tolerance is very low. So it's not going to work to tell them to go do aerobic exercise for 30 to 45 minutes. What I do is ask what their exercise regime is now (usually nothing), and have them start with a rather simple walking program or swimming program or yoga, and bring that in on a regular basis, hopefully every day.

The Share Guide: So they can build up their stamina?

Ed Bauman: Yes. It takes a while to build up stamina and pleasure--because the game here is pleasure. Depression is pain. If you go for a walk, and it makes you feel good, and you're watching the trees and the birds, that's a beautiful thing. If you go for a walk, and you've got a headache and your back hurts, and you're worried about stuff, it doesn't have the same effect. I don't encourage people to exercise and read a book or watch television, which people do. I encourage people to just find some physical movement and give their brains and nerves a rest--just enjoy the physicality of being in one place. Tai Chi and yoga or any kind of energetic practice also work well. They tend to build up health and chi and will.

Most people lose their will, and I'm not talking about the willpower to stop doing something--like I crave sugar and I'm not going to have it. It's the will to have a healthy life, or the will to work on one's relationships, or the will to develop whatever they're trying to develop in this life.  When people are depressed, they've really lost their will. So my job as a counselor is to help them find their life. It's not just about nutrition or supplements or drugs--you have to have something important that you're doing with your life. By and large, when people hit that level of illness or medication, they're usually not very engaged. They have little motivation, and little ability to figure things out. They fall into a crack and become ignored. Depression is very, very common for older people and people with chronic illnesses.

The Share Guide: Because they're too isolated?

Ed Bauman: They're exhausted and they're depleted, and then they don't have anything to do. I see quite a few people in their 70s, and they're on different medications. They have retired, but they're depressed, and taking an antidepressant doesn't give them the energy and the focus and the purpose to be engaged in their life. It may help some, but it's not addressing the individual in a meaningful way. They need to build themselves up.  It's possible to be really happy and healthy when you're 75 or 85--you just have to do a lot of interesting and health-building practices.

The Share Guide: Assuming you did not have other addictions--you don't smoke, you don't drink a lot--would a diet very high in refined carbohydrates be enough to cause mood disorders?

Ed Bauman: Absolutely. When people are young they have a lot of energy, and they build up habits, and usually the habits are not health habits. They're just pleasure habits. Then what happens is the more they engage in those behaviors, they begin to become exhausted. They begin to gain weight. They begin to need alcohol or sugar or caffeine to get through the day. This is because they're depleted in B vitamins, in minerals, in proteins. When they were 15 or 20 they could get away with the bad habits, but when they're 35, 45, 55… it's not going to work. And at that point, they have a problem. So they go to the doctor, and they say they feel so unstable and unhappy and emotional. And the doctor says, how about I give you an antidepressant; you'll feel a lot better. But that doesn't deal with the root of the problem at all. The person may still crave their favorite foods because they get an energetic lift from them. It takes a little while to effect change. It takes weeks or months for people to start to eat vegetables. By and large, people don't eat vegetables. They eat starches, they eat proteins, they eat some fruit, but they don't eat vegetables. And the vegetables have the vitamins and the minerals, and they create an alkaline effect on the blood, which creates peace and comfort in equilibrium. So that's what people need to get out of the depressive state.

The Share Guide: How effective are herbal supplements, such as St. John's Wort in treating depression?

Ed Bauman: They're not effective on their own. If somebody has a relatively poor diet, a chaotic lifestyle, and they're stressed out, and they think, I'll take 300 milligrams of St. John's Wort three times a day--it just doesn't work. However, if they go on vacation, and they rest, and they do all the good, healthy things besides taking the supplement, then it has an effect. So it has about a 20% effect, and the other 70-80% is primarily diet and lifestyle. The same thing with SAMe (adenosinemethionine), an over-the-counter dietary supplement that, for some people with organic issues in the liver and the brain that don't metabolize proteins properly, can be very life-changing. But it's probably only going to help one out of four people who report depression. It's not a bad thing to try, because if you're in that one out of four, and it works, then all of the sudden things straighten out. It's fairly expensive, but if within a month, if there was no benefit, then you could stop taking it.

The Share Guide: What about Ginkgo Biloba?

Ed Bauman: It's good for circulation, so it protects the vascular system. And it improves delivery of nutrients and blood sugar to the brain. So ginkgo is a very pleasant and friendly herbal compound, but I don't think that by itself it's going to overcome the history of 25 years of depression.

The Share Guide: Any other key herbs or supplements that are important for depression or anxiety?

Ed Bauman: I like skullcap because it's a nerve tonic. I think nerve tonics are very helpful in general for people with depressive disorder because the nervous system tends to be over-stimulated and aggravated. Black Cohosh is another. Also, a combination of rosemary with hops. Hops is an amazing herb. It's the main constituent in beer, so when people drink a bunch of beer and they feel really, really good, that's the hops. It's a tremendous sedative and anti-anxiety compound. But you don't want to get it from beer, because you've got the alcohol and the sugar, but you can take it as a sleep tonic in the evening or just as a nerve tonic during the day (as a tincture). It really calms people down.

The Share Guide: Anything else you recommend?

Ed Bauman: I think having a health advisor is crucial for people with chronic illness or chronic mental health problems--and not just talk therapy, because that has nothing to do with brain chemistry. Maybe talk therapy will make you feel better about yourself, and help you resolve your issues with your family or other traumatic events which are deep and meaningful, but it has to be dealt with in a discreet, individualized and chemical way for a person to get benefit.

The Share Guide: With your Eating For Health™ program, you've created a Food Mandala that's a counterpoint to the standard food pyramid. In the standard model, grains and bread are on the bottom, instead of the vegetables and fruit in your model.

Ed Bauman: That's because that model is supported by Kellogg's and Nestle's, and whoever else is in the commercial food industry. But in a perfect world, people would be getting eight servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

The Share Guide: How much is a serving?

Ed Bauman: Half a cup of fruit or half a cup of cooked vegetable or a cup of leafy vegetable is one serving. So if you have a salad for dinner, you might have a cup of lettuce with a half a cup of chopped up carrots or cucumbers or beets. So you have two servings of vegetables. Then you might have a half a cup of broccoli. So then that's three servings. Then you might have a piece of fish and some brown rice, so you have a serving of protein and a serving of grain. That's a beautiful meal, and that has an alkaline balance to it. On the other hand, if you have a little salad with half a cup of lettuce but no other vegetables, and a big plate of spaghetti with a big piece of meat, then that's predominantly acid.

The Share Guide: Are people finally learning to eat better?
Ed Bauman: There is a lot of progress in people thinking differently about food choices, so I think it's promising. But if you're in a catabolic state--which means falling apart, breaking down--it affects you physiologically. It affects you emotionally, economically, environmentally, and so forth. If people don't get the nutritional thing figured out, they're going to fall into panic, and after panic comes depression. And then they're weak and they're vulnerable, and they can't even defend themselves against what's coming on. So people really have to put their fork in the right place! There's a lot of difference between organic and commercial, for example, and it's worth whatever it costs. As people get sick, they have to take another look at things, and that's also part of the recovery process.

Dr. Ed Bauman is the founder of Bauman College and Bauman Nutrition. Learn more at www.baumancollege.org and www.baumannutrition.org or call (800) 987-7530.


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