A new study indicates that a deficiency in the production of energy within the body's cells may play an important role in the symptoms of depression, particularly the physical symptoms.
Researchers from the Karolinska Institute recently published their findings in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. They report that individuals whose energy production is towards the lower end of normal may be at an increased risk of developing depression and especially a form of depression that includes a lot of physical symptoms.
The researchers hypothesized that decreased production of ATP in mitochondria might be at the root of depressive disorders with very high levels of somatization (physical symptoms).
Mitochondria are the power stations of the body and are present in nearly all cells. Chemical reactions within the mitochondria result in the conversion of fuel (carbohydrates, fats) and oxygen to a substance called ATP. This chemical is the 'energy currency' of the body and is required for every process in the body to function.
During the study the energy production in the muscle mitochondria of depressed patients was assessed and patients were also asked to complete questionnaires about their symptoms using three different scales developed by the Karolinska Institute.
At the end of the study it was found that almost all of the patients who scored highly for physical symptoms on each of the three questionnaires demonstrated production of muscle ATP that was below the bottom of the normal range.
What does this mean for the treatment of depression?
The study authors conclude that the results demonstrate that "mitochondrial function correlates very strongly with self-reported data related to somatic symptoms in depressed patients."
These results suggest that nutrients which are vital for the production of energy within the mitochondria might be beneficial in the treatment of depression. As a matter of fact a handful of studies looking into this possibility are already being planned.
Some of these nutrients which all have proven safety records and are available as supplements on the high street and internet include:
The majority of the ATP generated in the body is recycled from a related chemical called ADP when food and oxygen are burned in the mitochondria. However, when this is not occuring efficiently the body can make new ATP for a form of sugar called D-ribose. This is not used by the body as other sugars are and is instead used solely for manufacturing ATP and other substances vital for energy production and other functions. D-ribose has been used to successfully treat heart disease as well as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Supplements of D-ribose allow the body to increase its stores of of ATP and increase the energy available to cells.
This nutrient is vital for the process of ATP recycling in the mitochondria of the cells. It acts as an intermediate energy carrier before ATP, the only form of energy the body can use, is formed. Like D-ribose, coenzyme Q10 has been widely used in conditions where fatigue and insufficient energy production is a factor including heart disease and CFS.
This amino acid is required to carry fats into the mitochondria where they can be used to produce energy in the form of ATP.
Another intermediate energy carrier in the mitochondria which has a similar job to coenzyme Q10. Available as a supplement and has been used to treat CFS.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) and Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Niacin is used to make NADH in the body while riboflavin is used in the same way to produce FADH, which has the same role as NADH in energy production.
Many anecdotal reports on the internet confirm that these nutrients are already providing some relief from depression in many people. For confirmation of their beneficial effects we will have to wait for the results of the upcoming studies.
Source: Gardner A and Boles RG (2008) Mitochondrial Energy Depletion in Depression with Somatization Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics 77:127-129