The Toxic Chemicals Most Linked to Depression
Although 17 million Americans suffer from depression, no
one knows for sure what causes it. Theories range from biochemical
imbalances to stress to genetics.
Recently, however, depression has been linked to a relatively
new phenomenon: exposure to a wide array of environmental
toxins. We're all exposed to pollutants--in our food, air,
homes, environment, etc.--and over time these toxins accumulate
in our systems.
Exposure to pesticides has been linked with increased
rates of depression.
"Environmental toxins have only increased over the past
50 years and have been found in everything from grit on the
ground to the makeup a woman uses to powder her nose. Pesticides,
toxic mold and harsh chemical cleaners have all become more
prevalent in our country and also in many of our homes,"
says Dr. Harry Wong, clinical director of the Physicians Plus
Medical Group, a medical clinic in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"We often see patients who have feelings of depression
and one of the first things we suspect is an environmental
Dr. Wong and like-minded practitioners, including the University
Pathology Consortium, a not-for-profit academic consortium
founded and owned by the medical school departments of six
leading universities, including Stanford, are part of a growing
group who believe an underlying cause of depression may be
exposure to toxins, and, over time, a toxic overload to the
Environmental Chemicals Linked to Depression
You may be surprised at the number of chemicals out there
that have been linked to depression. Here are some of the
best known, and most widespread.
Common Symptoms of Depression
is a change in mood that lasts for weeks, months or
more and disrupts your ability to perform your normal
activities. Symptoms include:
- Feeling sad or blue
- Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Inability to sleep or excessive sleeping
- Agitation or irritability
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Pesticides: It's well known that farmers, who work
with pesticides regularly and at higher levels than the general
population, have an increased rate of depression. In fact,
according to a study published in the Annals
of Epidemiology, farmers exposed to pesticides have nearly
a six-fold increased risk of suffering from depressive symptoms.
Further, a specific class of pesticides called organophosphates,
which are known to be highly neurotoxic, were involved in
a revealing disaster back in 1994-1996. The pesticide methyl
parathion, which is only approved for outdoor agricultural
uses, was illegally sprayed inside Mississippi and Ohio homes
by unlicensed pest control operators. More than 1,500 homes
and businesses were sprayed, which resulted in the temporary
relocation of 1,100 people and the closure of eight day care
centers, one restaurant and two hotels.
A study published in Health
and Social Work to monitor the depressive symptoms of
the victims years later found that more than half the victims
interviewed reported depressive symptoms at levels high enough
to suggest probable clinical depression.
Want to decrease your pesticide exposure? Follow these
Buy certified organic fruits, vegetables and meats (be
sure to wash produce, particularly commercially grown
produce, thoroughly before eating using a diluted soap
Avoid the use of toxic pesticides in your home and yard
(opt for natural pesticides that you can find in your
local health food store instead)
Don't use pesticides for aesthetic purposes like killing
dandelions in your lawn
Don't use chemical bug repellants,
flea treatments or lice
Environmental pollutants: These toxins, which are
especially toxic indoors and can make indoor air two to five
times, and up to 100 times, more polluted than outdoor air,
can result in psychological problems like depression. Sources
of such toxins include: buildings materials, furnishings,
cleaning agents, pesticides, printing and copying devices,
combustion appliances, tobacco products, allergens, fungi,
molds, bacteria, viruses, radon and lead.
In fact, according to Thomas Benjamin, president of the Environmental
Alliance for Senior Involvement, "Areas with serious
air pollution problems ... may cause stress, anxiety, and
depression in addition to physical problems"--particularly
for the elderly, children or those with weakened immune systems.
And, Dr. Doris Rapp, author of Our
Toxic World: A Wake-Up Call, warns that "Environmental
illness can be every bit as real as that caused by germs ...
and can trigger serious physical, neurological, and psychological
problems." She says symptoms of environmental illness
can include "increased fatigue, moodiness, depression,
irritability, hyperactivity, aggression, and an inability
to focus and remember."
Prescription Drugs: Some commonly prescribed drugs
can actually lead to depression, including some in these drug
- Tranquilizers & sleeping pills
- Heart Drugs with reserpine
- High blood pressure drugs
- Ulcer drugs
- Systemic corticosteroids
- Anti-Parkinson drugs
- Some painkillers
- Contraceptive pills
Each of these drug classes contributes to depression in a
different way. In the case of antibiotics and drugs that contain
cortisone, Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. says, "The more often
you take antibiotics or cortisone-containing drugs, the more
disturbed your natural balance of intestinal flora. The medical
term for this is dysbiosis." And two of the most common
complaints of people suffering form dysbiosis are depression
It is possible to reduce your reliance on drugs as you see
fit by strengthening your immune system with a healthy diet
containing plenty of fruits and vegetables (not eating healthy
enough? Try the immune-enhancing Fruits
of Life: Potent Cellular Protection), reducing
stress and getting adequate sleep. Plus, if you have pain,
rather than taking a painkiller, you can try one
of these eight non-drug methods to treat your pain.
Solvents: Solvents, including those found in detergents,
dry-cleaning fluids, perfumes, polystyrene cups, plates and
packaging, synthetic rubber, some cosmetics and cleaning supplies,
have been linked to neurological disorders including depression.
In fact, according to the American Lung Association, "Most
organic solvents affect the central nervous system, primarily
Your best chances at avoiding exposure to solvents is to
diligently seek out natural alternatives when it comes to
cosmetics and other household needs. There are even environmentally
friendly dry cleaners out there that don't use toxic solvents
on your clothing.
Heavy Metals Like Lead, Mercury: Exposure to lead
and mercury have also been linked to depression. Lead, whose
major sources include lead-based paint, leaded gasoline, lead-contaminated
water, manufacturing of lead batteries, rubber products, glass
and other lead-containing products, and lead oxide fumes that
result when demolishing industrial buildings, has also been
linked to depression. Further, it's estimated that 64 million
homes in the United States still contain lead paint.
According to Steven Marcus, MD, executive director of the
New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, "Adults
with lead poisoning have increased incidences of depression
... " Further, in a study of foundry workers, who are
exposed to lead at their jobs, those with high blood lead
levels had an increased rate of depression.
In terms of mercury, one proposed route of mercury exposure
is via dental amalgams, which include mercury. In one Norwegian
study, 47 percent of patients with dental amalgam fillings
reported suffering from major depression, compared with only
14 percent in the control group.
And another study, published in Neuroendocrinology
Letters, found that removal of mercury fillings resulted
in improvements in 70 percent of those who suffered from mercury-related
health problems like depression.
We're also exposed to mercury via our diets, particularly
through eating mercury-tainted fish. To lower your exposure,
you may want to avoid fish that contains mercury (to get the
health benefits of fish, though, try the highly recommended
World Cod Liver Oil.) You should also consider having
any dental amalgams you have removed by a qualified dentist.
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