by William J. Walsh, PhD in chemical engineering from Iowa State University; researcher, group leader, and section head at Argonne National Laboratory for over 20 years; holder of six patents and author of approximately 175 articles and technical reports; volunteer in Illinois prisons for almost 20 years; and founder in 1974 of the Prisoner Assistance Project. In 1981, the United Way named him "Prison Volunteer of the Year" for metropolitan Chicago. He is president of the Health Research Institute and also of the Pfeiffer Treatment Center. Founded in 1989, the Center is in Naperville, Illinois. It is a not-for-profit outpatient clinic specializing in treatment of behavior disorders, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder (ADD), autism, depression, bipolar disorders, and schizophrenia. Their web page address is:

Last year, I met a young man blessed with intelligence, good looks, athletic skills, a terrific personality, many good friends, comfortable finances, and a loving family. Despite these ideal circumstances, he suffered from suicidal depression. He had attempted to hang himself with an electrical cord and was near death when discovered by a friend. He was unable to explain why he was depressed, but his emotional pain was undeniable.

Over the past 30 years, medical science has learned the importance of brain chemistry. Previously, depression was thought to result from problems of living, with a psychiatrist's couch the best remedy. It is now clear that most victims of depression have something wrong with their neurotransmittersódecisive brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinepherine, and the endorphins, all of which have a powerful influence on intelligence, personality, and moods.

Most psychiatrists resort to powerful brain-altering drugs, in an attempt to help their patients. However, individual responses to drug medications are extremely variable and this therapy is more of an art than a science, with medications administered on a crude trial-and-error basis.

Previously, depression was thought to result from problems of living, with a psychiatrist's couch the best remedy. It is now clear that most victims of depression have something wrong with their neurotransmittersódecisive brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinepherine, and the endorphins, all of which have a powerful influence on intelligence, personality, and moods.

There is no doubt that prozac, zoloft, risperdal, and other medications provide great benefits to many patients. However, the benefits are usually quite incomplete and these medications often have serious side effects, such as blunting of personality, movement disorders, and fatigue. Even when a medication effectively alters serotonin or dopamine functioning, as desired by the psychiatrist, the drug may effect other brain chemicals with adverse effects.

Drug medication is a temporary expedient, which plays an important role in today's treatment of chemical imbalances. However, medical science will eventually unravel the mysteries of brain chemistry and more conservative, non-drug treatments will result. It is likely that nutrient therapy will play an important role in combating depression in the next century.

The Birth of Neurotransmitters
The brain is a chemical factory that constantly produces serotonin, dopamine, and the other dozens of neurotransmitters, which are vital to our existence. The only raw materials for these processes are amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. In a sense, nutrients are the parents of our neurotransmitters. If someone's brain is presented with the wrong array of nutrients, then an abnormal array of neurotransmitters will result. I believe this to be the primary cause of depression and other mental health problems in the world.

For example, vitamin B-6 is a major co-factor in the synthesis of serotonin. About 25% of the depressives in our database exhibit a striking deficiency of B-6 and report symptoms associated with low serotonin levels. Many of these patients had been helped by prozac, paxil, or zoloft, which are serotonin-enhancing medications. However, after treatment with B-6 and augmenting nutrients, many of these same patients report complete recovery from depression, along with the ability to eliminate the medication.

Carl Pfeiffer, MD, PhD, once stated that "for every drug that yields a beneficial result, there is a nutrient, which can produce the same effect." We believe that nutrients can have a potent pharmaceutical effect, if used with rifle-shot precision. Nutrient therapy may well become the primary treatment for depression in the next century.

Chemical Classification of Depression
The Pfeiffer Treatment Center has amassed a large database of biochemical information for clinical depression, comprised of nearly 100 chemical analyses of blood, urine, and hair tissue for 2,000 depressed persons. We find that most depressed persons have striking nutrient imbalances, which are relatively uncommon in the general population. These imbalances result in significant depletions or overloads of specific nutrients.

I have found that depression can be divided into five biochemical types: histadelia, histapenia, copper overload, pyroluria, and toxic overload. Each of these imbalances has a unique syndrome of distinctive symptoms together with abnormal chemical levels in blood, urine, and tissues.

1. Histadelia

Histadelic depressives have a particular imbalanced amino-acid cycle, which results in low levels of serotonin and elevated histamine. Histadelics often exhibit obsessive-compulsive tendencies, perfectionism, seasonal allergies, easy tears, high libido, and headaches. They have addictive tendencies with a high incidence of alcoholism, drug abuse, anorexia, and bulimia. They often are diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder which is most serious during Fall and Winter. The decisive chemical test for this condition is whole blood histamine. We treat histadelia with a biochemical one-two punch in which (1) calcium is given to release excess histamine from tissues into the bloodstream, and (2) methionine is provided to add a methy group to blood histamine and hasten its exit from the body. With good compliance, improvement is usually noted in 4-8 weeks with about 3-6 months needed to correct this chemical imbalance.

2. Histapenia

Histapenic depressives have a low level of histamine in blood and neuronal tissues and are believed to be individuals with high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Common symptoms include high anxiety, academic underachievement, social isolation, food allergies, chemical sensitivities, low libido, dry eyes, and upper-body or head pain. About one-third experience anxiety disorders, panic attacks, or paranoia. Histapenics usually exhibit blood histamine levels below 40 mcg/dL, and react badly to anti-histamines, which naturally reduce their histamine levels even further. Treatment revolves around folic acid, vitamin B-3 (niacin or niacinamide), Vitamin B-12, and a high-protein diet. Gradual improvement usually begins within 2-4 weeks, with several months needed to properly correct this chemical imbalance.

3. Copper Overload

Many depressives exhibit elevated copper in blood, hair, and neuronal tissues. This condition is associated with skin sensitivity, tinnitus, childhood hyperactivity, learning disabilities, and intolerance to vitamins containing copper. Females with this condition often have severe pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), intolerance to estrogen, and a family history of post-partum depression. Key lab tests include serum copper and scalp hair copper. Biochemical treatment involves using zinc, manganese, and cysteine in order to stimulate metallothionein, which is a linear protein that has the job of regulating trace metals (zinc, copper, manganese, etc.) in the body. Vitamins C and E are also useful in hastening the exit of copper from the bloodstream. Care must be taken to avoid excessive copper release from tissues during the first few weeks of treatment, which could result in increased blood copper levels and a temporary worsening of depression. Most patients report little or no progress during the first 3-4 weeks of treatment, with improvement starting in earnest during the 2nd month. This imbalance often takes 3-6 months to satisfactorily resolve.

4. Pyroluria

Pyroluric depressives have an inborn error of hemoglobin metabolism that results in a striking double deficiency of B-6 and zinc. Pyrolurics usually exhibit frequent mood swings, inability to tolerate stress, and are often famous for their temper. Common symptoms include sensitivity to light, inability to eat breakfast, poor dream recall, white spots on fingernails, impulsivity, preference for spicy foods, and high anxiety. The decisive lab test is urine kryptopyrroles, with pyrolurics exhibiting 5 to 50 times the normal level. Treatment involves substantial dosages of B-6 and zinc along with augmenting nutrients. Most patients report a calming within 10 days with 1 to 3 months needed to fully correct pyroluric depression.

5. Toxic Overload

Excessive levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, and other toxins can result in serious depression. In this case, depression may occur quite suddenly without prior symptoms, and may be accompanied by nausea, abdominal discomfort, bad breath, and reduced concentration. Effective treatment requires (1) preventing additional exposure to the toxic material, and (2) promoting its exit from the body. Treatment varies with the particular toxic involved. Useful nutrients include calcium, zinc, cysteine, manganese, and vitamins B-6, C, and E. Serious toxic exposures require supervision by a physician since overly aggressive treatment could result in kidney damage. Most toxic metals are bone-seekers, which complicates the treatment process. It is relatively easy to clear toxic metals from blood and soft tissues (including the brain), but removing toxic metals from bone is a slow and gradual process at best. Often 6-12 months are needed before blood concentrations become stabilized at a safe level.

The young man who tried to hang himself with the electrical cord was discovered to have a combination of copper overload and histadelia. He reports a complete elimination of depression after 2 months of nutrient therapy at the Pfeiffer Treatment Center, and has been without symptoms for the past 8 months. He plans to return to college, and his prognosis is excellent.

Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XXII, No. 2, Spring 1997, pages 2-4.