Okay, so I've tried St. John's Wort (an herbal SSRI) and I've tried multiple SSRIs and SNRIs and I hate the side effects of every last one of them. The weight gain and metabolism slow-down are bad enough, but add into that the fact that they didn't actually lift my depression, they just made it so I didn't care. I felt wrapped in fuzzy cotton.
After I tried getting off of them completely, and without having anything anti-depressant in my system realized I did need something, I did some reading.
I want to share what I found, but I also want to warn you: this isn't going to work for everybody. It might not work for you. And this isn't woo-woo stuff, if you're looking to go anti-science. It's based on science and how the brain works.
So first, a little primer in brain chemistry. (If this is your field, and you are aggravated by certain things I've simplified or glossed over, I'm sorry. I was trying to make this understandable. You can leave comments if you want.)
Your brain communicates through the nervous system. Millions of nerves. Each one is a neuron. And they don't actually connect end to end. There's a tiny (very tiny) gap between each one and the next. If the nerve wants to communicate something to the next nerve, it sends a neurotransmitter across the gap. The receiver nerve accepts the neurotransmitter and then trashes it. Kind of like sending someone a letter and they read it and then throw it in the trashcan.
A neurotransmitter is just a molecule. It's a big molecule, though not as big as some, but it's pretty big (no, you still can't see it!). This is important later.
A SSRI or SNRI is short for "selective serotonin/norepinephrin reuptake inhibitor". What it does, it prevents the nerve from throwing the neurotransmitter in the trashcan. It put it into the "recycle bin" of the brain where it can be used again.
This is based on the hypothesis that depression is caused by a shortage of the appropriate neurotransmitter. Some people lack serotonin, some lack norepinephrine, and some lack dopamine (Wellbutrin is the only dopamine helper anti-depressant that I know of). This is a widely accepted hypothesis that seems well-supported by the clinical evidence. In other words, you find the neurotransmitter you're short on, make your brain have more of it, and your depression is reduced or lifts.
My personal unproven untested hypothesis is that the side effects are because your brain is trashing the neurotransmitters for a good reason. Maybe they lose one tiny hydrogen off the middle somewhere and become a problem. Whatever; you're supposed to use a new one every time (like a salad bar and the plates).
So, why the drugs? Why can't you just put dopamine into a pill and take it?
Remember how I said the neurotransmitters are fairly big molecules? There are nerves outside the brain, but for the ones inside the brain, the brain makes those molecules inhouse, so to speak. There's a blood-brain barrier around your brain (because brains don't have blood inside them, just on the outside) and it stops any big molecules from getting through. This is to stop (most) viruses and bacteria from attacking the brain. They're big molecules and can't get through.
But little molecules can make it through, like oxygen (which is oxygen-oxygen, O2 technically, and thus a molecule made up of two atoms).
And the building blocks that the brain uses to make neurotransmitters can get through as well. The brain is very efficient. It uses building blocks in many different brain molecules, without having to have a specific set for each one. In other words, if one of the building blocks is red, it can appear in multiple types of brain-manufactured molecules. Red-Green-Blue, Red-Blue-Blue, etc.
So. Idea. What if you took the building blocks in a pill and flooded your system with those? Would your brain make more of Red-Green-Blue simply because it had more Red, Green, and Blue available now? Perhaps some kinds of depression are simply because the building mechanism is slower than normal for that neurotransmitter?
Dopamine is made of an amino acid and two vitamins. It's phenyalanine and two of these three: B2, B1, B6. (I don't actually remember.)
I tried taking phenylalanine and a balanced B-100 formula vitamin (100 mg of each of the 5 major B vitamins)(which is why I don't remember which of those three it is). I took 2 of the 500 mg L-phenylalanine pills. This made me feel better (less depressed) but not quite enough, so during the summer I take 2.5 of the 500 mg L-phenylalanine and during the winter go up to 3 (to combat the Seasonal Affective Disorder).
It has to be L-phenylalanine, as the D- version is useless to the human body. (You can buy these in L- only or DL- and the DL- is cheaper because they didn't have to separate the two.) The human body uses the left version only. I've also found that only Source Naturals brand works, but your milage may vary and it's not like I tried anything but the Vitacost generic brand as an alternative.
Now there's always the placebo effect, which I will grant you. But my sample set (the number of people I know doing this where it works for their depression) is greater than one, it's (tada) two. My brother also does this, and it works for him. I think he has to take 3 or 4 of the 500 mg tablets, which would make sense given his larger weight. (He's a boy, I'm girl, so yes, he weighs more than me. He's also taller.)
Before you run out to try this, WAIT.
I'm not a doctor. I'm not even a biology chemist. I'm just an analytical chemist and I don't work in this field. So, I can't really recommend anything. But I will say you need to be careful. This is your brain you're screwing around with.
I'd say, "Get off the anti-depressant you're currently on before you try this" and "do that part slowly." I'd say, "Make sure your doctor knows what you're doing. Their eyes may have this 'huh?' look, so you probably should add on the end, 'it's like taking Wellbutrin'."
I'd say, "Make sure you keep an eye on yourself and your symptoms, and if you feel like you're getting worse, get back on your normal anti-depressant immediately."
And definitely, if what you're taking right now works for you, don't try this. Honestly.
The side effects I have noticed are: a feeling like an extended adrenaline rush. This means you're taking too much and back off a pill.
The other side effect that is long term is a certain lack of ability to access the word you want to use. This is mostly just annoying for me. I'll come up with words that are close but not quite what I wanted.
For example, I've said that I had to "put new shingles on my ceiling." I've referred to my brother's driveway as a parking lot, although in my defense there were six cars in it at the time. (But I wasn't trying to be funny and the word I wanted to use was driveway.) I've said "thank you" instead of "you're welcome."
So, for dopamine (what I do): L-phenylalanine + one Balanced B-100 mg vitamin.
For serotonin: melatonin + one Balanced B-100 mg vitamin.
No matter how many of the L-phenylalanine tablets you have to take, you only need 1 of the Balanced Bs.
I can't supplement serotonin. Look up serotonin syndrome if you're actually wanting to know why. Point being here, I haven't tried that version of this method personally so I don't know if it'll work.
To wrap up: if you try this, please be careful. I don't want anybody to get hurt. There are people who can't supplement phenylalanine, and if you are one, don't try this (please say that was obvious).
Unlike a prescription antidepressant, you should notice within a day if this is working for you. (If it's not, add a pill; if that doesn't work at all, give up on this method. If it feels "a little better" add a half a tablet more. I wouldn't think you should go above 4 of the 500 mg tablets unless you're a really large person (we're talking 300 pounds or more). Start at 2 tablets and work your way up by half a tablet.
And unlike a prescription antidepressant, there is no carryover effect. You have to take this every day.
Time of day: since dopamine is an "activator" neurotransmitter (wakes you up, sort of), take it in the morning. If you are trying the serotonin version, take that at night, as serotonin is a "calming" neurotransmitter (it comes from melatonin after all!)
Please be careful and please be aware that these aren't "harmless" because you found them in the vitamin aisle.