Kombucha & Depression

By Ariana Estelle-Symons, Ph.D., Copyright 1997
From the
Kombucha Konnection Newsletter, February 1997

"I've Got A Feeling Called The Blues"

(A Look At Clinical Depression And The Possible Benefits Of Drinking Kombucha Tea)

Authors note: Depression is not a fun subject. It is not a subject that I thought we would be writing about for this newsletter. However, in the years I've been helping people by introducing them to Kombucha, it has come to light that many of these people are depressed. Often, the depression accompanies a chronic illness, or a condition that causes constant pain and suffering. But, often, there is no physical illness that is causing the depression - it's just there - threatening to take away your life.

This article is not intended to 'diagnose' depression - rather - to define it.

And the good news is: further on in this newsletter are many 'testimonials' from many people that have included Kombucha in their search for 'wellness'.

'Oh, you're depressed? Well, just snap out of it - get hold of yourself - pull yourself up by your bootstraps - think about how lucky you are - you don't have any reason to be depressed - think of all the people that are worse off than you - just what IS your problem?'

If you have ever suffered from clinical depression , or experienced the depression of a loved one, you've heard the above remarks; you may have even spoken them yourself. Often those remarks are made with the best intentions, by a person who really does care. But, when there's genuine clinical depression that interferes with the quality of life - it's just not that easy.

What is Clinical Depression?

Clinical depression is different from the 'down' type of feeling we all experience from time to time. Occasional sadness is a part of life. For a clinically depressed person, however, these 'depressed' feelings can be persistent, incapacitating, and far out of proportion to any external causes. Many people will experience a temporary state of depression after the loss of a loved one, the break-up of a marriage, an illness, loss of employment, etc. Clinically depressed persons can feel this level of despair for no apparent reason and for great lengths of time, and often find themselves unable to 'pull themselves' up out of their black mood and get on with life.

What Are the Common Symptoms of Depression?

(A depressed person can experience some or all of these feelings)

What Makes the Depression Clinical?

Clinical Depression Can Affect Your Physical as Well as Emotional Well Being.

How a Depressed Person Views the World (the people around them)

How Depressed People View Themselves

How a Depressed Person Gets Through the Day

Unipolar Depression vs. Bipolar Depression, and SAD

What Causes a Clinical Depression?

Clinical depression results from an alteration in brain chemistry. The brain isn't functioning the way it normally should; there is too much or too little of certain neuro chemicals in the brain. This reaction is similar to what your brain does when reacting to stress, frustration, grief, or illness, but in clinical depression it is self sustaining, that is, it doesn't go away once the stimulus is removed, if an initial stimulus can be found at all. There is evidence that a combination of factors produces a depression. These include physical problems, environmental stress and psychological factors.

Possible Physical and Psychological Causes:

What Treatment is Available for Clinical Depression?

The allopathic treatment for Clinical Depression is currently Psychotherapy/Counseling and Drug Therapy. The following are the 'drugs of choice' prescribed by most medical practitioners in the United States.


Mono amine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs):


Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) 'personality altering drugs'.

Depression and Diet - Is There a Connection?

According to many experts in the field of nutrition, the real culprit is 'SAD' (the Standard American Diet). Being an incredibly delicate and finely balanced instrument, the brain requires substantially more oxygen than other tissues in the body. While the brain constitutes only about 6-8% of total body mass, it is believed to require as much as 20% of the system's total oxygen intake. It's very likely that the underlying problems in brain malfunction are toxicity and deficiency - and 'SAD' may be at fault.

In order for red corpuscles to properly fulfill their oxygen transport function, they should float freely and independently in the bloodstream, exposing the maximum surface area to absorb, carry and release oxygen. However, after a high fat meal, these cells become stuck and clumped together. When this happens the cells have a much reduced total surface area, thereby carrying much less oxygen. With the brain's high oxygen requirement, it cannot function properly under conditions of oxygen starvation. A good example of this is the sleepiness and lack of energy after a heavy meal. It takes six to ten hours for body to clear fat from the bloodstream and 'un clump' the red blood cells. However, most people, during that six to ten hour period will consume another heavy and high fat meal. 40% or more of the calories the average American consumes come from the fat content of our food. So our brain and other vital organs are deprived of their life giving oxygen.

Many depressed people have erratic eating patterns, and inadequate nutrition actually exacerbates their depression. Deficiencies of vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12 and vitamin C are frequently found in people with emotional disorders.

Often, a person suffering from depression is found to also suffer from low blood sugar (Hypoglycemia). Their eating habits are often irregular, resulting in rapid fluctuation of blood sugar levels. When these people eat regular meals at regular times (protein at lunch and dinner), and eliminate all sugar, refined carbohydrates and caffeine from their diet, they control the 'mood swings' and return to life without depression.

Recent research has shown that tea (especially green tea) can help remove fat from the human body. Since Kombucha is brewed with tea, it's possible that the tea we use is doing something far more valuable and important to us than simply providing a 'growing medium' for our Kombucha.

How Does Depression Feel?

(Quotes from some people you might recognize)

"I have secluded myself from society; and yet I never meant any such thing. I have made a captive of myself and put me into a dungeon, and now I cannot find the key to let myself out" - Nathaniel Hawthorne

"I didn't know what was the matter with me. All I knew was that I was feeling lower than a snake's belly... I remember we used to go to restaurants, and I'd say 'Everybody's pointing at me, the cheat, the fraud, the fake. You really believe these things! Astonishing!" - Mike Wallace, 'On the Edge of Darkness'

"When you're depressed, there's no calendar. There are no dates, there's no day, there's no night, there's no seconds, there's no minutes, there's nothing. You're just existing in this cold, murky, ever heavy atmosphere, like they put you inside a vial of mercury" - Rod Steiger, 'On the Edge of Darkness'

"I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be not one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better , it appears to me" - Abraham Lincoln


Good question! Last year when we sent out the 'Kombucha Questionnaire', of the over 400 respondents to the questionnaire, a whopping 81% of these people reported a 'feeling of well being'. Usually, they noticed this improvement within the first couple of weeks when they began to drink Kombucha Tea. Those that had been drinking it for years still report this benefit - myself included.

I have no idea how it works. Is Kombucha an MAOI (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor) or a SSRI (Selective Serotonin Re uptake Inhibitor)? We just don't know. It seems to have the effect of both of these types of antidepressants - without the side effects.

Many of my clients and my 'Kombuchian' friends suffer from depression. Some of them have been on antidepressants for years and have been able to cut back, and in some cases, discontinue their medication when they begin drinking Kombucha Tea consistently.

Here are some of the 'key words' they use when describing the effects of Kombucha:

Kombucha Drinkers Talk About Depression, Nightmares, Anxiety Attacks.

From: Marleen

'Since I started taking KT, I have had the strangest dreams. In the beginning, for about a week, they were almost like nightmares. Then they became just more vivid. Now, after 3 months, I find that not only are my dreams very vivid, but I remember them in great detail. Since I have been in therapy for 3 years for depression, I feel that this is a real healing process'.

From: Dawn
'I have been battling depression and bulimia for many years (ten) and am totally exhausted and lethargic 24 hours a day. I sleep as long as I can in the mornings and when the kids wake me, I wake up in the foulest of moods, sometimes crying because I am so tired. All I want to do is sleep.

I just started on KT. Yesterday morning after a night of maybe only 4 hours sleep due to a huge thunderstorm, I woke at 5:30 am with my hubby's alarm, and I felt fine. I figured I must be hallucinating or something... so, I stayed in bed like I always do. He kissed me good bye and I rolled over to go back to sleep. I realized after a minute or so, that I couldn't... because I wasn't tired!! Well, I have been exhausted for so long that I had forgotten what it felt like to not be tired. I went outside during the day and played road hockey with my boys.

Today I feel hope. I have felt what it feels like to not be tired. It was incredible.'

From: Carol (Physiotherapist)
'I think I do have more energy - although I'm not sure if it is physical energy, or psychological energy. For instance, instead of crashing after I get home from work, as is my usual pattern for the last 15 years, I actually do a few small things - even once in a while it is something out of the house, rather than just puttering, and this is a significant change for me. Also - I take a medication that gives me extremely severe nightmares - where I wake up screaming and kicking on a nightly basis. However, since I started drinking KT, I have had almost no nightmares, and have even had one or two truly enjoyable dreams - something I haven't had for years.'

From: Karina
'I've been depressed for so many years that I don't recall what it was like not to be. For the past two years, I've not been out of my house - seriously - my family runs all the errands, shopping, etc. I cannot go anywhere - I suffer from such panic attacks. Well, I think I may be on the 'road to recovery'.

My husband (bless his heart) has been drinking Kombucha for nearly a year. When I asked him why he was drinking it - he replied - 'because I feel like crap - and this anxiety thing of yours is really getting to me'. Well, all that did was make me defensive - so I would not even try a sip of Kombucha Tea. About six months ago he told me that if I didn't 'clean up my act' and get some kind of help that he was going to leave me and take our girls with him - because obviously, I didn't care enough about any of them to seek help.

This was the 'kick in the behind' that I had needed. I contacted our Rabbi who put me in touch with a wonderful therapist. And guess what that therapist recommended??? That's right - Kombucha! She gave me my first two bottles of it - then told me - 'hey, you're a big girl - start brewing your own'. Well, my darling husband generously offered to make two batches a week and I started drinking it. Actually, now, I've taken over the KT brewing in our house.

I don't know how this stuff works - but it does. I don't sleep my life away like I used to, and I'm back to doing the things I should have been doing for the last two years (actually about 8 years). I realize that KT does not deserve 100% of the credit. A great deal of that goes to my therapist, my loving husband, my understanding kids, my God, and yes, to me. After all, I'm a pretty great person! Keep up the good work you do with Kombucha.

From: Gary
'Kombucha definitely enhances my dream state, and I know of others who have said the same thing. I'll drink it at night if I'm having trouble sleeping. Sometimes I also take it with melatonin, which can also make your dreams more vivid. The two together will definitely 'knock me out'. I actually like the vivid dreams, so it doesn't bother me. I think Kombucha enhances your ability to dream.'

Herbs for Depression

Lucky for us - herbal anti-depressants do exist. I know a great many people who after years on medication (anti-depressants) were able to control their condition with herbal therapy. Keep in mind that the anti-depressant herbs are not as fact acting or as powerful as their pharmaceutical counterparts. Also, if you are currently taking prescribed medication, talk with your medical practitioner about supplementing or replacing your medication with herbal preparations. Don't try to switch to herbal anti-depressants without talking it over with your doctor.

The most commonly prescribed antidepressants work by keeping the neurotransmitter serotonin circulating in the brain. We've mentioned the three most popular types of drugs for depression; tricyclic drugs, MAO inhibitors, and serotonin uptake re inhibitors such as Prozac. Now, let's take a look at some herbs that also increase the availability of serotonin in the brain.

St. John's Wort

In a series of studies presented in Germany in 1992 at the 4th International Congress on Phyto therapy , it was shown that well over half of those who were mildly to moderately depressed were helped by taking St. John's Wort. In less than a month of taking this herb, the depression and accompanying disturbed sleep and fatigue experienced by participants in these studies generally improved. Research was also conducted in Russia -- the herb was combined with psychotherapy to treat alcoholics suffering from depression. One of the major advantages of using St. John's Wort is that, unlike most anti-depressant drugs, it does not impair your attention, concentration or reaction time.

Other herbs that also increase the amount of serotonin released are Siberian Ginseng and Licorice.

An Antidepressant Tincture
1 teaspoon Tincture of St. John's Wort Leaf
1/2 teaspoon each of tinctures of:
Licorice root, ginseng root, lemon balm leaf and ashwaganda leaf.

Take 1 dropper full, three times a day.

Aromatherapy for depression

According to research conducted at the Warwick Olfaction Research Group in England, the effect of fragrance on the brain is similar to that of some antidepressant drugs. This means that certain scents, such as orange, alters brain chemistry that causes depression, anxiety and other mood changes. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks sniffed hyssop, cypress and marjoram to ease grief. Hyssop was said to help clear the mind and help a person think more clearly during trying times. Several ancient cultures, such as Indian and Egyptian, used sandalwood to comfort mourners during funeral ceremonies. Europeans used sage, clary sage and rosemary to help them overcome grief. Rosemary was carried to funerals, then thrown into the grave.

Citrus scents seem to be particularly effective in combating depression. Just peeling an orange can make you feel better as minute particles of essential oils are released. For severe depression, the refined scent of the orange blossom, called neroli, or the less expensive petitgrain, which comes from the stem behind the orange flower. These blend well with lavender, which has for centuries been used for depression. In 16th and 17th Century Europe, clary sage and lemon balm were used to treat 'nervous disorders', and writing in the 16th Century, John Gerard said that sniffing lemon balm (melissa) would 'gladden the heart' and recommended basil to 'taketh away sorrowfullness, and maketh a man merry and glad'. Indians use basil to prevent agitation and nightmares.

Antidepressant Fragrance

4 ounces Sweet Almond Oil
10 drops each:
Bergamot essential oil
Petitgrain essential oil
3 drops Rose Geranium essential oil
1 drop Neroli essential oil (expensive - can be replaced with petitgrain or tangerine)
Use in a diffuser or a few drops in your bath.

Antidepressant Smelling Salts

6 Drops antidepressant fragrance (without the almond oil)
1 heaping teaspoon rock salt
(drop the oil onto the salt and carry in a tightly closed container)

Books to Read About Depression

Overcoming Depression
by : Dr. D.F. Papolos and Janice Papolos
(HarperCollins Publishers)

Depression and its Treatment
by: Dr. John H. Greist and Dr. James W. Jefferson
(Warner Books)

The Feeling Good Handbook
by: Dr. David Burns
(Avon Books)

The Depression Workbook: A guide for Living with Depression and Manic Depression
By: Mary Ellen Copeland
(New Harbinger Publications, Inc.)

Depression: What Families Should Know
By: Elaine Shimberg
(Ballantine Books)

On the Edge of Darkness
By: Kathy Cronkite

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