Hope for Depression Blog

Guest Bloggers

  • Louisa Benton

    Executive Director

  • Steven P. Roose, M.D

    Professor of Clinical Psychiatry

  • Huda Akil, Ph.D

    DTF Chair

Breakthrough Research from HDRF, Wednesday 5 September 2018

What is Acetyl-L-Carnitine? Depression linked to low levels of brain molecule

A major study funded by Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF) at Rockefeller University has revealed that a compound known as Acetyl-L-Carnitine (LAC) may be a biomarker for depression — a discovery that could lead to a potential blood test for depression.

The study, published July 30 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), also points to a breakthrough new class of anti-depressant that is faster-acting and free of side effects than the current treatments that have been in use for the past 30 years.

The paper reveals that in both animal (rodent) studies and human pilot clinical trials, low LAC levels are linked to depression. People with particularly severe or childhood onset depression were found to have the lowest levels. The control subjects with no depression had normal levels of LAC. This suggests that in the near future, a blood test measuring LAC levels can diagnose depression severity.

Furthermore, in the animal studies, oral or intravenous administration of LAC actually reversed depressive symptoms and restored normal behavior within a few days.

The senior author of the paper is HDRF Depression Task Force member Dr. Bruce McEwen, head of the Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at Rockefeller University. The lead author is Carla Nasca, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in McEwen’s lab. Their extensive animal research was funded by HDRF.

“The findings … are clinically impactful and groundbreaking,” said Dr. Robert M. Post of the Department of Psychiatry at George Washington School of Medicine, in a written commentary in PNAS. “They hold the possibility of a new era of biological markers, personalized medicine, and paradigm-shifting acute and preventative treatments at the level of epigenetics.”

“Depression is the Number One reason for disability worldwide and the leading cause of suicide,” said Dr. McEwen. “But current pharmacological treatments are effective for only about 50 percent of the people for whom they’re prescribed. And they have numerous side effects, leading to long term non-compliance.”

Acetyl-L-Carnitine is a natural compound found in the body that aids in fat metabolism and energy production. Dr. McEwen’s studies show that the compound actually works on the genetic level, stimulating genes to produce a molecule that prevents excessive firing of nerve cells in key mood areas.

These results have far-reaching medical ramifications: clinicians are in dire need of a physical method to diagnose depression in adults as well as children, especially those who have lived through traumatic early experience. Currently the diagnosis of depression is very subjective; patients must self-report their symptoms to a doctor. At-risk children may not display depression symptoms until later in life, so a concrete method to identify depression early can lead to effective prevention.

While LAC is an exciting potential biomarker for depression, McEwen stressed that more research is necessary.

“It is likely that other biomarkers will be needed to further identify, or narrow down, to create a more specific depression subtype,” said Dr. McEwen. “That is, a combination of biomarkers may be needed rather than one alone.”

McEwen added: “Hopefully within the next year or two there will be additional information that may lead to a test.”

Dr. McEwen’s study represents one of the first efforts to achieve a precision medicine approach that treats the sub-types of depression, a major goal of the Depression Task Force since it was created in 2010. The Depression Task Force is a team of seven world leaders in brain science from different research institutions who are pooling expertise and data to accelerate discovery. They are conducting the most advanced depression research in the country today.

Here is a round-up of recent news on the breakthrough study:
ABC News
Science Alert
USA Today
Big Think

Thank you for your support. Your gift is more important than ever to ensure continued research progress. 100% of your support goes directly to research.

Walk of HOPE Raises A Quarter Million for Research!, Wednesday 5 September 2018

The Walk of Hope + 5K Run to Defeat Depression raised $250,000 for urgent research.

Thank you to the hundreds of participants who came out for our third annual Walk of Hope + 5K Run to Defeat Depression on Sunday in Southampton.

This year’s event was a huge success! More than 500 men, women and children – plus a few canine friends – came out to raise awareness and $250,000 for advanced depression research.
Speaking from the steps of the Southampton Cultural Center just before the starting gun, HDRF Founder and Chair Audrey Gruss said, “Depression is the number-one reason in the world for disability, and the leading cause of suicide. We want people to know there is help, and we need more research if we are going to turn the tide on depression and suicide in this country, so thank you all for coming out to support the cause today.”

Hope was in abundant supply as everybody sported caps in HDRF’s signature sunshine yellow, along with t-shirts with a custom design by Robert Wilson of the Watermill Center. The competitive runners – 150 in all – burst through the starting line, followed by families and fun runners.
Following the race, Audrey Gruss and her team presented medals for best times in various age categories. Travis Taylor won the best time in the Adult Male category, and Tara Farrell won best time in the Adult Female category. Mark Jacobello, age 13, won for best youth male, and Caroline Clagne, age 13, won for best youth female.

HDRF recognizes the top individual fundraisers Scott Snyder and Kim Heirston, and the Top Fundraising Team, Arthur Dunnam and Roy Cohen of Oskar’s Papa’s Team. Thank you to all of our fundraisers who are truly making a difference with 100% of funds going directly to research.

You can view wonderful photos of the day by following the links below:
Photos by D. Gonzalez for Rob Rich
Caryn Leigh Photography

You can view all of the finisher times by clicking here

Thank you again to ALL our event donors, participants, and volunteers. Your commitment to HDRF’s critical research mission is making a world of difference.

Pride Month and Mental Health Awareness, Friday 29 June 2018

June 28, 2018 marked the 49th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot, the event that sparked the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States, and later inspired Pride events every June. In honor of this important milestone, we wanted to shed light on mental health issues still affecting the LGBTQ community.

Unfortunately, a stigma still exists surrounding LGBTQ communities, which leads to increased rates of bullying, harassment, and even homelessness among a disproportionately large percentage of this population, particularly LGBTQ youth. Such stressors put these individuals at a much greater risk of developing mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

A 2016 CDC report states some alarming statistics about suicidality, including:

  • LGBTQ youth seriously consider suicide at three times the rate of their straight peers, and are five times as likely to have attempted suicide
  • Suicide attempts by LGBTQ youth are four to six times as likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires medical intervention

With your help we can reduce stigma around LGBTQ identity! While we work towards a safer and happier future, there are thankfully many resources available for LGBTQ people in crisis that we encourage you to share. A few are listed below:

HDRF’s work to fund research into the origins, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of depression and its related mood disorders will go a long way to ensure the safety of the many proud and brave LGBTQ members of our society.


CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Sexual Orientation and Depression: Statistics and Where to Find Help.” Healthline, Healthline Media, www.healthline.com/health/depression/gay.

Food and Your Mood, Monday 18 June 2018

As summer sets in, let’s not forget the importance of self-care for our mood. Self-care includes things like sleep, exercise and diet, and it is crucial for our overall mind-brain health.

We’ve talked about sleep and exercise in the past, but not yet about diet.  What we eat matters for every aspect of our health, including our mental health.

Diet and Emotional Well-being

A growing body of research shows that a healthy, natural food diet can help prevent depression.  And an unhealthy diet – high in processed and refined foods – increases the risk for the illness in everyone, including children and teens.

Here is what one recent research review of multiple studies concluded:

“A dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and anti-oxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes, and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk for depression.”

The Stomach-Brain Connection

Diet is such an important component of mental health that is has inspired an entire field of medicine called nutritional psychiatry.  Mind-body medicine specialist Dr. Eva Selhub of Harvard University has written a cogent summary of what nutritional psychiatry is and what it means for you.  Click here to read.

What we eat not only feeds our brain but affects our microbiome – the trillions of microorganisms living in our gut, studies show.  The gut microbiome makes molecules that communicate with the brain and alter the production of a key neurotransmitter — serotonin.  A proper diet enhances this complex communication between gut and brain, experts say.

The Bottom Line

So, what to make for dinner tonight?  There are several healthy options that can be used as a guide.  One that comes up frequently is the Mediterranean diet.

This gist of it is eat lots of plants, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts, with some lean proteins like fish and yoghurt.  Avoid things made with added sugars or flours (like breads, baked goods, cereals and pastas) and minimize animal fats, processed meats, and butter.  Occasional intake of “bad” foods is probably fine; but remember, everything in moderation.

For those struggling with clinical depression, a good diet cannot replace medication or therapy, but it certainly can’t hurt.  At the very least, it can serve as a supplemental treatment that also has a giant upside.  You’ll feel better and you may help prevent many other health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia.

In the Wake of Celebrity Suicide, Friday 15 June 2018

Since the shocking suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, calls to the national suicide hotline have surged.  The story was featured recently in the Wall Street Journal, with the staggering statistic that the rate of suicide in New York is five per hour.  (read more)

But reaching out for professional help should not have to wait for a tragic headline.  This weekend the New York Times had two feature articles about:

1)  the rising suicide rate in the United States (read more)

2)  the ongoing stigma around depression — a deadly barrier to treatment. (read more)

We applaud the media for the recognition of depression and mental health issues as a major global public health issue.  At HDRF, we are working every day to find the biological causes of suicide and new antidepressants that work for those who do not respond to existing medications.

We are also committed to sparking a national conversation.  There needs to be more discussion, more information, and more mindfulness of each other and our possible mental health struggles.

If you want to get involved in a concrete way, please join us as we gather as a community in Southampton on August 5 for the Walk of HOPE + 5K Run to Defeat Depression.   Every step you take with us raises depression awareness.  Every dollar you raise with us goes to urgent depression research. Register Here. 

We look forward to walking and working with you to defeat depression.