Natural Depression Treatments

Take depression seriously--it can kill you

It's like a black hole that occasionally swallows me up, from out of nowhere. I can't work, I can't sleep--and yet I can't stay awake--I can't take care of myself, and all the color and hope drains from the world.

"It" is depression, and for me it's a chronic condition that cost me jobs and relationships before I finally found effective help. For me that help was pharmaceutical, but I use several natural methods as well to keep the black hole at bay.

I'm not alone. Depression affects millions of people worldwide and can range from being fairly mild to completely devastating. It's estimated that a quarter of all American women will suffer from clinical depression at some point in their lives, and that women are twice as likely to suffer from it as men. Only 30 percent of depressed people get any form of treatment at all, which is a big mistake. Without treatment, the frequency and severity of symptoms tend to increase over the years--just like other diseases. Take depression seriously. It can be just as deadly as cancer, especially in the elderly.

While there are a variety of drugs available to help control the symptoms of this disease, they often have unpleasant side effects and can be hard to tolerate for some sufferers. In days past, antidepressants often carried a stigma with them, causing users to suffer harassment and possibly lose potential jobs. And while times have changed, in some parts of the world, they haven't changed enough.

To avoid the problems associated with poor mental health and the side effects of traditional medicine, many depression sufferers decide to go the natural route. They look for alternative treatments to use in place of regular pills, or they consult with natural health care providers.

Natural depression treatments have several advantages to them. They tend to be cheaper than the average antidepressant, though the oldest selective serotonin uptake inhibitor (SSRI), Prozac, is now a generic drug and quite inexpensive. Natural treatments are available without a prescription, which means instead of having to see your doctor for a refill, you can simply head to the nearest natural supplement or health store to get what you need, depending on the treatment you have chosen.

Even so, choosing a treatment may not be something you should undertake on your own. Herbs and supplements are effective medicines, and sometimes have side effects and drug interactions of their own. If you take ANY other medications, be sure to consult with your health care practitioner before adding any supplement for whatever reason. And if your depression appears to be deepening, take it seriously. Get help. Talk with your practitioner and get a referral to someone with expertise in treating depression.

One of the most renowned natural antidepressants is St. John's wort. This herb has been used for centuries to treat mild to severe depression, ranking in some studies to be as effective as some SSRIs. It comes in capsules, tablets or in a tea. The tea is probably the weakest of the three choices, but it is easy enough to replace your morning Earl Grey with a cup of depression treatment! The downside to this natural treatment is that it can affect your oral birth control and some women have found that the Pill is no longer effective when taking this herb.

Ginseng and ginkgo are two other herbs that have been proven to relieve depression symptoms, particularly in the elderly. They can be used separately, but are best together. The herbs come in capsule or tablet form as well and are pleasant smelling as well as fast working. They may not be quite as effective as St. John's Wort, so this natural therapy is better used for mild depression. If you are on any form of blood-thinning medication, ginkgo can cause problems.

Other natural remedies for depression include an amino acid called 5-HTP, which helps your body produce more serotonin, the happy hormone. Since most antidepressants help boost serotonin levels (low levels have been linked to depression), it makes sense that 5-HTP would work just as well. This treatment is effective, but made more so by combining it with St. John's Wort.

Depression has also been linked in some cases to a Vitamin B deficiency, so this is another natural treatment. When a deficiency is indeed the cause of the depression, then taking a supplement and increasing intake of foods that contain the missing nutrient should help clear up the problem. It is a good idea to check with your doctor on this one first since this may or may not be your particular problem.

Making sure you eat properly and get exercise can also help lift depression naturally. I find that making sure I eat within an hour of rising helps, a technique discussed at length by Dr. Katherine DesMaisons at her Radiant Recovery website. That site has a number of great suggestions for helping with depression.

And check to see if you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. I do, and starting right around the fall equinox I start sitting for a half hour every morning in front of a light therapy lamp. It helps, a lot. I do it throughout the winter and stop right around the spring equinox.

Antidepressants are often considered to be a last resort and many people who suffer from depression would much rather take a natural supplement than admit to friends and family that they are suffering from a mental illness. But don't let shame or fear keep you from getting help. There's nothing more shameful about depression than having diabetes, and would you be embarrassed about taking insulin? No. Then don't be embarrassed about depression.

If you are currently on antidepressants the absolute WORST thing you can do is stop taking them abruptly. If you decide you want to try a different solution, talk with your practitioner. Going cold turkey on some antidepressants can have serious consequences. Discuss your options thoroughly with your practitioner. The two of you together can find the best treatment for you.


Maria V's picture

I'm reading some very interesting books about the effect of sugar (sucrose) on our health, including mental health. There seems to be a connection between sugar, sugar sensitivities, and depression. I know that I'm a sugar addict, highly sensitive to sugar, and the less sugar I eat, the better I feel. Yes, I've been on both Prozac and Paxil. One made me feel like a zombie and the other like I wanted to kill myself. Still working on being completely sugar free, but already feel better by not eating it daily.

Sugar Blues by William Dufty
Potatoes Not Prozac by ?

lindaberryman1234's picture

women are especially at risk for depression. with the statistics of rape, assault, harrassment, postpartum depression, and so on, awareness needs to be kept up! it is also important that we make sure we're getting the right nutrients in our bodies, because there are many vitamins, minerals, and herbs that can help fight off symptoms of depression. over at the dietary supplement information bureau page on depression, you can read up and get information on how to keep healthy and prevent depression as much as you can.

Becky's picture

There is evidence that regular exercise is as effective as Prozac in moderate depression.

Andrea's picture

It is pretty amazing isn't it. I really need to go for my walk today! Of course when I most need it is in the middle of winter, but maybe I can still find a way - do you have any sources for that research Becky?

silverbear's picture

There has been some work that shows that the DHA found in Omega-3 fatty acids is helpful in cases of depression.

Shaun's picture

My psychiatrist, who is very active in pursuing non-pharm treatments for depression, reports that more recent studies on St. John's Wort have been less positive. I cannot recommend his book highly enough: The Chemistry of Joy, by Dr. Henry Emmons.

5-HTP, on the other hand, is one of his major recommendations. BUT -- try to find a practicioner who can help you with it. Taking 5-HTP along with an SSRI can lead to seratonin syndrome. They *can* be combined, but it wouldn't be wise to do it on your own. (The book has great info on this an other supplements/herbs Lynn talks about, with more detail on what we know -- and don't know -- about brain function.)

Another note on SSRIs -- my understanding is that they don't boost the amount of seratonin in your system, but rather do things to make your brain think there is more seratonin by closing off some of the "uptake" sites. Fewer available sites for seratonin to connect makes it seem as though there is more seratonin competing for those sites.

The problem is that if you are not making enough seratonin to begin with, the SSRI can only do so much, and can actually backfire by discouraging increased seratonin production. (Why produce more if you seem to have plenty?) Thus the use of amino acids like 5-HTP, supplements like a B-Complex, careful attention to protein/carb intake (you need both -- why do you think extreme low-carbers are so grumpy?). To me this is a major missing piece of the puzzle that pharm-pushers don't consider.

Also -- and I think Lynn would agree on this -- those of us raised in a Western medicine mindset often turn to "alternatives" with that same way of thinking. I won't pop this pharm-pill, I'll pop a St. John's Wort instead. I don't want megadoses of SSRIs, so I'll take megadoses of vitamins instead. A big difference between traditional Western-style practice and alternative practice is that alternatives are often more holistic, focusing on prevention and maintenance and putting together a full wellness lifestyle (to coin a really goofy phrase).

I am *so* in favor of a holistic approach to treating depression. BUT I would stress, like Lynn does, that if you are in a severe depression, it's not the time to start experimenting on your own without also seeking medical help.

If your friend were having a heart attack, you would not help her by putting her on the treadmill and handing her a stalk of broccoli. You'd drive her to the hospital. And hopefully after the immediate crisis passed, her doctor/health support team would assist her in a full heart-health lifestyle.

Depression is just the same -- seek help to get yourself back to a place where you can function fairly normally, *then* begin to establish your brain/mood-healthy lifestyle.

Well, enough on that, hey?! Can you tell it's something that I give a lot of time and thought to?! Thanks, Lynn, for putting this out there.


Lynn's picture

You really expanded on the article. I absolutely agree with you that moderate to severe depression must be stabilized first, and then treated holistically. I'm looking into 5-HTP myself, though I don't want to go off my little dose of Prozac (10 mg/day). For me, Prozac, B vitamins, plenty of protein (getting enough carbs is easy), my light therapy lamp and walking are what make the difference, but I could use a little boost. I've been very down the last few weeks--ever since I injured my back--and I'm slowly pulling myself back up.

Lynn Siprelle, Editor

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