This is the second installment of a three-part series in which I discuss natural ways to combat common disorders. As one who has personally dealt with depression and anxiety, I will tell you that the information provided in this series should by no means replace a medicinal regime that you may be on; talk to your doctor before implementing any changes to your prescribed treatment.
That being said, the purpose of this series is to provide alternative treatment options for those who suffer from various disorders. I think we can all agree that natural is better. So, if natural remedies can be safely used and serve the purpose of relieving symptoms, then go for it. I am personally incorporating some of the following suggestions in hopes of discontinuing my prescribed medication-and of course, I am working with my doctor. (NOTE: I have erroneously attempted to stop an anti-depressant “cold turkey” and the effects were horrible. I cannot emphasize enough that your doctor must play a part in any changes to medication).
The following herbal supplements can be beneficial in fighting depression:
• St. John’s Wort: for many people, this is an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, and insomnia. It is not for everyone, however, because it may interact with other prescribed medications. Check with your doctor if are taking other medications before using this supplement.
• Gingko: enhances serotonin levels. It is commonly used for treating depression in elderly patients.
• 5-HTP: again, this helps balance serotonin levels (by now you should see that serotonin is the key to depression).
• L-Tyrosine: aids in the production of the neurotransmitters L-dopa, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, which are necessary for bringing emotional balance.
• S-Adenosyl-Methionine (SAMe): natural compound taken from Methionine (an amino acid). Studies have shown this supplement to be just as effective as anti-depressants without the dreaded side effect.
• DMAE (di-methyl-amino-ethanol): “a brain stimulant which has been used to relieve depression, tiredness (helping to promote better sleep patterns), improve mental alertness and make you feel more energetic” (The Healthier Life, 2010).
Diet and Exercise
Exercise is beneficial on many levels; it helps to lose and maintain weight, makes your immune system stronger, protects the heart, and is needed for overall good health. Exercise has also been shown to increase certain chemicals in the brain and bring balance to ones mood. Mentally speaking, exercise will give you the revelation that you are caring for your body and in turn make you feel better about yourself. When it comes to fighting depression, it does not matter what exercise you do…just do something! Some good examples are, aerobic exercise, Pilates, and yoga. Going for a walk is also an excellent way to get your exercise without having to out too much effort into it.
A healthy diet is essential for maintaining balance in your body. Just like exercise, some foods actually promote healthy brain function while other foods can cause just the opposite. As a simple rule, only non-starchy vegetables should be a part of your daily diet (you can have starchy veggies such as potatoes in moderation). Oh, you may not want to hear this, but sugar is an absolute no-no; they may make you feel good for a few minutes, but typically leads to the “crash and burn” cycle. The occasional sweet treat is fine, just do not go overboard!
• Non-starchy vegetables: are full of B vitamins, which are known to improve symptoms of depression. Another benefit to these vegetables are that you can literally eat as much as you like!
• Non-starchy fruits: again, vitamins are the key in this food. You should eat about 2-4 servings (about 2 ounces) of fruit daily. Try papayas, avocados, raisins, pineapple, berries (fresh or frozen), cantaloupe, honeydew melon, watermelon, and plums. Some good dried or dehydrated fruits are prunes, figs, and apricots.
• Protein: because of their high level of amino acids, proteins promote healthy brain function, thus decreasing feelings of depression (Anti-Depression Foods, 2010). About 4 ounces of protein should be consumed at each meal.
• Carbohydrates: if you are like me, you love carbs! The good news is, is that there are plenty of healthy carbs can be eaten and they can even decrease depression. Some healthy carbs are: cereals (bran, corn flakes, etc.), low-fat popcorn, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, dark chocolate, and pita bread. This is a an abbreviated list, so as a rule, just remember that carbs with a low glycemic index and that are not highly processed are the carbs you want. Eat about a 2 ounce serving.
• Omega-3 fats: once again, it is all about chemical balance in the brain. Omega-3 improves brain function and in turn balances your mood. Servings should be 4 ounces. There are plenty of foods rich in Omega-3 which include: fish (eat no more than 4-5 times a week), nuts (pecans, walnuts, pinenuts), dairy (butter, selected cheeses), vegetables (spinach, cauliflower, peppers (green, red), Brussels sprouts, yellow onions, squash, and turnip greens).
• Acupuncture: if you are nor squeamish about needles, then this may be for you. Acupuncture is thought to bring balance by stimulating the flow of energy in your body.
• Acupressure: if needles are not your thing, then you can get much of the same relief from acupressure, which is simply a non-invasive way of applying pressure to key points on your body. I can personally testify to this treatment; although I have not seen a professional, I have researched this technique and treated myself. It is extremely relaxing and you can actually feel the tension release in your body.
• Reflexology: by applying pressure to the feet and hands, reflexology is said to relieve pain, improve blood flow, reduce depression and anxiety, and even aid in the relief of physical ailments related to cancer patients.
• Massage: like acupuncture, receiving a massage increases blood flow and brings a sense of calm and relaxation. The human touch in itself has been shown to bring a sense of well-being.
Prayer and Meditation
This can be a powerful tool when combating depression, or any other disorder. People who regularly pray and attend church are happier, healthier, and more resilient. Over all, they respond to life’s challenges in a more productive way, thus not allowing circumstances to dictate their mood. This has been studied time and again and all the data show that people who have faith are not as depressed as those who do have faith. In fact, I am currently reading a book titled How God Changes Your Brain by a neuroscientist and will most likely write an article about it when I am through. In a nutshell, certain parts of the brain are strengthened when contemplating God.
Meditation differs from prayer in that it is a state of mind rather than communication (ie. prayer). The Mayo Clinic defines meditation as “a type of mind-body complementary medicine, produces a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind. During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress.” Typically when people hear the term meditation, they envision a highly spiritual person sitting cross-legged and chanting a strange mantra, but this is not entirely accurate. Anyone can meditate: and meditate on whatever they like. For instance, you may find it relaxing to sit and listen to the birds or the leaves rustling in the wind while contemplating the wonders of nature. That is mediating.
The power of words is often under rated. We have in our words the power of life and death. Sometimes when people are depressed, all they need it to do is to talk about it. One way to do this is to keep a journal. The wonderful thing about journaling is that you do not have worry about being embarrassed or judged. You simply write what you feel, knowing that it is private.
Journaling can also be used to keep track of your moods. I suggest that you record things, such as sleep patterns and/or when you are most depressed, and see if there is a trigger somewhere. By “trigger” I mean that there are certain things in our daily lives that may contribute to depression. If you are not getting enough sleep, for instance, you may become depressed. When you are depressed, what correlated with the episode of depression?
By keeping track of these things, it may help you to see where depression comes in and how to stop it. Other things that may contribute to depression are caffeine and smoking. So, if you are a smoker or drink caffeine, keep track of how those substances make you feel. Unfortunately, those substances are a lot like sugar…they make you feel better for a short time, but then it quickly fades.
Finally, staying active will reduce depression. If you are active, you are not sitting there dwelling on how you feel. We can choose to be active, even when we do not feel like it. I find it therapeutic to bake or clean my house when I get “blue” (or mad) because it takes my mind off of my feelings and mood and allows me to be productive. There are so many things you can do to distract yourself from negative feelings. The next time you feel depressed, try doing something active and see for yourself how the atmosphere changes.
Anti-Depression Foods (2010). Anti-Depression Foods: Protein List. Retrieved November 16, 2010, from http://www.anti-depressionfoods.com/foods/anti-depression-foods-protein-list/
The Healthier Life (2010). Depression: Drug-Free Ways To Alleviate Depression By Boosting Levels Of The Feel-Good. Retrieved November 16, 2010, from http://www.thehealthierlife.co.uk/natural-health-articles/mental-health/mood-boosting-supplements-00914.html
The Mayo Clinic (2010). Meditation: Take a stress-reduction break wherever you are. Retrieved November 16, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/meditation/HQ01070