The numbers are staggering. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 9.5% of us will experience some form of depression during any given calendar year and the World Health Organization found that depression is so common that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability worldwide. Unfortunately, natural and alternative medicine has little to offer someone who is severely depressed but if you deal with infrequent bouts of mild depression ask your doctor if adding behavioral modification, dietary changes or herbal supplements is appropriate for you.
Behavioral & Lifestyle Changes to Consider
Behavioral modifications like learning to recognize and arrest negative self-talk can be an effective way to stem mild depression before it gets a chance to progress. Your doctor can refer you to a qualified therapy program that will help you understand exactly what self-talk is and how it can be used to combat depression naturally.
Sunlight exposure–or a lack of it–seems to play a significant role in some people’s vulnerability to depression, especially the type of depression doctors call seasonal affective disorder or SAD.
Dr. Andrew Weil calls exercise “the most effective treatment” he knows for mild depression. Running a marathon may be the last thing you want to do when you’re depressed but a light daily exercise program (like walking for 20 minutes a day) may be very helpful in the battle against mild depression.
Caffeine and alcohol avoidance may be helpful for some people struggling with depression. Both of these substances play a significant role in mood and can make mood swings more pronounced.
Herbal & Nutritional Approaches
Omega 3 fatty acids are a relatively new tool in the fight against depression. Omega 3 fatty acids seem to play a vital role in the fight against some forms of depression. Scientific research is sketchy at this time but we know that the Japanese, who eat more than 3 times the amount of omega 3-rich fish like salmon than we do, have the lowest rates of major depression in the industrialized world.
5-HTP is a substance made in the brain from the naturally occurring amino acid tryptophan. For decades, nutritionists have recognized tryptophan’s role in seratonin production but tryptophan has also been linked to liver damage and asthma attacks so it’s no longer recommended routinely. 5-HTP should never be taken by pregnant women.
St. Johns Wort, known botanically as Hypericum perforatum, has been shown to be as effective as prescription anti-depressants in over 30 double-blind studies. Unfortunately, it hasn’t shown much promise to the severely depressed, but for bouts of mild depression, it seems to an effective option for some people. St. Johns wort is known to react with several prescription drugs so never begin a regimen of St. Johns wort for mild depression without first discussing it with your doctor.
SAM-e is perhaps the most promising of the natural treatments for mild depression. SAM-e, or s-adenosylmethionine, is a compound made from methionine, an essential fatty acid needed naturally by our bodies. SAM-e works by increasing the activity of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. SAM-e works faster than St. Johns wort or 5-HTP and doesn’t seem to have any serious or long-term side effects.
Talk to your Doctor First
As with any medical condition, it’s extremely important that you work with your doctor to develop a whole-life approach to your depression. Suddenly stopping your prescription medications can be dangerous so always consult your doctor first. And let him know about any herbal or nutritional supplements, too, to prevent potentially dangerous interactions. You can beat depression.