Depression affects millions of people all over the world. Lately the condition seems to be on the rise—one in five Americans is on an antidepressant. Antidepressants work for some people, not all; in mild cases of depression, they don’t have much of an effect. Depression is a complex condition, and antidepressants only target neurotransmitters—dopamine, serotonin, ephinephrine—the mood molecules. And these drugs have strong side effects, including changes to personality. But there are natural antidepressants to try. Here are 10 100% natural treatments for depression.
1. St. John’s Wort
In Latin, it’s called Hypericum perforatum, meaning “above a ghost”; the plant was once gathered to ward off evil spirits. St. John’s Wort is widely used in Europe as a natural treatment for depression, and is slowly gaining acceptance in the U.S. A yellow flowering herbaceous shrub, the leaves and roots of St. John’s Wort are dried and made into capsules; 300 milligrams three times is a good starting dosage. After a week without improvement, increase the dosage to 600 milligrams three times daily. This herb has been found to decrease the power of birth control pills, and interfere with blood thinning medications.
2. Light therapy
People spend a lot of time indoors, particularly in winter months. A lack of sunlight absorbed into the body translates into less melatonin, a body chemical that regulates mood and sleep, among other biorhythms. Many people in more northern regions suffer from seasonal affective disorder in the winter. If you can’t get outside for at least fifteen minutes twice a day (or it’s the middle of a dark winter), invest in a full spectrum light—these mimic sunlight, increasing the body’s production of melatonin. Sit next to this light for fifteen minutes at first; you can work up to two hours a day. If you’re going outdoors for direct sunlight, the least harmful rays shine early in the morning and late in the afternoon. A simple but very well established natural treatment for depression.
5-HTP is a form of tryptophan (one of twenty amino acids, the building blocks of life); it works roughly the same way Prozac and other SSRI antidepressants do, increasing serotonin levels, which has the effect of elevating mood. 5-HTP is best used in treating people with both depression and anxiety, and it’s also a good choice for insomniacs. Some research has found 5-HTP helps with weight loss. 100 micrograms 3 times a day is a standard dose—begin with 50mg in the morning. If the dosage is too much, you’ll know; you’ll feel sleepy and have loose stools. It’s a good idea to eat some light carbohydrate, like a whole-wheat cracker, along with the tryptophan.
Exercising eases depression in the short and long term. During intense aerobic exercise, the brain releases endorphins, chemicals that make us feel confident (this is a runner’s high). Regular exercise, after a few weeks, will start to rewire neuropathways, easing mild depression. You don’t have to run for miles a day for this benefit; a half-hour walk several times a week is enough.
Short for S-adenosylmethionine, SAMe is a naturally occurring chemical in the body based on the amino acid methionine; it helps boost a number of neurotransmitters. This supplement works quickly, lifting mod within a day (most drugs and supplements take weeks). SAMe also helps with healthy nerve conduction as well. It also has been shown to be helpful with patients who have arthritis and joint pain, and for Parkinson’s disease patients with depression. Start with 200 mg of SAMe twice daily on the first day, then increase to 400 mg twice daily on the third day, then to 400mg three times daily on the tenth, and finally to the full dose of 400 mg four times a day.
6. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a kind of fat that’s necessary for normal brain function, and for fighting inflammation in the body; we can’t make these fatty acids, we must ingested the through diet. Low intake of omega-3 fatty acids have been connected with depression; in Japan, where much of the population eats fish (a primary source of omega-3 fatty acids), depression rates are low (and longevity rates are high). Besides coldwater fish (sardines, anchovies, salmon), omega-3 fatty acids are also present in some plants, like chia seeds and flaxseeds.
7. Folic Acid
Western diets are notoriously low in folate, a B vitamin found in leafy green vegetables and fruits; also, using aspirin or oral contraceptives interferes with folic acid absorption. Research is emerging that people with depression who also have low folate levels may not respond well antidepressants; taking folic acid supplements may improve the effectiveness of antidepressants.
A trace mineral, magnesium is found in whole grains, green vegetables, legumes, and nuts. Many people don’t get enough magnesium in their diet—processed foods contain none. Like vitamin B6, magnesium is necessary for serotonin production.
9. Natural sweeteners, not sugar
Besides rotting teeth and widening waistlines, refined sugars have been tied to depression. Fructose, glucose, and sucrose (among other processed sugars) cause wild mood swings as they break down and rapidly release into the bloodstream. Instead of white sugar, try Agave, stevia, or maple syrup. Avoid sodas and sugary energy drinks like the plague they are.
10. Keep a garden
Besides its calming effects on the mind and body, working in a garden may actually affect serotonin levels in the brain. Scientists in the United Kingdom have found that friendly bacteria in soil works on the brain in a way similar to antidepressants by increasing the release of serotonin. Besides this, growing flowers and food can benefit many people, and giving to others is a great way to lift your own depression.
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