Healthy and Balanced: Managing Stress and Depression

Case studies from an herbalists notebook: Herbal remedies to counteract the long-term effects of stress and depression.


| September/October 1997



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One year ago, a 47-year-old wo­man named Sara came into the clinic seeking help for bouts of depression. She had tried many different pharmaceuticals, but none of them had worked. She felt fatigued much of the time and occasionally nervous, even anxious, especially when she lay down to sleep. She was thin and her eyes darted around the room. Her tongue had a bright red tip, indicating to me that her sympathetic nervous system was overexcited. Her pulse was weak, yet fast, at ninety-two beats per minute.

Accumulated stress

During our thirties and forties, we often begin feeling the accumulated effects of stress. Over time, stress can heavily tax our nervous and hormonal systems and cause physical discomfort. We may turn to caffeine drinks such as coffee, tea, and colas; refined sugar products such as candy and ice cream; and drinks and foods that contain both caffeine and sugar, such as chocolate, in an effort to relieve stress. But adding these stimulants to daily stress can contribute to muscle tension, nervousness, and anxiety—none of which is very pleasant. In some cases, a health-care provider may prescribe a powerful drug, such as Valium, Prozac, or Zoloft, to help counteract stress. But if our desire is to create lasting emotional, mental, and physical health, I have found that diet, ­exercise, and herbal and nutritional supplements offer more healthful, long-lasting ways to overcome the negative impacts of stress.

Antidepression regime

For Sara, I diagnosed “kidney yin deficiency with heart fire” which, in Chinese medicine, means that stress and worry had weakened her ability to produce a sufficient quantity of some important hormones and to regulate their action. The result was that Sara had dysfunctional nervous and hormonal ­systems, which had left her fatigued, ­depressed, and anxiety-ridden.

To correct Sara’s imbalance, I recommended the following program:

• A diet that includes as many whole foods as possible, including lightly steamed or stir-fried vegetables in season; moderate levels of fresh fruits in season; well-cooked beans, nuts, and seeds; deep sea fish (tuna, salmon, snapper, halibut); organic chicken and turkey, and other protein sources, limiting servings of organic red meat to one or two a week.

• A diet free of refined sugar products, alcoholic beverages, stimulants, and drugs of any kind, except prescription drugs for severe pain or life-threatening ailments.





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