Case Studies: Natural Remedies for Depression


| November/December 2002



As an avid researcher of scientific literature on herbs (especially German research) since 1984, I knew about the St. John’s wort-depression connection early in the 1990s and subsequently wrote a book on the herb, as well as Stress and Natural Healing, which talks about the clinical use of herbs for depression.

After writing these books, more patients began to come into my clinic for mood disorders, which was an excellent opportunity for me to learn firsthand what did and didn’t work from the patients themselves. After working with patients diagnosed with depression, I learned that depression is more common than I knew. In a given one-year period, up to 9.5 percent of the U.S. population (nearly 19 million people) may suffer from depression. Women are twice as likely as men to have depression. It’s likely that some individuals are more susceptible to depression based on genetic predisposition, but teenagers, the elderly, women overall and people with chronic illnesses are most likely to suffer.

Depression is complex

Depression affects every facet of life—sleep, the enjoyment of activities, health, work, relationships, and it increases the chance of dying of a chronic or acute illness. The three most common types of depression include major depression, dysthymia (you simply don’t feel happy for extended periods of time) and bipolar disorder (mania alternating with periods of depression).

More than anything else, I learned that depression is a complex illness that involves personal, family, and societal issues, as well as the level of one’s overall state of health. In major clinical trials, depression is an illness that responds very well to placebos. This means that the simple act of participating in a research group and taking a pill that’s said to be effective for reducing depression—even if the pill contains simple sugar—can work as well as any medication or herb now available, including Prozac and St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). Recent published analyses of all controlled studies on medications for depression have shown this to be true. A large, recent study supported by the National Institutes of Health showed that St. John’s wort, Zoloft, and a placebo pill had similar beneficial effects in groups of severely depressed patients. Many argue that these remedies would show higher effectiveness for people with mild to moderate depression, as a number of other clinical trials have shown.

Because depression involves the state of health of all the internal organs and is directly related to the health and vitality of the whole individual, I follow the guidance of my first health teacher, Paul Bragg, who said many times, “There are no specific medications for most diseases, rather a total program for health is the only sure way to cure disease.”

Marcy’s case

At our first meeting, Marcy told me that she had trouble getting out of bed in the morning, not only because she dreaded having to relate to others, but because she had a lot of trouble sleeping. Even when she managed to get up, she had trouble going out to shop and being out in the world. She had gone through a period of nearly two years where she could not sleep well, had no interest in sex or some of the foods she liked, and took little pleasure in her favorite activities. Her energy level was very low. As she put it, “I can barely do what I have to do in order to keep going.” Marcy had been to her doctor who referred a psychiatrist. After a one-hour interview, she received a prescription for a common antidepressant. At first, she was concerned about taking the drug, she told me, as if she had somehow failed to be the normal, happy person she envisioned herself to be. She didn’t discuss her concerns about the medication with anyone until she came into my office. During the last two years, Marcy had switched medications several times and found that they would provide some relief for three to six months, then stop working. She had settled on one that seemed to be helping, but it was nothing to “write home about,” she said. She could function, but did not relish her life. She found no joy, saw no mystery—the spice in life was simply gone. And she explained, “I can’t keep taking this forever, I know it makes me nervous sometimes and makes me more constipated. The cost, even with insurance, is more than I’d like to spend, and if I thought my sex drive was low before, now it doesn’t exist.”

1/4/2014 12:23:44 AM

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