Natural Treatments For Depression

Overcome mild depression with this integrated approach.

| September/October 2004

  • St. John’s wort is the most thoroughly researched and widely prescribed herbal antidepressant in the world. Dozens of studies have shown it to be very effective in treating mild depression, equal if not superior to comparable drugs. Plus, it is virtually free of side effects.

  • Kava (Piper methysticum).

It’s one thing to feel down in the dumps; how much of a problem the feeling is depends on how deep into the dumps you go and how long you stay there. A couple of weeks of sadness, a case of the winter blahs, grief over the loss of a love—everyone has an occasional run-in with mild depression. However, a diagnosis of mild depression needn’t send you running to the pharmacy for bottles of antidepressants. Nature has provided natural treatments for mild depression that are safe, effective and much less expensive than the pharmaceutical alternatives—and without their undesirable side effects, such as anxiety, insomnia and sexual problems.

Major depression is a different kettle of fish—a life-threatening illness that should be treated by medical experts. Do not try to self-diagnose or self-treat depression. No individual medical test can diagnose major depression, but tests can rule out whether health problems, such as hypothyroidism, with symptoms similar to depression are present. Major depression is also treatable, but the condition requires management by a psychiatric professional.

On the other hand, if you suffer from mild depression, relief may be only a few medicinal herbs or supplements away. Consider the case of Richard Bland (not his real name) who had been depressed, shy and withdrawn nearly all his life. At age 42 (two years ago), he began to take positive steps to conquer these personal challenges. For the first year, he made good progress in talk therapy with his psychotherapist but then began “topping out”—his results had peaked. Bland was still experiencing regular bouts of anxiety, which were not responding to therapy. The therapist suggested beginning a course of antidepressant medication.

Bland was uncomfortable with using pharmaceutical antidepressants, especially since these drugs are notorious for reducing libido. Undaunted, Bland turned to herbal medicine. Having had success with medicinal herbs for other conditions, he saw himself as a good candidate for this approach.

Bland revealed that he had a long history of recreational drug and alcohol use, which he used to “anesthetize the pain” of his anxiety and depression. Many people try to relieve their depression with mind-altering substances. Marijuana, alcohol and other drugs may lift mood in the short run, but the high soon wears off. The long-term effects of these drugs include insomnia, fatigue and withdrawal from life—exactly the symptoms of a deepening depression. Herbal medicine, on the other hand, offers hope for a way out of this downward spiral without troublesome side effects.

Soon after our consultation, Bland began a personalized program that mainly included the herbal antidepressants St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) and ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), along with high doses of cayenne (Capsicum annuum). Within three weeks, Bland noted the difference. He became aware of a gradual, natural change of mood and attitude. He felt like “a different person—a person without anxiety for the first time in my life.”

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