Herbs for Depression

Q and A

| September/October 2003

I just picked up your magazine for the first time and was very impressed. Here’s a question for you: I have had depression (chronic, major depressive disorder, not bipolar) for about 10 years. I have been treated by a psychiatrist in combination with various prescription medications, with limited success. I have also tried St. John’s wort, with no success.
—P.R., Montreal, Quebec, Canada 

Keville responds: Most herbalists, including myself, like the idea of using a holistic approach that incorporates diet, exercise, lifestyle and nutritional supplements along with herbs. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) helps many people, but it often needs to be taken for several months before you feel significant changes. Some people need to take at least the amount suggested on the label, which, for a tincture, is typically 20 to 30 drops taken three times daily.

Other herbs that may help are eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), wild oats (Avena sativa), gotu kola (Centella asiatica) and ashwaganda (Withania somnifera). There is also a Russian herb called rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), just becoming popular in the United States, that helps the body adapt to stress. Sometimes ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) helps. However, the best therapy is not just a matter of replacing a drug with an herb. You would probably benefit the most from a treatment plan specially designed for you. Consider seeing a holistic practitioner to help you with this.

Aromatherapy scents, such as lavender, chamomile, orange and especially neroli (also called orange blossom), usually have an antidepressant effect when inhaled. Use ones that appeal to you in a home diffuser, on a piece of fabric tucked into your pillowcase or as a room freshener.

You can supplement herbs and aromatherapy with acupuncture, massage and an exercise program. Also, be sure to have your thyroid checked to make sure it isn’t low. Nutritional supplements to consider include a form of tryptophan called 5-HTP, which helps increase the neurotransmitter serotonin. However, don’t take supplements until you learn more about them, and get a health professional’s OK before using them along with antidepressant drugs.

Khalsa responds: Ginkgo is known mainly as a treatment for cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, the herb is quite effective for depression as well. Ginkgo is known primarily to increase circulation and nerve function, so it seems a natural option to consider for depression. Sure enough, researchers began studying ginkgo for depression after noting mood improvements in patients taking the herb for cerebrovascular insufficiency.

10/7/2014 7:47:09 AM

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