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Natural Approaches to Depression
An estimated one million Canadians suffer from some form of depression and according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in 10 people will suffer from depression during their lifetime. Symptoms of depression include: poor appetite with weight loss or increased appetite with weight gain; insomnia or hyersomnia; physical hyperactivity or inactivity; loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities; or decrease in sexual drive; loss of energy and feelings of fatigue; feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach or inappropriate guilt; diminished ability to think or concentrate; recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. A trained and qualified health care provider should be consulted for a diagnosis of depression.
a) Organic/physiological causes: preexisting medical condition such as diabetes,
chronic inflammation, birth control pills, sedatives, prescription medications, chronic pain, cancer, heart disease and sleep disturbances can all cause depression.
b) Neurotransmitter imbalances: Low levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin,
norepinephrine or dopamine have been linked to depression.
c) Hormonal dysfunction: hypothyroidism and adrenal dysfunction due to stress.
d) Heavy metal/ environmental toxins: exposure to heavy metals (arsenic, nickel,
aluminum, palladium, cadmium), solvents (cleaning materials, formaldehyde, toluene, benzene) and pesticides/herbicides.
e) Stress: Stressful life events can trigger depression
f) Gender: Women are more likely to experience depression than men.
g) Personality: Individuals with personality traits such as low self esteem, self
criticism, pessimism and being easily overwhelmed with stress are more likely to develop depression
h) Lifestyle factors: smoking, excess alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, caffeine
and a diet high in processed foods and low in fiber
Conventional treatment of depression includes the use of antidepressant drugs, psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy and/or interpersonal therapy or a combination of one or more. Most antidepressants work by balancing neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. With the exception of therapy, all medications usually have undesirable sideeffects with some being worse than others.
a) Quit smoking: nicotine leads to decreased levels of serotonin in the brain which
b) Decrease/eliminate alcohol consumption: alcohol acts as a brain depressant. It
disrupts sleep cycles which can lead to hypoglycemia and sugar cravings.
c) Eliminate caffeine: caffeine acts as a stimulant which makes anxiety and
depression worse. A combination of caffeine and sugar is worse than either alone.
d) Exercise: acts as a natural antidepressant by increasing endorphins. Exercise can
be as effective as antidepressant medication and psychotherapy. The best forms of exercise are weight lifting or aerobics (brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming, aerobic dance and racquet sports).
e) Music therapy: there is strong evidence to suggest that music may increase
responsiveness to antidepressant medication
f) Light therapy: recent research shows that a light box can be beneficial for
a) Diet: follow a diet plan that is rich in whole “natural” unprocessed foods and high
in plant foods. This will help to prevent hypoglycemia which often makes depression worse. Eat 4-6 small meals throughout the day and consider getting tested for food sensitivities.
b) Omega 3 fatty acids: have been shown to have an impact on mood, behavior and
mental function. Nuts, seeds, cold water fish (salmon, halibut, mackerel) and vegetable oils (safflower, walnut, sunflower, flax seed) are high in omega 3 fatty acids. It is often necessary to include a fish oil supplement in order to get optimum levels in the body.
a) St. John’s wort has been shown to be just as effective as some pharmaceutical
drugs in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.
b) Sage has a long history as a possible therapy for mood enhancement.
c) Ginkgo Biloba has antidepressant properties especially for individuals over the
d) Kava kava is especially helpful if depression is accompanied with anxiety
a) Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin E, high-potency multivitamin, folate, SAM
and 5-HTP have all been shown to be beneficial in treating depression.
It is always advisable to consult with a health care practitioner about the proper dosage and therapy especially when you are also taking pharmaceutical medications.
Dr. Ibby Omole, ND Herbs to Wellness Okanagan Natural Care Centre Unit 3- 1809 Ambrosi Rd Kelowna BC (250) 763-2914 www.naturalcare.bc.ca
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