Taking Charge of Depression

Twenty percent of people with depression turn to alternative therapies for treatment, according to a 1993 survey by Harvard Medical School researchers. These people seem to prefer to play an active role in their treatment: The most frequently used therapies were relaxation techniques and self-help groups.

Clinical depression is an illness that causes a person's mood and behavior to change for long periods of time. It's mainly characterized by feelings of sadness, irritability, or indifference. Depression may result from a chemical imbalance in the brain, and episodes can be triggered by a traumatic event, prolonged stress, and other factors.

The following alternative medicine treatments for depression should be accompanied by regular exercise, relaxation measures, and participation in support groups.

Nutritional Therapy for Depression

Nutritional therapy offers a lot of promise for treating clinical depression that is triggered by chemical imbalances in the brain or nutritional deficiencies. Whereas allopathic medicine uses drugs to correct the brain's chemical upsets, nutritional therapy employs certain nutritional supplements to do the same thing.

Here's how the theory goes: The body requires certain building-block chemicals before it can make important biochemicals. For example, the amino acid tryptophan is needed for the synthesis of serotonin, a mood-regulating chemical in the brain, and the amino acid tyrosine is needed for the brain chemical norepinephrine. So, adding these amino acids should help reestablish a healthy balance of brain chemicals.

Many nutritional practitioners report positive results with this approach. In addition, researchers have found that some people with depression are deficient in one or more nutrients, several of which play a role in the function of certain brain chemicals. These nutrients include:

  • ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
  • cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12)
  • folate (vitamin B9)
  • niacin (vitamin B3)
  • pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
  • riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • l-tyrosine
  • dl-phenylalanine

Depending on the deficiencies, supplementation is recommended. A nutritional treatment program for depression may also include an investigation into food allergies and low blood sugar, among other possible causes.

A high-potency B-complex supplement combined with one of two amino acids -- l-tyrosine or dl-phenylalanine -- can be an effective treatment. Take amino acid doses in the morning and afternoon, as they can cause sleeplessness.

Herbal Medicine for Depression

Several herbs can restore function to the nervous system, ease muscle tension, and promote sleep, among other mood-altering actions. Patience is required, however, as they usually work slowly. St. John's wort (standardized to at least 3 percent hypericin) has long been used to treat emotional upsets. This herb's flowering tops are commonly taken in the form of a tea or tincture. According to a recent clinical study, St. John's wort eased the symptoms of mild to moderate depression for two-thirds of the people tested. Other helpful herbs include:

  • borage
  • lady's slipper
  • oatstraw
  • skullcap
  • valerian
  • vervain
  • ginkgo
Homeopathy for Depression

Homeopathic treatment for depression stimulates the mind and body to return to a healthy, fully functioning state. For example, a homeopathic remedy may help someone open up to express himself better and talk about troubles and concerns, thereby furthering the recovery process. This therapy uses highly diluted doses of natural substances, which would cause the symptoms of depression if given in full strength to a healthy person. The substances are from plant, mineral, and animal sources.

A remedy is tailored specifically to individual patients and depends on their particular emotional and physical symptoms, as well as their general state of health. Common remedies for depression include:

  • china officinalis
  • ignatia amara
  • natrum muriaticum
  • pulsatilla nigricans
  • aurum
  • sepia
Light Therapy for Depression

Light therapy is particularly effective for people with seasonal affective disorder, a depression that's triggered by a lack of light and usually occurs during months when there are fewer hours of daylight. A typical treatment calls for sitting in front of a full-spectrum fluorescent light (one that's approximately 12 times brighter than ordinary indoor light) for about two hours per day. This therapy is widely used by both conventional and alternative medicine.

The following light therapy tips may be helpful for people with seasonal affective disorder:

  • Exercise outdoors each day around noon.
  • Trim trees and bushes that prevent sunlight from coming through windows.
  • Plan a winter vacation in a sunny, southern location, if possible.
Other Depression Therapies
  • Acupuncture for Depression -- Treatment aims to rebalance the flow of vital energy, or qi, and focuses on points along certain meridians, such as the heart meridian.
  • Aromatherapy for Depression -- Essential oils from benzoin, bergamot, jasmine, and neroli may be helpful. They can be added to baths, mixed with steaming water and inhaled, or massaged into the body.
  • Bodywork for Depression -- Massage can ease depression, as shown in recent clinical studies.
  • Environmental Medicine for Depression -- Certain foods, chemicals, and other environmental factors are thought to trigger depression in susceptible people. Treatment includes avoidance and dietary changes.
  • Guided Imagery and Creative Visualization for Depression -- Mental exercises can encourage relaxation and improve mental outlook.
  • Yoga for Depression -- Postures and breathing exercises instill energy and confidence and reduce stress.
For more information on depression and alternative medicine, see: