Dealing with depression is a touchy subject.
When I first began to admit to people in my life that I was struggling with depression, I got a lot of different recommendations. Most were shocked that I hadn't been to see a doctor, some supported my desire to try to deal with it naturally but expressed concern for me, and a few even confronted me and told that I was possibly being too proud in my "healthy ways" for not being willing to use prescription medication.
There are a lot of different opinions, and I will be the first to admit that I don't really know that much. I'm not a doctor or practitioner of any kind and I wouldn't dare to tell you what you should or shouldn't take, especially for those dealing with depression of a serious or prolonged nature. I also know that what works for one person doesn't work for everyone, and someone like a naturopathic doctor or certified holistic nutritionist will be better able to pinpoint which remedies may be the right ones for you, with your specific situation and symptoms.
What I do want to share with you today are some of the things that have worked for me personally, and that have popped up repeatedly in my research on healing and treating depression naturally.
Ideas for Treating Depression Without Medication
St. John's Wort :: One of the most commonly recommended herbs for depression, it has a reputation of reducing anxiety and calming moods. One quote read, "It is to the nervous system what Arnica is to the muscular" (Millspaugh, American Medicinal Plants, 1892). It is a mild sedative and reduces pain, anxiety and tension, as well as inflammation. For me, this alone wasn't enough, but taking it daily does help to take the edge off. You can use it in tablet form, as a tincture (a concentrated liquid made with alcohol or glycerin) or as a tea (see below).
Ginkgo Biloba :: This herb has an amazing ability to improve circulation, including blood flow to the brain. I began taking it in the summer, when I suddenly felt that my ability to focus and get quality work done had dropped and I was literally functioning at 1/3 my usual productivity. My brain was just foggy all the time and I felt very unmotivated. Literally within a day or two of taking Ginkgo, I began to feel more clear-headed than I had in a long time. I have read in one place that Ginkgo shouldn't be used for more than 6-8 weeks at a time, but other places have never mentioned a need to take breaks, so you'll have to do your own research on that one. I took it in capsules (powdered herbs inside), but you can also take it in tincture or in a tea (again, see below).
Stress Zapper/Buster Teas :: I love how the Bulk Herb Store has put together these wonderful herb mixes, so that those newer to herbs don't have to play guessing games. For anyone struggling with depression, you could not go wrong with a couple daily mugs of a herbal tea like Stress Zapper or Stress Buster. Both contain St. John's Wort, Ginkgo, Siberian Gingseng (helps with fatigue, mental alertness and depressed immune systems) and Peppermint, and then they each include a few other herbs that differ from one another.
For Sleep- Calming Herbal Teas :: Many with depression find it difficult to either go to sleep, stay asleep, or get a solid, restful sleep. Lack of sleep only exacerbates the issue, so finding ways to improve quality and length of sleep is vital! One of the ways (and I list more below) that I have improved my own ability to sleep is by drinking soothing, calming herbal teas after dinner. I have one from my naturopath that includes lavender, chamomile and a few other herbs. I also like the sound of this Sleep Tight Tea, which includes lemon balm and catnip (which I have very useful for relaxation and treating anxiety).
Image by Laura Newman Photography
Cod Liver Oil :: Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most common suspects for physical causes of depression. In our society, there is a chronic issues with Omega-3 deficiency. Do you have cracked lips and dry skin? Aching joints? Have you recently been pregnant or breastfeeding (or still are)? Chances are you need more Omega-3. Best sources include: cod liver oil (especially traditionally fermented oils like the ones from Green Pastures), wild fish (esp. fatty fish like salmon), other types of fish oil, free-range eggs (ones that are actually outside, eating insects), seeds like flax as well as walnuts, and grass-fed beef.
5htp :: Without a doubt, this has been the supplement that I have found most helpful. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is an amino acid that is the intermediate step between tryptophan (found in turkey, milk, etc.) and serotonin (the feel-good brain chemical). Many people are beginning to use this as an alternative to other depression drugs. It is an extract from the seed of an African plant, and it helps to boost serotonin levels in the brain, regulate mood, improve sleep and calm anxiety. I have not been able to find a whole food source of it (as in, a supplement composed of whole foods, rather than a single nutrient that has been isolated in a lab).
I chose to use it anyway, in a full dose at first, and now I have cut down my dosage to one pill a day. There are pros and cons to using a supplement like this, and it would be wise to consult with a natural practitioner before doing so. Definitely do your research and know that it doesn't work for everyone, and some do experience side effects. Personally, I cannot take it before going to bed (even though many people find it helps them to sleep, it keeps me up at night), so I take it early in the day instead. Here's some information from a biased source, and a bit more (scroll down) from a less-biased source.
B Vitamins :: There is much that can be said about boosting B vitamins for mood difficulties, but I will leave that to one of the book resources below (Rebuild from Depression). The best sources of the B vitamin complex (B1, B2, B6, B12, etc.) are whole foods like dark leafy greens (fresh and raw is great, or lightly steamed), organs like liver and kidney (from grass-fed sources), and traditionally prepared whole grains (soaked, sprouted, sourdough).
GABA and Melatonin :: Though it's not my preference to take so many non-whole food sourced supplements, I have opted to at this point for the sake of getting my body back to a place where I can make even better choices. Sleep is essential, and I simply wasn't sleeping well. I would lie awake with my heart pounding and mind racing, even when I was completely exhausted, and often wake several times during the night as well. I've used 500 mg of GABA (γ-Aminobutyric acid) on the advice of Tired of Being Tired (see books below), as an amino acid that calms the neurotransmitters in the brain and really helps with anxiety.
Taken together with a 3 mg tablet of melatonin taken 30 minutes before I go to bed (and I wouldn't advise any higher of a dose, unless you want to experience possible night disturbances and side effects- you could even start with 1 mg to try it), I am able to fall asleep relatively easily most nights and I am slowly "paying off my sleep debt".
Image by The Italian Voice
For Anxiety and Stress
Two quick things that I have used for those days and moments when I just really feel like I'm losing it:
Bach's Rescue Remedy :: I personally like the little spray bottle of this concentrated flower essence, meant to calm the body and relieve anxiety, in a similar way that a herbal tincture might. My husband really likes the pastilles (like a small chewable lozenge) to keep in his car. I just use a couple sprays on my tongue when I'm feeling on the edge and it helps to calm me down and regain control so that I can make better decisions in stressful moments.
Calming Teas :: I keep herbs like chamomile and catnip around for making teas that I find calming and soothing, to drink on days when I need a little extra support. Peppermint is also good, as is lavender. There are all sorts of calming, soothing and relaxing teas out on the market and most of them are useful. Sometimes I wonder if the best thing that they do for us is force us to slow down, stop what we're doing, and make (and sip on) a cup of tea. Either way, it works for me!
Other Useful Things to Keep in Mind
Focus on Getting Quality Sleep :: Stacey wrote a wonderful post on this the other day, so I'll just let her speak to this subject!
Spend Time Outdoors :: For the fresh air, the sunshine (and subsequent boost of vitamin D) and just the refreshment that comes from being outdoors, it's worth it to make a goal of even 5-15 minutes everyday, or perhaps a longer walk every couple of days.
Exercise :: Even very moderate exercises, like doing stretches every day, or taking short or leisurely walks, helps to increase circulation, feel-good brain chemicals, improves quality of nighttime sleep and more.
Ditch the Caffeine and Sugar :: I struggled with using both as coping mechanisms, but they really only wound me up tighter and made me crash harder. My husband specifically mentioned to me that when I'm already stressed and I have a coffee to "help me cope", it only makes me worse. Read these previous posts for tips on ditching sugar and breaking the caffeine habit.
Image by JarleR
Rebuild from Depression by Amanda Rose, PhD.
This is the best book that I know of for discussing in detail the common nutritional deficiencies that contribute greatly to depression. She gives you the basic science behind it all, and very practical, easy-to-implement steps for improving your diet and getting more of those nutrients. It is especially applicable for those in child-bearing seasons of life (or who have recently had children or weaned a child), especially those who suffered from post-partum depression. I can't recommend this book highly enough, as one of the rare resources out there promoting solid nourishing, traditional nutrition! She also has an excellent blog and website that deals with many issues surrounding depression and nutrition.
Tired of Being Tired by Jesse Lynn Hanley, M.D.
Although more specifically focused on adrenal fatigue and burnout, there are many suggestions in here that also correlate to dealing with depression. For many, adrenal depletion and depression go hand in hand, and if you think that you are dealing with adrenal issues, this is a very worthwhile book.
Spiritual vs. Physical Depression
Tomorrow, Sharon (our wonderful, wise and experienced "Titus 2" regular writer) will continue on with the topic of depression, addressing it from the spiritual side. Although I haven't had enough experience or study to be able to make a definitive statement, I will tell you my basic opinion on depression and whether it is primarily spiritual or physical. I think that it is both. Which came first is sometimes hard to say.
I strongly believe that our spiritual health can have direct effects on our physical health ("A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Proverbs 17:22), and vice versa. When our physical health suffers, in our pain or despair or exhaustion or anger, we can often allow our relationship with the Lord to suffer or even stagnate, rather than running to Him for grace, mercy and strength to endure the physical trials that we are facing. Our spirits, physical bodies and brains interact in very mysterious ways, that I don't think we will ever fully understand on this earth.
In my experience, my depression was very related to my circumstances (exhaustion, too much work, poor sleep, frustration, etc.), and began to influence me spiritually. At the same time, I also experienced very real, physical effects of the depression. By using natural methods to begin to treat the physical symptoms and struggles, I am slowly moving towards a place where I am healthy enough to begin to address the deeper, spiritual issues at root in my life.
It wasn't an either/or situation. It was a first this, then that. I can't say that it is the same for everyone, but I have heard similar anecdotes from many people I know who have also suffered with depression.
What have you found to be effective in treating depression naturally?
Disclaimer: I am not a certified medical professional of any kind and am not qualified to give you medical advice. My goal is to help to educate and inspire you to take responsibility for your own family's health and make informed choices of your own, not to consult you on medical treatment. Additionally, this post does include some affiliate links. I only recommend products that our family would purchase and use ourselves.
Top image by fotologic
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