Depression is a condition that’s been with humanity possibly since the beginning; in recent years it seems to be on the rise. One out of five Americans is on an antidepressant, and that number is rising. Several decades of studies have shown that antidepressants are only really effective against moderate to severe depression, and, initially, they may make depression worse. Most antidepressants carry heavy side effects and a horrible withdrawal period. That said, there are other ways to treat depression, whether or not you’re currently on medication—read on.
1. Serotonin-friendly diets
Outside of chemical supplementation, serotonin levels can be increased through diet. Omega-3 fatty acids raise serotonin counts, as does coconut oil, green tea (this plant also contains L-Theanine, a mood enhancer), and tryptophan rich proteins—free-range turkey and whole milk are good sources.
Sometimes when people see “exercise” at the top of a list, it turns them off—exercise is not the most enjoyable way to get well. But it’s very effective at treating depression, for several reasons. First, moderate to heavy aerobic exercise causes the brain to release dopamine, the feel-good hormone. Exercising regularly creates a routine, which is important for humans; we like consistency, particularly in the early hours of the day. Depression often interferes with sleep; exercising helps people fall asleep and sleep well. Finally, if you stay with it, your physical condition will improve and you’ll have more energy. A study at Duke University found that thirty minutes of moderate aerobic exercise three times a week was just as good at relieving short term depression as antidepressants, and that people who continued to exercise after the trial were less likely to relapse.
Anxiety frequently accompanies depression; they are like two sides of the same coin. Some people are more prone to falling into sadness, others get nervous and jumpy, but mental unease and fear are at the root of the both. In a review of fifteen trials, researchers at the Cochrane Collaboration found that relaxation techniques are effective at reducing the symptoms of depression. Autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery are three popular relaxation techniques. Music therapy is another way people shed stress and sadness, and probably has the longest track record of the techniques listed here.
4. St. John’s Wort
Moving along the to herbal remedies for depression: St. John’s Wort has many centuries of proven success at relieving depression. The yellow flowering perennial herb is native to Europe, where it is often prescribed for mild to moderate depression. The herb is not as effective in cases of severe depression, and should not be combined with other antidepressants. Pregnant women are also advised to stay away from St. John’s Wort. You can find this herb in capsule form, and sometimes its dried leaves, at vitamin and health stores. Alternatively you can pick it up on Amazon here.
SAM-e (S-adenosyl-L-methionine) is a naturally occurring body chemical, which influences brain and liver function. It’s sold in capsule form as a dietary supplement, and improves mood and sleep patterns in mild to moderate depression. SAM-e is not recommended for people with bipolar disorder; it many intensify their mood shifts and mania. You can buy it in Amazon here.
Another naturally occurring chemical, 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) works on serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurochemical that affects moods, sleep, and circadian rhythms—SSRI antidepressants work by blocking the receptors that reabsorb serotonin. 5-HTP increases the amount of serotonin in the brain. This supplement has shown good promise in treating depression. You can buy it on Amazon here.
7. Omega-3 fatty acids
The healthiest kind of fats, omega-3 fatty acids are monounsaturated fats, found in flaxseed, almonds, flax oil, walnuts, and cold-water fish. Besides supporting short-term memory and mental clarity, and clearing arteries of cholesterol buildup, omega-3s lift occasional depression. Omega-3 supplements are one way to ingest these valuable fats; a handful of almonds a day works very well too.
Scullcap grows wild across much of the northern hemisphere. It’s a deep green herb, and is made into tea and supplements that relieve anxiety. Scullcap is often used to treat withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and other addictions; it calms insomnia, twitching muscles, and mild depression. This herb is currently being studied for its possible uses in managing epilepsy. But skullcap is not recommended for pregnant women; it’s a potent herb. You can buy it on Amazon here.
9. Drink more water
Finally, dehydration: not the first thing that most people think of when they think depression, but the two can be related. Mild dehydration causes irritability and fatigue, along with reduced cognitive abilities. A lot of people go through their day slightly dehydrated, and the condition is intensified after a night of drinking or other drugs. Eight 8-10 ounce glasses of water is a good starting point; ten tall glasses of filtered water a day is even better.