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Depression Introduction

Scott Olson, ND

Everyone experiences sadness and unhappiness at some point in their lives. Clinical Depression, however, is more intense and of longer duration than typical sadness or grief, which interferes with a person's ability to engage in daily activities. The symptoms of depression can include: loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyable activities, major changes in appetite (either significantly reduced or increased), sleep problems (sleeping too much or too little), fatigue, a feeling of worthlessness or hopelessness, problems with concentration and making decisions, and thoughts of suicide.

depressed womanThere are two main types of depression, major depression (or major depressive disorder) and dysthymic disorder. A person diagnosed with Major Depression has experienced the previously mentioned symptoms for longer than 2 weeks. These symptoms either can occur repeatedly (called episodic) or only once; but they are typically severe. A Dysthymia diagnosis means that depressive symptoms are less severe, and they have been present for at least 2 years on more days than not.

Individuals with bipolar disorder also display symptoms of depression. Bipolar disorder is a severe illness in which moods swing between 'up' states and 'down' states. Bipolar 'up' states, called mania, are characterized by a euphoric (joyful, energetic) mood, hyper-activity, a positive, expansive outlook on life, grandiosity (a hyper-inflated sense of self-esteem), and a sense that anything is possible. A person in the 'down' state of bipolar disorder experiences one or more of the depressive symptoms mentioned previously.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Depression

While the term “Depression” has only been around for a hundred years or so, historical evidence suggests that a sense of sadness or melancholy has long been a universal part of human experience. The science of treating depression has blossomed in the last 30-40 years, and anti-depressant medications are some of the most frequently prescribed drugs in America.

Research suggests that St. John’s Wort can be used as a stand-alone alternative treatment for depression. In parts of Europe, this herb is often the preferred remedy for treating depression. Preliminary research suggests that other therapies, such as exercise, 5-HTP, SAMe and Omega-3 oils may also be used as stand-alone treatments for depression. However, their benefits seem to depend on the severity of a person's depression, as well as his or her individual reaction to such therapies. Additional research to further clarify the role of these CAM treatments for depression is necessary.

As mentioned earlier, according to many CAM practitioners, a combination of therapies will likely produce better treatment benefits. This is especially true for the treatment of depression; becoming more engaged and active in your therapy leads to better results. For example, consulting with a health care professional, taking Omega-3 Fatty acids and a B-vitamin, and exercising might help you gain control over your depression more quickly than solely relying on one treatment approach. Of course, a qualified CAM practitioner is the best person to determine which combination of treatments would be most beneficial for you.

The following chart summarizes the common natural treatments for depression and the degree of scientific study available today to support their use:

Natural Therapies for Depression

A

These complimentary medicines have been well-studied for both effectiveness and safety issues and can be recommended on the basis of their scientific and traditional-use background.

· St John’s Wort

· Exercise

B

These complimentary medicines have at least some clinical studies in humans to support their use along with a long history of traditional use. They can be recommended for use on the basis of their traditional use and their relative safety.

· Omega-3 Fatty Acids

· SAM-E

· 5-HTP

C

These complimentary medicines lack the support of good clinical studies in humans, but have been used traditionally, or have some studies that suggest that they might be effective. They can be recommended for use with the caution that they are not well-supported by research.

· Acupuncture

· B-Vitamins

· Homeopathy

· Yoga

F

These are complimentary medicines that cannot be recommended for use because are harmful, not effective, or are too new to make a judgment about their safety or effectiveness.