Wellness Blog

Natural Depression Remedies

Posted by Dr. Paul Zickler

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March 1, 2016 at 10:30 AM

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Mental illness is shocking pervasive in North America and affects each of us either directly or indirectly.  Current estimates suggest that one-fifth of Canadians will suffer some kind of mental health issue during their lifetime; and since mental illness can strike any demographic, it is a health topic that rightly garners a great deal of attention.  Nevertheless, despite extensive research into various treatments for mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, mental illness continues to be very difficult to treat. 

Mental illness is shocking pervasive in North America and affects each of us either directly or indirectly.  Current estimates suggest that one-fifth of Canadians will suffer some kind of mental health issue during their lifetime; and since mental illness can strike any demographic, it is a health topic that rightly garners a great deal of attention.  Nevertheless, despite extensive research into various treatments for mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, mental illness continues to be very difficult to treat. 

Natural therapies for mental health are not new, but many health care practitioners take a skeptical approach, notably because natural remedies do not always undergo the same vigorous clinical testing as medications.  Still, there is not a single cure-all for any mental health problem.  A depression treatment that works for one individual may be completely ineffective for another.  Did you know that one-third of adults with major depression will experience little to no benefit from antidepressant drugs?  Moreover, most research suggests that a multi-faced approach to mental illness is always best - treatments that combine medication with counselling are considered more effective than either on their own.  As such, incorporating natural mental health remedies into a treatment plan may improve outcomes.

There has been extensive research on a variety of natural remedies that may complement your current mental health treatment plan.  Obviously, it's always important to discuss your condition with your doctor before introducing any new treatments.  In the meantime, let's look at a couple of natural therapies that have shown promise in treating depression.

St. John's Wort

Also known as Hypericum, St. John's Wort is a herb that can be used to make tea, but its active ingredients are also extracted to make capsules.  Interestingly, St. John's Wort is commonly utilized in Europe as an antidepressant prescription, but it is available over-the-counter in North America.

People with mild or moderate depression symptoms will experience the most benefit from this treatment.  Though St. John's Wort doesn't seem to be as effective for individuals with severe depression, the herb has been shown to work as well or better than antidepressants in many double-blind, placebo-controlled studies.  A 2005 study showed treatment with St. John's Wort resulted in significantly lower depression scores in subjects than Paxil.  Other studies have shown similar results when comparing this herbal remedy with Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa.

Another promising note about St. John's Wort relates to its side effects.  St. John's Wort is considered much safer with respect to side effects than most antidepressants; and in fact, the side effects of this herb are comparable to those of a placebo.

Nevertheless, it's important to remember to never stop taking prescription anti-depressants without the consent of your physician.  In most cases, you must slowly wean yourself off psychoactive medications in order to avoid serious side effects.  Also, St. John's Wort is contraindicated for concurrent use with many antidepressant drugs, certain anticoagulants, immunosuppressant drugs (cyclosporine and tacrolimus), protease and reverse transcriptase inhibitors, and some antineoplastic drugs.

Acupuncture

In a recent Cochrane Database Systematic Review (a well-respected resource for up-to-date research reviews in health care), researchers found "no evidence that medication was better than acupuncture in reducing the severity of depression."  In fact, much of the research reviewed showed acupuncture and electro-acupuncture significantly improved depression scores for patients, often performing as well as antidepressant medications.

Unfortunately, there was not a great deal of research reviewed, and design flaws in the research were common.  So while research is promising, conclusions are difficult to draw when comparing acupuncture and pharmacology for treating depression.  It's even possible that subjects receiving acupuncture benefited from a placebo effect rather than acupuncture itself as the mechanism for improvement. 

Conclusions

While St. John's Wort and Acupuncture are promising and regarded as safe, natural remedies, it's important to remember that "natural" doesn't always mean safe.  Before adopting an all-natural approach to treating depression, speak to your doctor to develop and regularly review your course of treatment.

Depression and natural remedies

 

Topics: Stress, Wellness, Mind Body Spirit

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