What is Depression?
Depression is a psychological disorder characterized by negative feelings that can range from unhappiness to overwhelming despair. Depression can be categorized, using defined clinical guidelines, into several forms including major depressive disorder, dysthymia, psychotic depression, and postpartum depression, among others.
Depression can be caused by a host of factors; unfortunately, conventional medicine relies heavily on psychoactive drugs that manipulate brain chemistry to treat the underlying causes of depression. Fortunately, alternative treatment strategies such as behavioral therapy, hormone restoration, and targeted natural interventions, including B-vitamins and L-tryptophan, may complement conventional treatment to help alleviate symptoms of depression.
What are the Risk Factors for Depression?
- Conventional risk factors
- Early life trauma
- Lack of meaningful social contact
- Comorbid conditions such as HIV/AIDS, heart disease, and cancer
- Biological risk factors
- Hormonal imbalances
- Nutritional insufficiencies and deficiencies
- Oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction
- Insulin resistance and chronic inflammation
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression?
- Consistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Restlessness, irritability
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling worthless or guilty; suicidal thoughts may occur
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Change in eating habits; loss of appetite or overeating
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions
Note: A diagnosis of clinical depression must include at least five of these symptoms, and at least one of the first two on the list must be present.
What are Conventional Medical Treatments for Depression?
- Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (eg, Prozac), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) (eg, Cymbalta), and others
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Electroconvulsive therapy for severe cases
What are Alternative or Emerging Therapies for Depression?
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses magnetic fields to stimulate brain nerve cells and is FDA-approved to treat depression in people who have not responded to medication.
- Hormone restoration therapy (thyroid hormones and/or sex hormones)
- Light therapy for seasonal affective disorder
What Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Can Be Beneficial for Depression?
- Regular exercise
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet—the Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce mood disorders
What Natural Interventions May Be Beneficial for Depression?
- B-vitamins. Low levels of the B-vitamins folate and vitamins B6 and B12 have been linked with mood and depression.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have a wide variety of health benefits; they have been shown to improve mood and symptoms of depression.
- Melatonin. Low melatonin levels have been linked to depression. Supplementation has been shown to be effective in improving sleep and symptoms of depression.
- Magnesium. Magnesium is an essential cofactor in many bodily processes. Supplementation may be helpful for treating depressive symptoms.
- L-tryptophan. L-tryptophan is an amino acid that is essential for serotonin synthesis. Acute tryptophan depletion can cause depression.
- S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe). SAMe is a methyl donor involved in the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters. Combination therapy with SAMe and an SSRI showed improved response and remission compared to the SSRI with placebo.
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC). NAC is a powerful antioxidant and a precursor to glutathione. Studies showed it to be a safe and effective adjuvant treatment for bipolar disorder.
- Saffron. Saffron helps modulate serotonin and has neuroprotective activity. Several clinical trials have demonstrated its anti-depressive effects.
- Curcumin. Curcumin is a polyphenol derived from turmeric. It can positively influence mood, and combination therapy with curcumin and an antidepressant was more effective than the drug alone.
- Probiotics. Probiotics have been shown to improve behaviors and symptoms related to anxiety, stress, and depression.
- Other natural interventions that may help people with depression include vitamins C, D, and E, coffee and green coffee extract, inositol, St. John’s wort, and many others.