Chuck, I’ve been in a slump for weeks. I am generally pretty optimistic but am finding it difficult to pull up from my depression lately. I’m not against antidepressants, but I’d just like to try a few natural remedies before I go there. Any recommendations? – “Downcast but Not Desperate” in Deming, N.M.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains on its website, “Depression is the most common type of mental illness, affecting more than 26 percent of the U.S. adult population.”
In 2011, Time magazine reported about how there has been a 400-percent increase among Americans taking antidepressants since 1988. That’s more than one 1 in 10 Americans older than 12. Time also noted that “two-thirds of those with severe symptoms of depression do not take antidepressants at all.”
Though I believe there’s a time and place for antidepressants, I think it’s also good and wise to try natural alternatives in many situations before turning to such medicine. Everyone wants the quick fix; I get it. But there are natural roads we can take to turn the tides of sadness and minor cases of depression.
Olga Khazan, an associate editor at The Atlantic who covers health issues, recently discussed one of them in her article titled “For Depression, Prescribing Exercise Before Medication.”
In the article, Khazan documented the following: “In 1999, a randomized controlled trial showed that depressed adults who took part in aerobic exercise improved as much as those treated with Zoloft. A 2006 meta-analysis of 11 studies bolstered those findings and recommended that physicians counsel their depressed patients to try it. A 2011 study took this conclusion even further: It looked at 127 depressed people who hadn’t experienced relief from SSRIs, a common type of antidepressant, and found that exercise led 30 percent of them into remission – a result that was as good as, or better than, drugs alone.”
Regular physical exercise is the equivalent of an antidepressant. No one knows exactly why that is true, but it likely has something to do with the way aerobic activity boosts norepinephrine – a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood – and releases endorphins, natural chemicals in the body that relieve pain.
As mighty of a force as exercise can be as a non-drug remedy for depression, however, many still don’t know it. According to Khazan, a 2009 study showed that “only 40 percent of patients reported being counseled to try exercise at their last physician visit.”
Khazan reported on other promising natural treatments for depression, too: “Over the past few months, research has shown that other common lifestyle adjustments, like meditating or getting more sleep, might also relieve symptoms. Therapy has been shown to work just as well as SSRIs and other medications.”
In a brand-new study in the Journal of Affective Disorders, the power of social belonging has resurged as another foe to depression, according to ScienceDaily.
Lead author Dr. Tegan Cruwys, Dr. Alexander Haslam and their colleagues at the University of Queensland conducted two studies of patients clinically diagnosed with depression or anxiety and discovered that strong connections to a social group not only helped alleviate depression but also prevented its relapse.
Among those patients who joined hobby, exercise, sports, religious or other social communities, “less than a third still met the criteria for clinical depression” after just a month of participating in the groups. On the other hand, those who did not belong to any social communities were about 50 percent likelier to have continued depression than the others.
Then there is the link between diet and mental health.
In 2009, Dr. Stephen Ilardi, author of “The Depression Cure” and associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, wrote in Psychology Today about how British psychiatric researcher Malcolm Peet’s provocative cross-cultural analysis of the relationship between diet and mental illness proved how there is “a strong link between high sugar consumption and the risk of both depression and schizophrenia. In fact, there are two potential mechanisms through which refined sugar intake could exert a toxic effect on mental health.”
Given that the average American consumes roughly 141 pounds of refined sugars and high-fructose corn syrup a year – more than a third of a pound every day – could our sugar addiction have anything to do with why 1 in 4 American adults are affected by depression?
Psychiatrist Rif El-Mallakh, a professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, told The Washington Post: “There are a lot of people out there who call themselves depressed who aren’t actually depressed. I think people confuse low energy with depression, or sugar crashes with mood swings, but they probably don’t have a mental illness. And those people may do better with dietary interventions alone.”
Therefore, there is no surprise that repeated clinical studies documented by Natural News and a host of other health agencies have shown how certain good foods fight depression, such as fish oil and other sources rich in omega-3 fatty acids, whole-grain oats, brown rice, brewer’s yeast, raw cacao, dark molasses and Brazil nuts.
Many health practitioners note that St. John’s wort, a plant grown in the wild, has also proved to be effective in alleviating minor depression. This can be true, but it should also be noted that evidence is not definitive. In fact, some studies have shown that it can limit the effectiveness of many prescriptive medicines and, when combined with certain antidepressants, can lead to “a potentially life-threatening increase of serotonin, a brain chemical targeted by antidepressants,” according to the Natural Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
The bottom line is that as great and needed as medication can be and is, we should learn the power of pausing and be willing to look beyond the quick fixes and seek natural alternatives. More medical and mental health professionals need to be like Julia Samton. According to Khazan, Samton is a psychiatrist in New York City who “prescribes medications as a ‘third-tier resort’ after lifestyle changes and therapy have been ruled out.”
Of course, natural treatments will not work for everyone, especially those who are deeply and clinically depressed or suffer from more severe mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder. But with 1 in 4 Americans being affected by depression, the above natural forms of reducing depression are bound to help more than hurt. But as always, consult your physician or health practitioner about your own personal needs before implementing change in your health regimen.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com.