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12 Natural Depression Treatments


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Depression affects millions of people worldwide. Many have heard of the reported benefits of St. John's Wort, but in many cases it just doesn't work. In order to understand why, it's important to understand that depression can stem from hundreds of things, which often makes it difficult to treat.

As with most ailments, accurate diagnosis is the key. Unfortunately, most doctors seem to spend less time looking for the underlying cause of a problem and more time practicing "cookbook" medicine. (They simply compare the observed symptoms with those listed as treatable by various drugs and prescribe the drug that fits best.) In the USA especially, it is common practice to treat only the symptoms. Any doctor that deviates from this approach may be subject to malpractice regulations.

Before resorting to any supplement or drug, problems like hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), diabetes, weak adrenal function, and an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or pituitary gland should all be ruled out.  There are many self-tests that can be used to identify these problems. 

Other causes of depression are hormone imbalances, chronic infections, pain, cancer, and vitamin deficiencies. One of the most commonly overlooked contributors to depression is the regular use of prescription and over-the-counter medications. Blood pressure drugs are particularly notorious for causing depression. If you take any meds on a regular basis, be sure to check their side effects.

There are numerous natural remedies that are effective in treating depression. While St. John's Wort is one of the few that have been shown to be just as effective as Prozac, it's not the only alternative. The following is a list of the more commonly known herbs and supplements that have been shown to help or alleviate depression.


Tryptophan is probably the grandfather of natural anti-depressants. There is some controversy surrounding this amino acid. It was removed from the consumer market at almost the exact time in 1990 when the drug Prozac was being introduced. Coincidence? Tryptophan is available from BIOS Biochemicals (800) 404-8185. You can reach their web site from the Product Guide on this site.


5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)

5-HTP is a derivative of tryptophan. It is available without a prescription, and one early study showed that it, too (when given at a dose of 100 milligrams, three times daily), was as effective as Prozac. As you may recall, Prozac stops the breakdown of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin, which affects your mood and behavior. Tryptophan and 5-HTP are both converted to serotonin by the body. Each of these substances works by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, which in turn improves mood, promotes better sleep, and helps decrease binge eating related to depression. It is also being used to help promote weight-loss and treat insomnia problems much like tryptophan was in the past.  It is also available from BIOS.


5-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe)

SAMe has received a great deal of publicity. It doesn't seem to work very consistently but thousands of people swear that it works for them. It causes headaches in some people, but other than that it seems to have few, if any, significant adverse side effects.


Phosphatidylserine (PS)

PS is an essential fatty compound that helps the brain and nerves generate and transmit electrical impulses. It is very safe, being a naturally occurring building block in nerves and brain tissue. While it can be helpful in treating depression, most of the PS research has focused on memory improvement and the possible treatment of Alzheimer's disease.


PS was derived from cows in the 1980s, but was taken off the market following the European outbreak of mad cow disease. Now it is made from soy, and tests have shown the new product to be just as effective.


Ginkgo Biloba (Ginkgo)

Ginkgo is also best known for enhancing memory, but you should really think of ginkgo anytime you have problems with micro-circulation (inner ear problems like tinnitus, circulation in the brain resulting in senility, Alzheimer's, etc.).


Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALC)

ALC, another compound that can help with depression, is also being investigated for use in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Like many of the other compounds mentioned here, it's a strong antioxidant. It also helps protect and rebuild nerve cell membranes. Like phosphatidylserine and fish oil, it has been referred to as "brain food."


Fish Oil

Also shown to help treat depression. Fish oils and other highly unsaturated oils (e.g., flaxseed oil, hemp oil, borage oil, etc.) are very unstable and will quickly break down (turn rancid) when exposed to air, light, and heat. These oils are essential for the development of nerve tissue.

Although it is rarely discussed, these essential fatty acids also provide a means by which the body can store light energy, or energy from the sun. Despite what most people have come to believe, sunlight is essential to good health. Light is made up of small particles of energy called photons. If your body has adequate amounts of essential fatty acids from sources such as fish oil, photons will pass through the skin and be stored with the help of these essential fatty acids.

It should come as no surprise that in areas of the world that have the least amount of sunlight, the traditional diet contains the highest amounts of essential fatty acids. For example, the Eskimos traditionally ate cold-water fish, such as salmon, and whale and seal blubber, which are some of the richest sources of essential fatty acids. When this type of diet was followed, there wasn't a problem in Eskimo society with depression, suicide, alcoholism, obesity, and heart disease. Only after the Standard American Diet (SAD) diet was introduced in place of the traditional diet did problems like these begin to surface.

Simple exposure to sunlight or high-intensity, full-spectrum lights can eliminate seasonal problems with depression. That treatment, however, is far more effective and the results appear more quickly when the diet is also supplemented with either fish oils or fresh flaxseed oil. Also, people who choose to grind their flaxseed fresh each morning find that bowel irregularity has quickly become a thing of the past as well. Sunlight and fresh ground flaxseed every day is probably the first thing one should try for mild to moderate problems with depression as it is the easiest and least expensive methods to employ.


Inositol is part of the vitamin B family, and can help with depression, insomnia, and nerve problems such as diabetic neuropathy. (A dose of 500 milligrams of inositol taken about an hour before bedtime works almost as well as tryptophan for insomnia problems.)

This is a particularly good supplement to be taking if you have diabetes, which very often leads to nerve degeneration, or what is called diabetic neuropathy. Nerves start to degenerate when blood sugar levels are high and myomositol (a blood-sugar alcohol) levels are low. Diabetics can help stop nerve degeneration by regularly taking inositol, which will increase levels of myomositol in the body. The suggested dosage for depression and diabetes would be 500 milligrams three times a day. (Taking 500 to 1000 milligrams a day of acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC), can also help prevent diabetic neuropathy.)  You can find inositol at any health food store, or you can order it from Freeda Vitamins (800) 777-3737.  At one time they were offering a 20% discount to Dr. David Williams Alternatives subscribers.

Vitamins B6, B12, and Bc (Folic Acid)

A deficiency in any one of these B-family vitamins can result in depression. B6 and folic acid are generally not the culprits in depression. However, when a person's mood improves dramatically after taking a multi-B vitamin complex, these two elements are often the reason.

For decades, nutritionally oriented doctors have recognized and treated depression with vitamin B12 injections. The results can be quite dramatic and almost immediate. Vitamin B12 deficiencies are one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in the elderly, leading to depression, chronic fatigue, nerve problems, and memory loss. Oral doses in the range of 500 to 1000 micrograms have been shown to restore vitamin B12 levels.

Dimethlyglycine (DMG)

DMG was first utilized by the Russians to improve the performance of athletes. At the time, it was called pangamic acid, or vitamin B15. Numerous studies have shown that it improves the function of the immune system. There is no published research proving that it's helpful in treating depression. However, there are dozens of anecdotal and personal reports that DMG has dramatically improved depression.


Changes will often be noted within a week to ten days after taking 125 milligrams daily. DMG is one of those "sleepers" that very few people know about and is available from Progressive or Standard Process Labs which you will find in the Product Guide.  At one time they were offering a 25% discount to Dr. David Williams Alternatives subscribers.


Bacopa monniera (Brahmi)

Few people outside the Indian Ayurvedic healing community seem to know about Brahmi. Most of the research has been conducted in India. Brahmi is an herbal preparation that has been used for centuries in India to treat nervous disorders, improve learning, and provide nourishment to the brain.

Clinical trials in India have shown that Brahmi does indeed help with depression, decrease fatigue, improve memory, and increase learning ability. Its antioxidant activity also provides a protective factor against neurological damage. (Altern Med Rev 99;4(3):144-61)

Numerous herbs in the US.are referred to and sold as Brahmi, yet most are not Bacopa monniera. This practice makes shopping for the product somewhat difficult. There are a couple of suppliers that sell the herb Bacopa, but the extract that was studied extensively at the Centre for Drug Research, India (CDRI), doesn't seem to be available in the USA. In the UK., Australia, Malaysia, and India, the extract is being sold under the name MemoryPlus. You can order the capsules of the whole plant from a company called Himalaya USA at 800-869-4640. It markets a product called Bacopa and a combination product called Mind Care, which contains several Indian herbs associated with promoting mental awareness and improving memory.

Valerian root - NOT

Valerian root has also been used and recommended repeatedly for the treatment of depression and anxiety. However, while it may work initially, over time it seems to place an extra burden on the adrenal glands. With continued use, it's not uncommon for a person to experience symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness upon rising from a seated or lying position, shakiness, headaches, irritability, and all the other problems associated with decreased adrenal function (hypoadrenia) and blood sugar fluctuations. It is not recommended for long term use.

With so many options to choose from, most people will be able to find a non-drug solution that will help them overcome their depression. It's a good idea to include fish oil and flaxseed oil or ground flaxseed in your diet anyway, and most of the rest of these remedies are easy to find and use. Just make sure that you rule out physical or drug causes before you proceed with any of these therapies.

Related article:  What Causes Illness

Related article:  How do you deal with depression and/or anxiety without drugs?  


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