Natural Herbs for Depression

Treatment the Natural Way

I couldn’t run a website about depression without talking about natural herbs for depression. There is a lot of debate about whether or not natural remedies are effective in the treatment of depression. It seems that there are a few natural remedies that are proven or promising in the treatment of depression, but there are also a lot of myths surrounding herbal remedies. Having said that, no body really knows why synthetic medications help to treat depression. Indeed, sometimes prescription Herbs for Depression - Treat Depression the Natural Waymedication doesn’t work or causes very unpleasant side affects. No one can be forced down the route of prescribed medication, but what’s available if you decide to look to herbs for relief?

I do take prescription medication, however I didn’t want to at first. I started to take it because I was unaware of potential natural remedies and needed some relief from my symptoms. If I could go back now, I would probably try to explore natural remedies a little more. I’m not convinced that my medication isn’t messing with my brain chemistry to my detriment. I certainly get tired quite easily. I’ve done some digging around about herbal remedies and would like to present to you what seem to be the most promising and effective remedies.

A Holistic Approach

When talking about natural remedies a holistic approach can’t be ignored. A holistic approach involves not only herbal supplements, but also avoidance of certain foods and/or stimulants, exercise and commitment to exploring the mind. In effect, you have to avoid (as much as possible) those things that stress your body and mind, whilst getting more of what nourishes you.

This means avoiding things such as:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Sugary foods
  • Over-eating
  • Late nights

In contrast you can embrace things such as:

  • A healthier diet
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Quality sleep (sleep hygiene)
  • Hydration
  • Herbal supplements

I once had a colleague who began to suffer from stress. She said that, after being diagnosed with stress and exhaustion, everything she did and everything she ate was medicinal. I think that’s the simplest way to explain a holistic approach. Until it becomes a habit it might be tough. After all you’re having to alter your lifestyle. But if it works for you it’s worth it.

Herbal teas can be a simple but excellent solution as an alternative to coffee.Of course you can have decaffenated coffee and tea, but you would be denied some of the benefits of herbal teas. For example, chamomile tea is wonderful for calming body and mind. It’s used for settling the stomach, but I also find it’s great for calming the mind. In fact I sometimes drink chamomile and honey tea at work. Green tea is also a great way to cleanse the body, chocked full of anti-oxidants that help to prevent diseases. You might need to add some sweetener, as I do, but herbal teas can be tasty and beneficial at the same time.

St John’s Wort – The Most Effective Natural Remedy

An article published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists professes that St John’s Wort has “been shown beyond reasonable doubt to be effective as a treatment for mild to moderate depression”. Interestingly the evidence suggests that it works by inhibiting serotonin re-uptake. The most popular prescription medications, known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) allegedly work in exactly the same way.

On the face of it, St John’s Wort seems to naturally do what synthetic drugs have been designed to do. Further more, St John’s Wort (in it’s various forms) has been used in the treatment of depressive type Herbs for Depression - St John's Wort is allegedly as successful at treating depression as synthetic SSRI'sillnesses since Ancient Greek times. The article by the Royal College of Psychiatrists concludes that, following an experiment, the benefits of St John’s Wort are comparable to the benefits of prescribed SSRI’s.

We mustn’t forget that, although St John’s Wort is natural, it is still a type of drug. Many substances can become toxic at certain concentrations. Vitamin C, for example, becomes toxic above 1000 micro grams per day. Additionally, all drugs can have side effects. St John’s Wort may be no different. It’s also unsafe to take alongside prescribed medication. If you are thinking about taking St John’s Wort, you should speak with your doctor before hand.

Common Lavender – Not so Common

Another natural product, although not as scientifically supported as St John’s Wort, is common lavender. Again this plant has been used for thousands of years as a treatment for anxiety and depression. Taken orally a study summarized by holistic primary care demonstrates reductions in patient’s anxiety scores having taken lavender pills over a period of 10 weeks.

Herbs for Depression - Common Lavender is not so common after all!The greatest benefit of lavender seems to be when used as an aromatherapy. In a similar study anxiety levels were decreased by 50% in patients being undergoing aromatherapy using essential lavender oils. Although it’s good to have science behind the claims, I think everybody feels calmer having smelt the perfume like fragrances emitted by lavender plants. I love lavender, the color, the smell, the form and the bees that swarm over this magnificent plant.

Whilst not wishing to repeat myself it would be prudent to speak to a medical professional before taking lavender in conjunction with or as an alternative to other drugs (anti-depressant or otherwise).

Quality Matters

If you are buying herbal supplements, it’s important to ensure that you are buying a quality product. Buying online can be especially dodgy business with some suppliers unable to guarantee the quality of their products. When buying herbal supplements and remedies you should always look for a quality mark, In the UK we have the THR leaf logo. This mark guarantees the customer that the ingredients in the remedy are actually what’s on the label. It’s important to remember that these quality marks don’t guarantee that the remedy will have the effect advertised, only guarantee that it’s quality and safe.

The Final Word…

We should realize that we have a choice when it comes to treating depression. There is no one size fits all solution. Some people are comfortable taking prescription drugs, whilst others are dead set against them. Some people find that a holistic approach is most comfortable for them to treat depression. Some may embrace herbal remedies. The key thing to remember is that finding the right combination for you, as an individual should be your main priority. Talking therapies usually compliment any treatment regime, but you must be comfortable. Taking prescription medications when you are stressed about their effects it probably not going to have a good net result. Always speak to your doctor and agree a treatment plan. It’s always your choice, but doctors can inform you of potential risks and benefits along the way.

Vitamins for Depression

 

How can Vitamins Help with Depression?

Scientists have been arguing for years about the effectiveness of so called Vitamins for Depression. In most cases, there is no clear scientific agreement about whether or not some vitamins help to reduce the symptoms and effects of depression. Some experiments seem to demonstrate a positive effect andVitamins for Depression - it's a confusing matter! some demonstrate no effect at all on their patient samples. What seems to be lacking is a large experiment involving tens of (or hundreds of) thousands of people who are suffering from depression.

I’ll give you the facts and let you make your own decision about the effectiveness of vitamins for the treatment of depression. Please do speak with your doctor before taking any of the vitamins suggested because they may interfere with other medications (such as anti-depressants) or other treatment regimes.

Which Vitamins Might Help?

What follows is a list of vitamins widely reported to positively affect people suffering with depression. I will dedicate a brief paragraph to each vitamin in turn.

Omega 3 Fish Oils

This is the vitamin that I have the most faith in. I personally take supplements of this vitamin. Omega 3 is what’s known as an essential fatty acid. Basically, that means that the body can’t produce it’s own source of the vitamin (unlike some other fatty acids and amino acids). The upshot of this fact is that we need to get our source of omega 3 from our diets, or from supplements.

Fish is an excellent source of omega 3Omega 3 fatty acids are most commonly associated with lowering triglycerides, which helps to protect against heart disease. But this unlikely candidate may also help to protect against the effects of depression. How I hear you ask? The brain is mainly made up of water and fat (lovely, I know). Omega 3 is thought to aid transmitters in our brains, thereby improving brain performance. A better performing brain is thought to mean less anxiety and depression.

A study carried out at the Beer Sheva Mental Health Center (cited in Belmaker & Osher 2009) found “highly significant benefits” after 3 weeks of taking Omega 3 supplements. 20 patients with uni-polar depression were given the supplements in conjunction with anti-depressants.

B Vitamins

These are a family of vitamins that sometimes go by other names, which you may have heard.  For example:

  • Vitamin B1 – Thiamine
  • Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin
  • Vitamin B3 – Niacin
  • Vitamin B5 – Pantothenic acid
  • Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine
  • Vitamin B7 – Biotin
  • Vitamin B9 – Folic acid
  • Vitamin B12 – Cobalamin

Only vitamins B5 and B7 can be “made” by our bodies, so the other 6 are essential (remember that means that we have to get them from our diets or supplements). To make matters worse, B vitamins Supplements are a good way to get your daily b vitaminsare also what’s known as water soluble, which means that they can’t be stored in the body (in the way that other fat soluble vitamins can). That means we need a source of these vitamins every day in order to keep our bodies (and minds) in tip-top condition.

A study conducted at the Kuopio university in Finland (Cited DailyMail.co.uk) studied 115 patients with depression over a 6 month period. It was found that those patients with high levels of vitamin B12 in their blood responded better to treatment. An article in Current Psychology even concluded that deficiencies in vitamins B2 and B6 can affect patients’ ability to respond to pharmacological medications (such as anti-depressants).

5-Hydroxytryptophan

Well, that’s a mouth full isn’t it! Strictly this isn’t a vitamin. It’s actually an amino acid but I thought it was cool enough to make the list. Anything that starts with a number must be cool right? You do need to be very careful taking this one because it may react with anti-depressant medication. Talk to your doctor before reaching for this one.

Serotonin is a key neurotransmitterIt is believed that 5-HTC, as it will be known as – from now on and forever, works to keep tryptophan in the blood stream, which in turn helps to produce serotonin. If a person isn’t producing enough serotonin, depression can occur because of deficiency. Of course, if you’re taking a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) type medication but there is no serotonin to stop from being taken up, they won’t work. The flip side is, however, that if you are taking SSRI’s and you add more serotonin to your system, you could actually do damage. Too much serotonin can lead to serotonin syndrome, which can cause – well, death – so don’t mess around with it until you’ve spoken with your doctor – OK!

Despite it’s lauding as an alternative to anti-depressants (because it allegedly helps production of serotonin) a study by the University of Maryland criticizes the use of 5-HTC in rather sharp terms. They concluded “5-HTP in the treatment of depression has languished for years. Intuitively, the potential is extraordinary, but from a practical level efficacy is no better than placebo”. Strong stuff!

Vitamin D

There is much debate about the use of vitamin D for the treatment of depression. We all know that vitamin D is essential for the strength of bones and teeth (it helps bones grow strongerer as a UK advertising campaign put it), but can it really help with depression?

The vitamin D council (not an 80’s rap group, but a charity) asserts that a deficiency of vitamin D can contribute to depression, but they admit that not enough is known about why. The Columbia University Medical Center concludes that vitamin D may stimulate neutrophins, which regulate neuronal development, however state that there are no quantitative (numbers based) studies on the matter.

Dietary Sources of these Vitamins

Here’s a list of foods that contain the above vitamins:

  • Omega 3 – Herring, Mackerel, salmon, oysters, trout, tuna, tofu, brussel sprouts (plus windy side-effects), flax seeds, walnuts, beef and soya beans
  • Vitamin B1 – Trout, pork, macadamia nuts, green peas, asparagus, soy beans
  • Vitamin B2 – Almonds, cheese, milk, beef, eggs, oily fish, sesame seeds
  • Vitamin B3 – Chicken, bacon, tuna, broccoli, turkey, peanuts, asparagus
  • Vitamin B5 – Mushrooms, lentils, sweet potato, chicken, turkey, broccoli
  • Vitamin B6 – Potato (with skin), carrot juice, avocado, pork, beef, chicken, fish, sunflower seeds
  • Vitamin B7 – Soy beans, eggs, liver, pork, peanuts, cheddar cheese, oats
  • Vitamin B9 – Lentils, spinach, avocado, mango, wheat germ, chicken, oranges, green beans
  • Vitamin B12 – Tuna, beef, cow’s milk, lamb, cod, salmon, turkey, mackerel, kidney
  • 5-HTP – Turkey, chicken, cow’s milk, seaweed, sunflower seeds, turnips, potatoes, pumpkins
  • Vitamin D – Oily fish, eggs, tofu, fortified cereals, eggs, cow’s milk, cheese, some yogurts

To Supplement, or not To Supplement? That is the Question!

You need to take a look at your diet. Is it possible that you are deficient in any of the above vitamins? Do you get a daily source of the essential vitamins and minerals? If not, then you might want to consider getting your hands on some supplements. I would recommend taking omega 3 from personal experience. Get a good quality supplement so that you don’t have fishy burps.  If you’re thinking of using supplements and you take other medication / have another medical condition you must always speak to your doctor first. Actually, even if you are fighting fit, perhaps speak with your doctor first anyway!

References:

Current Psychology: http://www.currentpsychiatry.com/home/article/vitamin-deficiencies-and-mental-health-how-are-they-linked/43eee364b1ab8c9f973f7d6bce47dea3.html?tx_ttnews%5BsViewPointer%5D=1

Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-203233/Vitamin-B-fight-depression.html

Belmaker & Osher – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19499625

University of Maryland – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3415362/

The Vitamin D Council – https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/health-conditions/depression/

Columbia Medical Center – https://www.psychosomatic.org/EdRes/Resources/Shaffer.pdf

Can Music Help Depression?

Can music help depression? I speak from personal experience as a guitar player and a fan of actually just listening to music and do nothing else from time to time. How does it work and what do I experience? We’ll come to that. While you read this, perhaps put on some relaxing music and see how your mood is affected by the time you’ve finished reading.

I have come to recognize that music helps to beat depression in three core ways. Making music, listening to music and playing music. We’ll start with making music. Professor Christian Gold, being quoted in an article by The Telegraph on the subject explains that research shows that when making music is added to standard forms of care (medication, counselling, psychotherapy etc) levels of depression and anxiety improve when compared with those not undertaking music therapy.

One of the conclusions as to why music therapy is so effective is that it allows people to express
emotions that words simply cannot. It would seem that rhythmical accompaniment, such as drums and xylophones offer a good level of relief, however I personally believe that playing the guitar is also as effective.  The UK Journal of Advanced nursing estimates that making music can reduce the effects of depression by 25%. That’s staggering for an activity as simple as playing / making music.

I believe that listening to music can also be very helpful when battling the effects of depression. I sometimes feel that I can really identify with lyrics, or with certain chord progressions (maybe that’s the guitarist in me). There is a strong word of caution here however. You should avoid depressing music if you are feeling depressed or vulnerable. As much as music has the ability to lift your mood and improve your well-being, it also has the ability to lower your mood too. A double edged sword so to speak.

This is scientifically established too. An article in Time adds weight to argument, summed up well in the following quotation:

“Sadness is a common theme is popular music, and it may be that individuals with depression turn
these messages to make themselves feel less alone in their sadness. Conversely it may be that individuals with major depressive disorder turn to happy music to tune out their negative moods or to elevate their mood”.

I think what they are trying to say is, less Radiohead (although they are a great band) and more up-beat music. I find relaxing music great too. If you type “relaxing music” or “music for study” into YouTube, you can get hours of free music to help you to relax. That or type in “funny videos” – that always makes me laugh a little :)

As I briefly mentioned, I play the guitar. I started when I was 18 (i’m now 31) and it has been a dear friend to me. I have quite a few guitars now. I have been fortunate enough to play in front of numerous live audiences and even made some extra cash playing in a duo at pubs and bars. I love my guitars, love learning new songs and love to write songs too. Here’s a picture of me at one of our gigs.

Me at a gig a few years ago

When I first started to learn, it wasn’t boring. I’m self taught (with some help from my friend who had started a few months before me). The first thing I learned was the solo from Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Soon I was picking up chords and playing songs. When you learn a new song, you get such a sense of achievement.
The same is true when you write your own songs. You know it’s yours and the lyrics might be very
personal for you – a good way to release emotions. I don’t get to practice as much as I would like to, and I haven’t played live for some time, but i’m working back up to it Guitar is great for heping with moodand I do love the hours I spend with my guitar :)

The evidence seems clear, music can be very effective helping people with depression. Not only does it provide a sense of achievement, it keeps you distracted and helps you to express emotions that words may not be able to. If you want to know more about getting started with playing the guitar, drop me an e-mail (paul@blackdogonaleash.com) or leave a comment below and I’ll be more than happy to provide some starters tips :)

References:

Siedliecki SL, Good M. Effect of music on power, pain, depression and disability. J Adv Nurs. 2006 Jun;54(5):553-62

Depression and Acceptance

Depression and acceptance just don’t seem to go together. I have first hand and recent experience of this fact. Last month I became very ill. I was signed off of work due to a severe depressive episode. One of the things that was causing extreme feelings in me was the fact that I couldn’t accept what wasAccepting depression is hard but liberating happening.

I was angry that no one could tell me (and still no one can) when things are going to better, when I won’t need medication anymore. I was angry with my doctors, I was angry with myself because I felt that it was all my fault. To make things worse, I have a logical mind, so I like to be able to put time frames on things. I know that if I had broken my leg, I would probably be up and about again after eight weeks or so. But no one can tell me when I will be able to function normally again. I couldn’t accept that.

I talked through the issue with my therapist, who crystalised my thinking around the matter. Duing the discussion I said “I guess I just need to trust that it will Accepting depression is like hitting the bullseyepass”.  I couldn’t have hit the nail more squarely on the head.  It really is all about trusting that it will get better. After all the evidence suggests that most people do recover from depression. There is no time frame, everyone is different. I have always been border line depressed, but for the last two years I have been on medication to prop me up. I have also had numerous therapies. If there was a one size fits all cure, I doubt I would be writing this piece today.

Once I started to accept that it was a rough time, and that I actually needed time to recover and re-group I started to feel a bit better. Of course I was still depressed but I was able to relax a little more. I hated the thought of being “on the shelf” so to speak. My philosophy was always that I would go to work unless something like my leg was hanging off. It was so short sighted of me. After a few days of mostly sleeping, it was obvious to me that I was ill and needed time to recover. I had to accept that I wasn’t well.

So if you’re depressed, try to accept that it’s how things are now. Things won’t be that way for ever. People do recover and stay well. Accept that there is no one size fits all cure. You may have to try different therapies, you may have to try different medications at different doses. Just accept that. To deny it is just going to me you feel worse. It’s like blowing into the wind, you expend vital energy without
making a lick of difference.  We must start to look at recovery from depression as a learning experience.Accepting depression is like a new day breaking

When we learn anything new, we make mistakes, we find things that don’t work, we get frustrated but eventually it all clicks into place. Once it clicks into place, we know what we are doing. It feels great. Just imagine what it will feel like when we get our recovery right. It will be like our eyes have been opened to a new life. Here are a few quotes to help you along:

Happiness can only exist in acceptance – George Orwell

 

Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can their be recovery – J.K. Rowling

 

For afterall, the best thing we can do when it is raining is let it rain – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change – Carl Rogers

 

And finally a quote from Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich

You have felt disappointed, you have undergone defeat during the depression, you have felt the great heart in you crushed until it bled. Take courage, for these experiences have tempered the spiritual metal of which you are made – they are assets of incomparable value

Relax and accept the situation for what it is and all will be well :)

Ways to Get Better Sleep

There are many ways to get better sleep.  The good news is that it’s so easy anyone can do it!

First of all we need to think about how our bodies work. Digestion of food is a good place to start. When you digest food your stomach and digestive system is effectively turned to the on position, It’s working hard meaning that it’s difficult for you to fully relax. Clearly this impacts negatively on your ability to sleep.

Then, in frustration you turn to your smart phone or tablet, hoping that a little reading of social mediaWoman Yawining or a game might help you to relax. The problem is that these devices emit “blue light”, which tricks your brain. Here we need to introduce the Circadian rhythm. Basically the Circadian rhythm describes the biological clock. The natural bodily function that tells us when we should be awake and should be asleep is thrown out of sync. The blue light emitted by smart devices confuses your brain and actually serves to keep you awake for longer. Melantonin (a hormone secreted that is believed to induce sleep) is suppresses by blue light.

Now the digestive system is busily working away and your brain thinks it’s day time! Another problem might be the coffee that you had a few hours before going to bed. We all know that caffeine is a
stimulant. Drinking any type of stimulant before going to bed is going to further confuse your body. Coffee can inhibit sleepAgain melantonin secretion is impeded and adrenaline (a hormone that soups up your body for action) may actually increase. You can see how all of this is not favorable if trying to get better sleep.

Environment is also a very important factor in getting better sleep.  We need to associate our bedrooms with sleep. This means calming colours on the walls, relaxing pictures and items and ensuring the right temperature. Usually it is better to have the room slightly cooler to enable you to sleep comfortably below your blankets. Eliminate noise as far as possible.If you like to read, make sure you have a bedside lamp that emits a gentle light, just enough to allow you to be able to read. You also shouldn’t watch the television in bed. Of course it will emit light, which is unlikely to help you sleep, but the content of the programming may also impede sleep. For example loud noises, controversial or upsetting content may make keep you awake or disturb sleep when you do eventually drift off.

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You may also want to consider a bed time routine. The routine might start a few hours before bed time. For example you may start your routine by drinking decaffeinated drinks after 4pm. Ideally you want to avoid eating 2 hours before Set up a bedtime routinebed time. You may listen to some relaxing music half an hour before going to bed. You may meditate just before bed and then read some material that isn’t likely to disturb your mind prior sleeping. You may then find that you will just drift off and have the best nights sleep of your life.

I said in the openning paragraph that the things you need to do to get better sleep are easy, but it will take some practice to put them into place. Like anything, the more your practice, the better you get and the more natural it will feel. Perhaps you might want to try the routine for a few nights per week, just to get used to it. Once you get a great nights sleep, you will want to do it more and more!

Happy sleeping!