Cure Depression Without Drugs

Sunday, 03 Feb 2013 05:25 PM

By Sylvia Booth Hubbard

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Happiness seems to be in short supply for many people. Almost everyone has times when they feel depressed, and millions of Americans take some sort of mood-lifting antidepressant or antipsychotic medication daily. "It clearly indicates an epidemic," says naturopathic doctor Michael T. Murray.
 
"Drugs designed to make us feel better, relieve anxiety, or help us sleep are among the top sellers each year," says Dr. Murray, author of "What the Drug Companies Won't Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn't Know."
 
Unfortunately, these drugs come with major side effects including sexual dysfunction and the risk of suicide. Even worse, says Dr. Murray, the drugs' ability to lift depression "is only slightly better than that of a placebo, at best."
 
The drugs are supposed to work by optimizing the brain's use of a neurotransmitter called serotonin — one of the body's "feel good" chemicals which helps control your mood. The good news is that you may not need drugs to lift your depression. Try these natural — and safe — alternatives:
 
• Engage in regular exercise. "Regular exercise may be the most powerful natural antidepressant available," said Dr. Murray. More than 100 studies have shown that exercise helps lift depression, and some studies have shown that exercise is just as effective as drugs and psychotherapy. The best exercises are strength training and aerobic activities, including bicycling, swimming, jogging, and aerobic dance. Exercise reduces stress hormones like cortisol, and boosts "feel good" chemicals called endorphins.
 
• Check your thyroid. Depression can be an early sign of low thyroid because thyroid hormone seems to be essential to convert the serotonin precursor L-tryptophan to serotonin.
 
• Eliminate sugar and caffeine. In clinical trials, patients eliminating sugar and caffeine improved depression. Experts believe the reason is an improvement in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin.
 
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• Examine your diet. Cut out sugar, saturated fats, cholesterol, salt, and food additives, and consider a Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts. One study of more than 10,000 people found that those who ate a Mediterranean diet were half as likely to develop depression as people who were on other diets. Also, when planning meals, bear in mind that the serotonin precursor L-tryptophan is found in milk, turkey, and soy.
 
• Consider taking Ginkgo biloba. Aging brings an increased risk for depression, and Ginkgo biloba works particularly well to lift depression in older people, perhaps because it counteracts a change in brain chemistry — a reduction in serotonin receptor sites — that's associated with aging. In a recent double-blind study, Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) was effective in relieving the depression of older patients who had not fully benefited from standard antidepressant drugs. When GBE was added to their antidepressants, their symptoms were reduced by about 75 percent within eight weeks when compared patients who just took antidepressants.
 
• Try taking 5-Hydroxytroptophan (5-HTP). "Numerous double-blind studies have shown that 5-HTP is as effective as SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants and is less expensive, better tolerated, and associated with fewer and much milder side effects," said Dr. Murray. 5-HTP elevates serotonin levels naturally and safely. A Japanese study found that 14 out of 17 patients with unipolar depression and 12 out of 21 patients with bipolar depression showed significant improvement taking 5-HTP that was classified as "good" or "very good." "Tryptophan must be converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan before it is metabolized to serotonin," said Dr. Murray.
 
 • Get enough sunlight. Depression is more common during the winter due to a lack of sunlight. A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that a lack of sunlight inhibited serotonin. Counteract the effects of dull winter days by making sure you take vitamin D — the sunshine vitamin.
 
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