Natural treatments for depression
Winter is a common time to experience symptoms of depression. When the holidays are over and the weather is cold and dark, it is more common to feel sad, anxious, or hopeless. Whether one is experiencing a seasonal decline in mood or suffering from major depression, natural treatments have very high success rates, and are of course much safer than prescription drugs.
Dr. Fuhrman’s prescription for
natural treatment of depression:
• Morning light therapy. Light deprivation, common in the winter, can disrupt circadian rhythms and neurotransmitter production. In the winter, bright light therapy can be an effective substitute for natural sunlight — it corrects the body’s clock and stimulates mood-elevating neurotransmitters. Bright light therapy is effective for treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and has been found to be just as effective as antidepressants for treating depression.1, 2
• Vitamin D. Vitamin D is thought to regulate mood by affecting daily biorhythms and serotonin production. Reduced exposure to sunlight during the winter also means less natural vitamin D production by the skin.3 Low circulating vitamin D is associated with SAD and major depression.4,5 Studies of subjects with depression have found that vitamin D supplementation produces an improvement in symptoms and feelings of well-being.6,7
• High dose omega-3 fatty acids. DHA and EPA play important roles in the brain, and low omega-3 intake is associated with depression. DHA is an important structural component of brain tissue, and a recent meta-analysis revealed that EPA is the more important omega-3 fatty acid for improving depression symptoms.8 Dr. Fuhrman recommends DHA plus 500-1,000 mg EPA per day for depression. Fish oil has traditionally been used for this purpose, but a vegan alternative has now been developed. This vegan, yeast-derived EPA supplement can be taken along with DHA+EPA Purity for depression, and is now available on DrFuhrman.com.
• High-nutrient diet. Nutrition is extremely important for regulating mood. High antioxidant intake from colorful fruits and vegetables helps prevent oxidative stress, to which the brain is highly susceptible. Markers of oxidative stress are associated with a higher incidence of depression.9 Low intake of folate, present in green vegetables, also correlates with depression.10, 11
• Regular exercise. Exercise is known to be as effective as antidepressant drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy for improving the symptoms of depression. Exercise increases production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of well-being, which is often low in individuals suffering from depression. In fact, antidepressant drugs most often work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. Aerobic exercise plus strength training works better than aerobic exercise alone, and yoga is also effective.12-15
The combination of all of these approaches increases the likelihood of success, providing people suffering from depression with a safe, natural, and effective alternative to antidepressant drugs.
1. Golden, R.N., et al., The efficacy of light therapy in the treatment of mood disorders: a review and meta-analysis of the evidence. Am J Psychiatry, 2005. 162(4): p. 656-62.
2. Miller, A.L., Epidemiology, etiology, and natural treatment of seasonal affective disorder. Altern Med Rev, 2005. 10(1): p. 5-13.
3. Bertone-Johnson, E.R., Vitamin D and the occurrence of depression: causal association or circumstantial evidence? Nutr Rev, 2009. 67(8): p. 481-92.
4. Murphy, P.K. and C.L. Wagner, Vitamin D and mood disorders among women: an integrative review. J Midwifery Womens Health, 2008. 53(5): p. 440-6.
5. Ganji, V., et al., Serum vitamin D concentrations are related to depression in young adult US population: the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Int Arch Med, 2010. 3: p. 29.
6. Vieth, R., et al., Randomized comparison of the effects of the vitamin D3 adequate intake versus 100 mcg (4000 IU) per day on biochemical responses and the wellbeing of patients. Nutr J, 2004. 3: p. 8.
7. Jorde, R., et al., Effects of vitamin D supplementation on symptoms of depression in overweight and obese subjects: randomized double blind trial. J Intern Med, 2008. 264(6): p. 599-609.
8. Martins, J.G., EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Coll Nutr, 2009. 28(5): p. 525-42.
9. Tsuboi, H., et al., Depressive symptoms are independently correlated with lipid peroxidation in a female population: comparison with vitamins and carotenoids. J Psychosom Res, 2004. 56(1): p. 53-8.
10. Ng, T.P., et al., Folate, vitamin B12, homocysteine, and depressive symptoms in a population sample of older Chinese adults. J Am Geriatr Soc, 2009. 57(5): p. 871-6.
11. Sachdev, P.S., et al., Relationship of homocysteine, folic acid and vitamin B12 with depression in a middle-aged community sample. Psychol Med, 2005. 35(4): p. 529-38.
12. Gill, A., R. Womack, and S. Safranek, Clinical Inquiries: Does exercise alleviate symptoms of depression? J Fam Pract, 2010. 59(9): p. 530-1.
13. Uebelacker, L.A., et al., Hatha yoga for depression: critical review of the evidence for efficacy, plausible mechanisms of action, and directions for future research. J Psychiatr Pract, 2010. 16(1): p. 22-33.
14. Saeed, S.A., D.J. Antonacci, and R.M. Bloch, Exercise, yoga, and meditation for depressive and anxiety disorders. Am Fam Physician, 2010. 81(8): p. 981-6.
15. Ma, Q., Beneficial effects of moderate voluntary physical exercise and its biological mechanisms on brain health. Neurosci Bull, 2008. 24(4): p. 265-70.