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Prescription-free ways to help ease depression
The simplest definition of depression is sadness plus hopelessness—that is, the feeling that the sadness will never get better. Other signs and symptoms include a lack of motivation, feeling tired much of the time, low self-esteem, insomnia and other sleep problems, and suicidal thoughts.
Many Different Types
There are several different types of depression, including dysthymia (a state of chronic depression that persists for two or more years), mild depression, moderate depression, major (severe) depression, and bipolar disorder. Some people also experience seasonal affective disorder (see sidebar, below) or the occasional “down day.”
Depression is often triggered by a real-life event, such as the death of a loved one, job loss, or divorce. At other times the cause is idiopathic, meaning that it has no obvious cause. In either case, brain chemistry becomes altered and may make smaller amounts of some neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or dopamine.
The most common medical treatment consists of pharmaceutical drugs. However, these drugs do not treat the underlying causes, and their use can result in side effects. Some patients receive psychological treatment (talk therapy) to help with their depression.
People with prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and obesity have a higher risk of being depressed. Eating more protein, which provides B vitamins and amino acids needed for neurotransmitter production, can often help relieve depression—and improve blood sugar.
Nutrients form the chemical basis of neurotransmitters, which influence our moods. Several supplements influence neurotransmitter production and can help relieve depression. If you take more than two of these supplements, reduce the suggested dose.
A B-Complex Vitamin. The benefits of B-vitamins in depression and other mood disorders has been recognized since at least 1943. Many individual B vitamins, including B1, B3, and B6, have been shown to benefit people with depression, but other B vitamins also impact mood. Dose: Opt for a high-potency B-complex or multivitamin containing at least 50 mg of vitamins B1, B2, and B3.
Omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which enhance the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. A 2014 study in Nutritional Neuroscience found that high-dose omega-3s (16 gm daily) led to significant improvements in adolescents with major depression, the most serious type. Other studies in the American Journal of Psychiatry have described how the omega-3s help people with depression, postpartum depression, and bipolar disorder. They can also be helpful in treating bipolar disorder, which is difficult to treat with conventional therapies. Dose: As a general rule, try 2–5 gm of omega-3s daily to start. For bipolar, choose a high-EPA supplement that provides 6 gm of EPA and 3 gm of DHA daily.
St. John’s Wort. This herb is one of the most effective natural treatments for depression. Studies have found that it works better than the leading prescription drugs for depression and results in fewer side effects. An analysis of 29 published studies determined that St. John’s wort worked as well as drugs to treat the most severe type of depression. Dose: Use a standardized form of the herb. For mild or moderate depression, take 300 mg three times daily. For severe depression, double the dose. St. John’s wort will enhance the liver’s breakdown of drugs, including oral contraceptives and chemotherapeutic drugs, and therefore may reduce their effectiveness.
L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP. L-tryptophan and 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) are two forms of the same molecule. Both are precursors to serotonin and, subsequently, to melatonin (the sleep hormone). Low intake of tryptophan reduces serotonin production and activity in the brain. The effect of low tryptophan (which can be caused by a low-protein diet) may be particularly strong in people with a family history of depression, even when people have not previously been depressed. The body uses L-tryptophan in a variety of biochemical processes, including serotonin synthesis, but 5-HTP can be used only in the production of serotonin. Dose: Take 50–200 mg of 5-HTP daily, in divided doses, at least one hour away from food. If insomnia is associated with depression, take the last dose 30–60 minutes before bed. For tryptophan, take 500–3,000 mg before bed. With either form of the supplement, start with the lower end of the dosage range.
SAMe. The body makes S-adenosylmethionine from B vitamins and the amino acid methionine, and then puts SAMe (pronounced sammy) to use in making serotonin and other neurotransmitters. SAMe often works as well as some anti-depressant medications, and it also enhances the activity of anti-depressant medications. Dose: Take 800–1,600 mg daily. Research suggests that SAMe may be of particular benefit for people who suffer from both osteoarthritis and depression.
DON’T BE SAD
If you feel depressed during the fall and winter, but better in the spring and summer, you may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Sunlight is essential for the body’s production of vitamin D, and considerable evidence now links low vitamin D levels to the risk of depression and specifically to SAD. Some people use full-spectrum artificial lights to relieve symptoms of SAD, but one study found that taking vitamin D supplements worked even better than these lights.
Five Things You Can Do To Feel Happier Now
These bliss-boosting tips come from Jonathan Robinson, author of Find Happiness Now: 50 Shortcuts for Bringing More Love, Balance, and Joy Into Your Life. Go to FindingHappiness.com to read more.
1. Write down three things you feel grateful for in your life. They could be big things—such as your children, or small things such as the great burger you had for lunch.
2. Exercise—even if only for a few minutes. Exercise has been shown to help depressed people feel immediately better.
3. Spend time with a beloved pet, toddler, and/or nature environment. Pets, young kids, and trees live in the moment they are in rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Their energy may rub off on you.
4. Play a song that you really enjoy and sing along.
5. Do an act of kindness for a stranger or friend. Yep, it’s true. When you do a small act of kindness, you feel better, your friend feels better, and the world has a bit more kindness in it. Even something small like saying what you appreciate about someone will immediately boost your level of well-being—as well as theirs.
Good Buys …
1. JARROW FORMULAS B-Right Optimized B-Complex delivers a full range of B vitamins in their most biologically available forms.
2. NATURE’S WAY Perika St. John’s Wort features Perika, a patented, standardized extract of hyperforin, the herb’s key active constituent.
3. QUALITY OF LIFE Pure Balance Serotonin provides the raw ingredients your body needs to produce serotonin, including 5-HTP, along with vitamin D3.