Like millions of other people all over the world, I have suffered from depression for many years of my life.
And like many people who suffer from depression, I didn't really like the idea of taking powerful pharmaceutical drugs to treat it.
So, I have always tried to find ways to help depression that don't necessarily rely on using heavy duty drugs.
When I was doing my research into my book "How You Can Be Smarter - Use Your Brain to Learn Faster, Remember Better, and Be More Creative" I found a lot of information about natural treatments that could help depression as well as help improve memory and thinking.
One of the things I found very interesting is that if you live in Europe or Asia, and you happen to have depression, you are much more likely to get prescribed a herbal preparation by your doctor.
However, if you live in North America, prescribing herbs or other natural products is about the last thing your doctor will do for you. Instead, a North American doctor is much more likely to prescribe antidepressants from a big pharmaceutical company.
What I have written in this article is a really, really short overview of some of the many natural treatments that have been used for depression.
If you happen to have a mild form of depression, then natural methods can work.
If you have a serious depression, and that means a state of sadness or emptiness that goes on and on, and bleeds all the joy out of your life so that you feel like it is all empty and meaningless, then some professional treatment can be helpful.
Some Natural Treatments for Depression
Many people who suffer from depression prefer the idea of finding a natural treatment for their condition rather than taking prescription anti-depressants.
Is there anything you can get in a health food store that might help with depression? Yes, maybe, if your depression is in the mild to moderate range of severity. A more severe or long-term depression should be treated by a qualified professional.
If you are already taking prescription anti-depressants, do not also take any natural remedies at the same time without first consulting your doctor!
In some cases, there can be dangerous interactions. Just because something is natural does not mean it is always safe for everybody.
St. John's Wort
One of the best known and most widely prescribed natural remedies for depression is St. John's Wort. This herb has been used as a remedy for depression in Europe for decades. It is believed to now be the most commonly used anti-depressant in the world.
Many people who take St. John's Wort say they prefer the gentle lift this herb provides compared to the side effects of prescription anti-depressants.
The exact method by which St. John's Wort works is unknown. The main active ingredient is believed to be hypericin. Other factors in the plant may have an anti-depressant effect as well.
A typical recommended dose is 900 milligrams per day, divided. Look for a product that is standardized to contain .3 percent hypericin.
Some side effects with St. John's Wort may be experienced. They include nausea and abdominal pain. Some people experience increased sensitivity to sunlight and there is some indication that taking it may lead to a higher incidence of cataracts.
Not all studies of St. John's Wort have shown positive results. Many researchers in Europe say that St. John's Wort is effective, but at least one large recent American study found it to be ineffective as a treatment for depression.
When buying St. John's Wort, or any other herbal preparation, purchase only those brands that have a reputation for reliability. Some independent tests have confirmed that not all brands of St. John's Wort offered for sale actually contain the ingredients being claimed on the package.
If you are already taking a prescription anti-depressant, do not start taking St. John's Wort without consulting your doctor first. It may not be compatible with your other medications.
Don't take St. John's Wort if you have bipolar depression or if you are pregnant.
If you want to find something from the health food store to fight depression, you could ask for SAM-e, also known as s-adenosyl-methionine.
SAM-e is a substance which our body can make using the amino acid L-methionine, and various other nutrients. It is believed that SAM-e can boost the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which may be able to improve mood.
Research reports from Europe say SAM-e has the same rate of effectiveness as most prescription anti-depressants, about 70 percent, but that it works faster and has fewer side effects. Some studies have found positive improvements in depressed patients in as few as four days.
SAM-e is better absorbed if you take it on an empty stomach between meals. A suggested dose is 400 milligrams per day.
People who have bipolar depression should not take SAM-e. If you are already taking MAO inhibitor antidepressants, do not take SAM-e. SAM-e is not legally available in all countries.
Amino Acid Therapy for Depression
Not all psychiatrists prescribe pharmaceutical antidepressants. Some psychiatrists prefer to treat depression with natural supplements such as vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and amino acids.
The amino acids which have been found most effective in treating depression are L-tyrosine, L-tryptophan and L-phenylalanine.
For many decades, the amino acid L-tryptophan was widely used to successfully treat depression. However, in 1989 a contaminated batch of this substance resulted in several deaths, so L-trypophan was removed from the market. Even though the manufacturing process for L-tryptophan has been changed to prevent this problem, the ban on the sale of L-tryptophan in many countries persists.
Today, a product related to L-Tryptophan, called 5-HTP is available in many health food stores. The 5-HTP is believed to have none of the problems that caused L-Tryptophan to be withdrawn from the shelves, and it appears to be effective in lifting depression.
If you decide to use 5-HTP for depression, discuss it with your doctor. People who are taking MAO inhibitor drugs for depression should not be taking amino acid supplements. Very young and very old people should avoid amino acid supplementation.
Other Natural Therapies to Consider
In those countries where the population eats a lot of ocean fish, the rate of depression appears to be low. North Americans don't eat very much ocean fish, and the rate of depression in North America is quite high. Many nutritionally oriented therapists believe there is a connection.
Certain ocean fish such as tuna and salmon are very rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and other compounds that are beneficial to the heart and the brain. Eating more of these fish, or getting fish oil capsules from the health food store may be useful in treating some instances of depression.
However, there is a lot of controversy over whether these fish are safe to eat, since many large ocean fish are now contaminated with mercury poisoning.
Does the benefit of the fish oil outweigh the possible danger of the mercury?
Researchers don't agree about this at this time. But you can try to include a lot more fish like salmon and tuna in your diet to see if it boosts your mood.
Folic acid is one of the most important nutrients in the body, but sadly, a lack of folic acid is one of the most common deficiencies in the world.
Low levels of folic acid are associated with heart problems, memory problems, and depression.
If you suffer from depression, consider taking at least 400 mcg. per day in a supplement.
This has been a brief rundown of natural products you might find at the health food store that can help with depression.
But there are at least two more ideas I want to mention in closing that have been shown to be very beneficial to cases of depression.
Remember that before antidepressants were invented, people mostly relied on talk therapy to try get better. This can still work really well, if you have a good therapist, and if paying for therapy isn't a problem for you.
Not all types of psychotherapy work for depression. Cognitive therapy teaches the patient new, more realistic ways of thinking. Cognitive therapy has a record of curing depression that appears to be just as the rate of cure of most antidepressants.
Also remember that before therapists were invented, people talked over their problems with trusted friends, family members and spiritual advisors. So, if good therapists aren't easily available where you live, you can try look for other people to talk to that might help.
And now, one here is one final cure for some cases of depression that is easily available to most of us - exercise.
In some studies, regular physical exercise was shown to relieve depression just as effectively as medications!
So, consider incorporating some of these ideas into your life if you are feeling a bit depressed.
Serious depression may need much more intervention.
Royane Real is a long time science educator and self help author of many articles, books and reports available at her website. Sign up for her free newsletter filled with life improving tips. To learn more ways to improve the way your brain works, get her new book "How You Can Be Smarter - Use Your Brain to Learn Faster, Remember Better and Be More Creative" at http://www.royanereal.com