Natural Approaches to Depression

Natural Approaches to Depression

Depression requires active treatment, because the disorder itself can have enduring effects on brain function that make future episodes more likely. Apart from the intensity of emotional pain and despair, the longer a depression episode lasts, the more likely a future episode.

That said, there are many ways to treat depression, and some of the most effective, especially in cases of mild to moderate disorder, do not require a prescription or medical-type intervention of any kind. The irony of depression is that it saps mental energy and makes people feel uninterested in or incapable of doing anything, creating a state of avoidance.

Taking small, rewarding steps in spite of such feelings creates a pathway out of the problem. For example, just setting foot in a different location stimulates neural circuitry that leads to positive affect. Depression can be seen as a kind of cave , and it takes some time and effort to get out of the cave. But it is possible, usually by learning some new patterns of thinking and doing. Does depression always require drug treatment?

Although depression is in many ways a baffling and poorly understood disorder, there is growing recognition that it involves many body systems. That makes a powerful case for measures, most of them deceptively simple, that target one or more facets of depression. For example, depression is in part a disorder of social connection; the only remedy for that is social activity.

Studies consistently show that, by virtue of biology or early life experienc e, people differ in the degree to which distressing experiences can stress or overwhelm individual resources, disrupt functioning, and result in the system-wide shutdown know as depression. From learning to tolerate negative feelings to taking a walk in the park, there is an array of strategies that effectively interrupt or blunt the myriad effects of stress, and they can literally foster the growth of new nerve pathways that enable renewed interest in life and the ability to engage in it. Why is a holistic approach helpful in treating depression?

Depression is a holistic disorder, a complex condition that afflicts the whole person, manifesting in many disturbances of mind and body function. It disrupts sleep as much as it impedes social interest. It fixates thinking on past failures as much as it keeps people from wanting to get out of bed. There is an array of measures that can counter the multiple ways depression disables so many systems of body and mind. Addressing cognitive distortions, disconnection from others, fatigue, a sense of purpose, a nutritious diet—and above all allowing the emotional time-out that depression demands—each addresses some facet of depression and all together provide an integrated way to restore health to the whole person. Is there a natural way to target inflammation?

Inflammation plays a significant role in bringing on and perpetuating depression. Many studies show that depressed patients have higher levels of inflammatory compounds circulating in their blood. Inflammation is part of the body’s natural response to injury, and there are many ways of injury. So too are there many ways of curbing the processes of inflammation. Because one effect of stress is to increase inflammatory compounds in the body, finding effective ways of coping with stress—such as reframing difficulties as challenges or doing some exercise—lowers the body burden of inflammation.

Diet is another way to lessen inflammation. There are popular foods (such as fatty meats) that foster inflammatory processes, and there are common foods (such as strawberries) and nutrients (curcumin in the spice turmeric) that have anti-inflammatory properties, making healthy eating a sensible everyday approach to curbing inflammation.

Any exercise is activating and promotes a sense of accomplishment. Studies show that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking for 20 to 40 minutes three times per week for six weeks, significantly alleviates many symptoms of depression, including self-concept, but is especially effective at relieving somatic symptoms, including sleep disturbance. What’s more, the benefits of exercise are long-lasting.

There are many explanations for the effects. Exercise raises core body temperature, which in turn crates feelings of relaxation and tension-relief. Exercise also promotes the release of endorphins, neurochemicals that have a direct mood-boosting effect. In addition, exercise counters depression by fostering a sense of self-efficacy. But the most enduring effect of exercise may be that it stimulates the release of nerve growth factors in the brain, leading to the growth of new nerve cells and new connections—literally opening new channels for thinking and acting. What are the best exercises for curbing depression?

One of the most studied sources of depression relief is walking. Research consistently finds that walking for 20 to 40 minutes three times a week significantly improves mood and relieves other symptoms of the disorder. Walking alone has benefits, but walking with a partner or a group is even better, because the social interaction also lifts mood and adds to the motivation to continue the activity. Any activity that requires movement is beneficial, including stretching. Research shows that resistance exercise , such as lifting weights, is also effective against depression. Are there vitamins or other supplements that help against depression?

The B vitamins —and especially folate (B9), pyridoxine (B6), and cobalamin (B12)—are crucial for nervous system function and play multiple roles in maintaining brain health. All the B vitamins are cofactors for enzymes involved in production of neurotransmitters that influence mood. Fish oil, rich in omega-3 fats, particularly the component fat eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), curbs inflammations, enhances neuroplasticity, and protects brain cells against the degenerative effects of depression.

The spice turmeric contains curcumin, which has also been shown to improve symptoms in patients with depression. It not only has anti-inflammatory effects, it helps moderate the effects of the stress hormone cortisol. The mineral magnesium also reduces inflammatory substances in the body; additionally it stabilizes the levels of some neurotransmitters linked to depression. Why are omega-3 fats important?

Found in fatty cold-water fish like salmon and mackerel, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids contribute to general and brain health in a variety […]


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