Natural Remedies for Depression
All I know is that it’s February, and the sun has shined in Kentucky maybe five days since November. Here is the view from my kitchen window, a.k.a. where I spend about 50% of my stay-at-home-mommy day.
Now imagine that it’s about 35 degrees. Not that I’m complaining. Except that I am.
Louisville averages 193 sunny days a year. And that means the other 172 days are not. Sunny. At all. I realize it’s not the gloomiest (most gloomy?) place to live, but for a girl who lived in Florida for 8 years and has fought major depression for the last 9 years, every gloomy day (especially when they are strung back to back to back) wreaks havoc on my mood.
So I thought now would be a great time to discuss some natural remedies for depression, being that the sun is not scheduled to appear again until oh, I don’t know, like APRIL.
And just a little caveat: if you suffer from major depression and you have suicidal thoughts or cannot function, please go to your doctor and get help. Seriously. Don’t bother with herbs or sunlamps. Just get help. For the rest of you who are just trying to fight the winter blues, here are a few natural remedies that may help boost your mood until the sun reappears.
5HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan): This is a nutritional supplement which raises serotonin levels. This is not for everybody–for instance, people with heart problems should not take it. Also, you should only take it for a short period, to bump up serotonin levels, which will then stay elevated. I currently take 5HTP with pretty good results.
St. John’s Wort: Throughout history, herbs have been used as ancient remedies to treat disease and illness – including depression. St. John’s Wort is the most commonly used. But there are dozens of others that supposedly work well. For a comprehensive list of depression herbs, visit this page: herbs for depression.
S-Adenosyl Methionine: SAM or SAM-e (pronounced “sammy”) is a natural compound all mammals manufacture that may alleviate the symptoms of depression. I wrote about my great experience with SAM-e here.
Vitamin D:This is potentially the most critical nutrient to staving off depression. Sunlight is the best source of this vitamin, but, it’s impossible to get adequate sunlight during the cold dreary months. Especially when it looks like this:
Liquid sources of this vitamin tend to best absorbed. Also, D3 is the natural type of vitamin D, while vitamin D2 is synthetic and not as well-absorbed by the body. Most people require at least 400 IU of vitamin D daily. Most experts now recommend 1000 IU; however, sometimes more is needed but higher doses should only be used under the guidance of a qualified health professional. I wrote about the benefits of vitamin D here.
B Vitamins: These vitamins are critical to moods and helping the body to deal with stress, so a B-complex supplement can help. B-vitamin deficiencies are linked to emotional imbalances as well as many other functions so it is important to obtain adequate amounts on a daily basis — for most people that includes a 50 mg B-complex supplement daily.
Selenium, Magnesium, and Iron: These are also critical in dealing with depression and alleviating anxiety and mood disorders. A multi-mineral supplement can supply essential minerals and trace minerals.
Omega-3s: Preliminary studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oils (not flaxseed) may be effective for treating depression. Taking a daily supplement may have other benefits to cardiovascular health and has few or no known side effects. I talked extensively about the benefits of fish oil here.
Exercise: Depression often causes feelings of hopelessness that lead to inaction, so the last thing you’ll feel like doing is exercise. But studies suggest that regular, moderate physical activity may lessen depression symptoms as much as some medications can. Exercise also releases endorphins (feel-good hormones) that help boost your mood for hours after your workout. Plus, when you exercise, you look better which makes you feel better. It’s all good.
Diet : Food has a tremendous effect on mood. Here are some general guidelines to follow when choosing foods to beat depression.
Depression diet don’ts:
• Avoid or reduce alcohol, sugar, and caffeine (including soft drinks)
• Avoid fast food and other ‘junk meals’ low in nutrients
• Avoid or reduce sugar and artificial sweeteners (in fact, I would tell you to NEVER consume artificial sweeteners, ever!)
Depression diet do’s:
• Balance each meal with adequate protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates
• Eat lean sources of protein such as fish, poultry, legumes, nuts, and seeds
• Try to mix in at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day—the brighter and more colorful, the better.
• Choose fresh, whole foods over processed foods.
Light Therapy: The world-renowned Mayo Clinic estimates that at least 10 to 20 percent of the population suffers from some sort of seasonal depression brought on by shorter days. Some estimates indicate there are millions of North Americans who suffer from a more extreme version of “winter blues” called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
At this stage of the research, the disorder seems to be related to insufficient light and the resulting hormonal disruptions caused by the pineal gland. When the pineal gland believes it is in darkness, it secretes a hormone called melatonin, which has sedative properties.
Light therapy (also called phototherapy) consists of exposure to daylight or to specific wavelengths of light using lasers, light-emitting diodes, fluorescent lamps, dichroic lamps or very bright, full-spectrum light, for a prescribed amount of time and, in some cases, at a specific time of day. This has been proven to relieve the disruptions caused by insufficient light.
Right now, I’m sitting in my house with every single light burning brightly in my kitchen, dining room and living room. My neighbors probably think I’m getting ready to show my house to prospective buyers or something. But it really helps me a lot to have it bright in here on these dreary days.
Get outside: Bundle up and take a brisk walk outdoors. Just getting the fresh air pumping through your lungs can make a big difference. Even if it looks like this:
Take off the sunglasses: Wearing sunglasses limits the amount of natural light that travels the path from the eyes to the pineal gland, thereby increasing the risk of suffering from the winter blues. Of course, it is important to take certain precautionary measures when sunlight is strong.
Speaking of sunglasses, I’m off to make some spring break plans. I see a beach, an ocean and some sunshine in my future. Hang on friends, spring is just around the corner.
What are YOUR spring break plans?
Resources for this post:
I took my fish oil today and my multi vitamins with B.
I'll be heading out for a run soon and I will leave my sunglasses at home.
I could easily give into a depressive state today. Got bad news this morning. Another opportunity to live what I believe. More faith stretching at our house.
I'll be fighting against giving into sadness.
My vitamin D was extremely low last year…I had to go on a mega dose, like 50,000 once a week for 3 months. Most Americans are vitamin D deficient, and for me being African American it's even worse…darker skin has a harder time absorbing sun. That and I was also severely anemic to the point of needing a blood transfusion! Anemia can cause depression too! And both are common in women. After getting 2 units of blood I felt SOOOOOOOOO much better! I don't know where my Vit. D levels are right now, but God has given me a few reminders, including your post, that I need to get back into that and into taking B vitamins. Those are great too. I know one thing, I'll never wear sunscreen again. I read that vitamin D deficiency can contribute to high blood pressure…and guess what! African Americans have high rates of high blood pressure and the lowest amounts of Vit. D! And now I'm on bp pills…it's hereditary, everyone in my family is on them. Go figure. It's all connected! One thing I need to do somehow is exercise. I think that would solve so many minor issues. I keep threatening to find a Zumba class, it actually looks FUN. Otherwise exercise to me is as exciting as a visit to the dentist…which I hate.
Anyway, thanks for sharing!!!
Not to rub it in, but it's a beautiful day here today in Sunny Miami. But I'm at work sitting in my dreary office looking out at the courtyard — it's almost a "tease". I try to take my multi vitamins, b vitamins, and fish oils. I drink a lot of milk and eat a lot of yogurt. I wonder how my vitamin D intake is. hum? Will have to look into that. I read recently, that Vitamin D was also the skin super vitamin. So look at that, you can reduce depression, increase your calcium absorption AND have great skin with Vitamin D!
Spring Break plans? What is that?
Sandy, I just wanted to make note:
– Never, ever, ever take herbal remedies while you are on other medications UNLESS both your doctor and pharmacist have given you the okay!
St. John's Wort has been found to interact badly with a number of antidepressants and anti-convulsants (among others).
Just an fyi.
P.S. I love, love, love to take 10 in a tanning bed in winter! Awesome light therapy!
Hey, Sandy, I´m back! I have missed you! wEll, I know I am the one that took a long break but hope to get back on reading and writing about fitness.
Love this post! it is sooo important for those in my area to. Asturias Spain is sooo dreary sometimes. We equate it to Seatle. I am not up on the stats, but I totally related to what you wrote.
WE had sun today and I got out twice to walk. (out of necessity but hey I was out) Here we have to walk to the bank, store and where ever else. I love it.
Do you have any nutrition or fitness degrees or certification? (not to grill you but because I am looking to get some kind of certification) My husband and I are looking to open an association. We will call it BE STRONG. fitness strength training as well as spiritual strength training.
Thanks for any imput you can give.
So excited to be back in touch!
I don't pretend to be smart enough to understand all the vitamins and proteins and I'm obviously not a diet expert either! There are, however, three or four quick things I would add to your ideas here – at least on helping deal with the Winter Blues.
First, hugs. Hugs are good. I like hugs. They help make me feel better. It's often even better to hug in the winter as hugging in the summer in a swim suit may be a tad awkward.
Second, laughing. It was either the Bible or Reader's Digest that said "laughter was the best medicine". Either way, I think it is true. Sharing a funny movie or games or dinner with friends is a great way to deter depression (assuming your friends aren't real losers, which may be a cause of depression in and of itself).
Third, an accountability group. Having a close group of trusted friends to share with and support you is great. However, being a friend who provides support is also therapeutic (IMHO). They will pick you up when you need it and call out any B.S. if you are just being a whiner.
Finally – check out Phil 4:8-9. It tells us the things we need to "think on" so that we may have the "God of peace with us".
Every cloudy, damp day is one day closer to that first warm Spring day. And I agree completely that it can't come soon enough.
Coincidentally, I just posted about depression on my blog as well. You should check it out: http://nocondemnation81.blogspot.com/2011/02/depression-ungodly-sorrow.html
Thank you Sandy. I think I've really struggled this past year as a stay-at-home mom who didn't get as much sun as she needed, or light, or exercise, or ate as good as she should have. I've actually written down a few of your tips… and I'm going to start "pumping up" the energy. And getting rid of some of that gloom. THANK YOU!!!!
So glad to find your blog today. I am a counselor, so I am loving this list. Might even share it with some collegues! So nice to meet you. I blog over at http://www.myloveletter2god.blogspot.com. Come visit sometime!
I love this post because the top of my list for this week are: pedicure, spray on tan and buy flip flops. I'm totally trying to speed it up. Not kidding.
When I just visited my doc, my vitamin D level was a big whopping 0!!!! No wonder I was sleeping all the time. I need sunshine. I can't wait until I can wiggle my toes in the sand with you. (I have big plans for us) 🙂