The issue of mental health has recently gained more prominence in Australia, with radio advertisements proclaiming that a mental illness, such as depression, is “part” of who someone is – kind of like eye color is part of someone. In reality, while eye color is innocuous, the vast majority of people suffering from mental illness would jump at the chance to be freed from the nightmare which is not only their illness, but the side effects of their medication.
Unfortunately, mainstream discussions on mental illness in Australia focus on pharmaceutical drugs while ignoring, or in the case of one television advertisement, explicitly mocking natural alternatives.
1. Eating Fats to Boost Serotonin and Help Treat Depression
The advertisement you can view above specifically mocks the use of foods high in fatty acids to treat depression. While some people may see it as “funny” and be corralled by it back onto the pharmaceutical hamster wheel, a review of three studies shows that omega-3 supplementation such as EPA was significantly more effective than placebo in reducing both unipolar and bipolar depression.
In fact, 8 out of 10 patients with bipolar depression experienced an at least 50% reduction in Hamilton depression scores after one month. It is important to note that there were no significant side effects.
Another study which adds weight to the necessity of fats states that suicidal thoughts and tendencies in both male and female patients with depression are higher when they have low total cholesterol, LDL and total lipids. Yet disparaging healthful fatty foods is “hilarious.”
2. Mediterranean Diet Shows Promise
Additionally, adherence to a Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the risk of depression, from a 26% risk reduction in the first upper successive category of adherence to 51% in the third successive category. Interestingly, the fourth and final category, those adhering the most to the Mediterranean diet, had a reduced risk of depression by 42%. This may be due to the emphasis placed on reducing meat and whole-fat dairy, which could result in a lower overall intake of fat.
3. Vitamin D to the Rescue
On top of this, research found that participants in the highest quartile of vitamin D intake had a 35% lower risk of depression in comparison to those in the lowest quartile. Vitamin D is synthesised in the body from the often demonised cholesterol upon exposure to sunlight.
4-7. Using the Herbs St John’s Wort, Ginseng, Rhodiola, Lavender to Help Treat Depression
As for herbal medicine, St John’s Wort (SJW) is highly popular for a good reason. A review of thirteen studies found that this herb is roughly equal to the SSRI drugs prescribed for depression, in terms of clinical response, remission rates, and reduction of depression scores. Although it was deemed non-significant, SJW was slightly more likely to assist patients in achieving remission than the SSRIs.
In addition, St John’s Wort was less likely to cause negative side effects and withdrawals from trials.
Rhodiola, or Tibetan ginseng, is yet another herb that has shown promise in the treatment of depression. One study involving patients with mild to moderate depression found that over six weeks, both the 340mg/day and 680mg/day groups experienced significantly improved overall depression, emotional instability, insomnia, and somatization, while the placebo group had no improvement.
Further moving forward on potential solutions, another study comparing rhodiola to the drug Zoloft found that the rate of adverse effects was only 30% for rhodiola, which was better tolerated, compared to 63%. Although the response rate for rhodiola was 40% greater than placebo, compared to 90% greater for Zoloft, this may improve over a longer period of time than the 12 weeks, and herbal medicines are usually prescribed and purchased in combination with others.
Not surprisingly, lavender may also possess beneficial effects on depression, with patients drinking two cups of lavender tea daily experiencing greater relief from their symptoms than those receiving standard treatment alone. Even using lavender as aromatherapy may benefit insomnia and depression, particularly when using pure lavender oil.
The Bottom Line
While it is best to consult a qualified nutritionist or naturopath in order to obtain an individualized treatment plan for depression, research has found that natural therapies for this terrible condition are indeed effective and can reduce or replace the need for pharmaceutical drugs if the patient so desires. Try it all, and choose what works.