- Mental Health
Natural Cures for Depression
A recent study found that use of anti-depressant medication in the United States doubled between 1996 and 2005. Although drugs can be an important part of treatment for severe clinical cases of depression, they can also create a dangerous dependency and cause many unpleasant side effects. Many people with milder forms of depression therefore prefer to seek alternative forms of treatment.
These natural cures for depression can be used instead of medication or other traditional forms of therapy or in addition to them. Consult with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet, to make sure that there are no harmful drug interactions you need to be aware of.
The number one most underrated natural cure for depression is physical exercise.
Everybody knows that exercise is important for weight loss and personal fitness, but what's less well known is that it also offers many mental benefits. Exercise releases chemicals called endorphins that improve mood and general sense of well-being.
The connection between exercise and weight control is also important - thanks to a combination of physical and social factors, overweight and obese people are more likely than fit people to suffer from depression. The link between obesity and depression is especially strong among children.
Introducing regular moderate exercise, such as a daily walk, into your routine can produce significant benefits to your state of mind very quickly. For maximum benefits to your mental health, exercise in a natural setting whenever possible. Why? Read on.
The Benefits of Sunlight
Receiving adequate sunlight (at least 15 minutes per day without sunscreen) is especially important for people who suffer from a type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but it offers benefits for everyone. Sunlight helps the body manufacture vitamin D, and important nutrient that is known to help prevent and cure depression. Sunlight also increases production of serotonin, a hormone known to relieve depression.
Although the reason remains unknown, bright light in the visible spectrum (without any vitamin D producing UVB) is also known to improve mood.
Remember to enjoy sunlight in moderation in order to protect yourself against skin cancer, and cover up if you will be out in the sun for long periods.
The intelligence and ingenuity of the human race has allowed us to distance ourselves from the natural world more than any other creature on the planet, but how intelligent was it of us to do so? Although the link between nature and mental health is still poorly understood, a growing number of studies has found that humans may actually need nature in order to remain sane.
For example, one recent study found that office workers whose windows overlooked a park or other green, natural area reported significantly higher rates of job satisfaction and lower rates of stress than office workers whose windows overlooked parking lots and other man-made structures, or who had no windows at all. Another study found that public housing complexes that adjoined green spaces reported lower rates of aggressive interactions and crimes, including domestic violence, than public housing complexes in more urbanized settings. Exposure to natural settings and landscapes also provides significant mental benefits for children and adults with ADHD.
Nature therapy also offers benefits for treating depression. One study found that 71% of depression patients reported improvement in their symptoms after taking a walk in a park, compared to just 45% after taking a walk in an interior shopping mall. Nature therapy works especially well when combined with physical exercise, such as walking, hiking, or gardening, but even looking at photographs of beautiful natural settings produces some benefits.
Diet and Nutrition
Another of the most important, yet underrated natural treatments for depression is diet and nutrition. Among the nutrients known or believed to prevent or cure depression:
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids have received a lot of attention recently thanks to their benefits to heart health, but they also offer mental health benefits. Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids include coldwater fish, such as salmon, oily nuts such as walnuts, grassfed meats, eggs, and dairy products, flax seeds, leafy green vegetables such as Romaine lettuce, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, canola oil, and soy products.
- The best source of Vitamin D is sunlight, but if you can't get enough sunlight, the best dietary sources of vitamin D include salmon, cod, fortified or grassfed dairy products, and eggs from pastured poultry.
- An amino acid named tryptophan has been found by some studies to relieve depression because of its role in creating serotonin. Tryptophan is found in poultry, eggs, fish, nuts and seeds, dairy products, and oats.
Other nutrients associated with reduced risk of depression include folic acid, selenium, B vitamins, and magnesium.
A healthy, balanced diet is good not only for the body, but also for the mind. Be sure to eat plenty of:
- whole grains
- beans and legumes
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- nuts and seeds
- coldwater fish, such as salmon
- grassfed meat, eggs, and dairy products
Limit consumption of:
- refined sugars
- refined grains
- heavily processed foods with lots of chemical additives and preservatives
Sleep is another often overlooked cure for depression. Depression is almost always accompanied by unhealthy sleep habits - either too little sleep (insomnia) or too much. In some cases, the depression is caused by the unhealthy sleep habits; in others, the unhealthy sleep habits are caused by the depression.
This is often the result of an imbalance in melatonin levels. Many forms of depression are caused by inadequate levels of this important hormone; others, including SAD, are caused by too much.
If you suffer from depression-related insomnia (or insomnia-related depression), consider taking melatonin supplements. If you find yourself sleeping constantly, increase your exposure to sunlight instead. Regular moderate exercise, which helps regulate sleep cycles, will be beneficial in both cases.
Studies have also linked Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) with increased rates of depression. Consider getting yourself tested for OSA to see if it may be contributing to your problems with depression.
One of the most common causes of depression is stress. Reducing stress in your life can provide major benefits to people who suffer from depression. Here are some tips:
- Take time for you. Schedule it in if necessary, but do your best to have at least an hour or two a week that are completely YOUR time, to spend in ways that make YOU happy.
- Practice relaxation. Classes such as yoga or Pilates can teach you relaxation techniques that help relieve stress. Even something as simple as adding a daily stroll around your neighborhood or in a nearby park can help many people relax.
- Take charge of your life. For many people, one of the greatest sources of stress is a sense of powerlessness in the face of unhappy work situations, verbally or emotionally abusive family members, bosses, or acquaintances, and similar situations. Sit down and brainstorm ways to remove these sources of stress from your life. For example, if your job is a major source of stress in your life, you may not be willing to quit with the economy in the state it is, but perhaps you could start a small home-based business based around one of your hobbies and start working toward the day when you CAN quit.