7 Natural Anti-Depressants

4 Jul, 2021

Depression affects many people, and it can be life changing. Medical treatment and counselling can often help relieve symptoms, but lifestyle remedies and natural therapies can also play a large and important role in depression management, with some strategies of preventing or minimizing depression as follows.

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1. Diet

One factor that may contribute to depression is a person’s dietary habits. Research found that the symptoms of people with moderate-to-severe depression improved when they received nutritional counselling sessions and ate a more healthful diet for 12 weeks. The improved diet focused on fresh and whole foods that are high in nutrients. It also limited processed refined foods, sweets, and fried food, including junk food.

2. Supplementation, for example Omega-3 fatty acids, B-vitamins and anti-oxidants.

Eating omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of mood disorders and brain diseases by enhancing brain function and preserving the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds, and walnuts. B-vitamins, particularly B-12 and B-9 maintain the nervous system, including the brain. They may help reduce the risk and symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression. Sources of B-12 include eggs, meat, poultry, fish, oysters and milk. Sources of B-9 include dark leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, eggs, seafood and dairy products. Also, Vitamins A, C, and E contain substances called antioxidants. Antioxidants help remove free radicals, which are the waste products of natural bodily processes that can build up in the body. If the body cannot eliminate enough free radicals, oxidative stress can develop. A number of health problems can result, which may include anxiety and depression. Fresh, plant based foods, such as berries, are good sources of antioxidants. A diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, soy, and other plant products may help reduce the stress-related symptoms of depression. There are many other vitamins that play a role in stable moods and mental health, so talk to your Health Practitioner about supplementation support best suited to you.

3. Gut Health + Probiotics

More and more evidence is mounting on the role of our guts as our second brain; that is, how the bacteria in our guts affects our moods, stress levels, anxiety and sleep. The gut has a two-way relationship with the central nervous system, and this is referred to as the “gut-brain axis.” The balance of bacteria in the gut can either support and nurture our nervous system or agitate it. When we are consuming the right amounts and types of dietary fibre we feed up the good bacteria, such as lactobacillus. Lactobacillus has been shown to have a calming effect on the body. Whereas other types of bacteria can produce acidic by products and toxins that can create inflammation in the body and cause affects on the brain via the gut-brain axis. A recent study found that the addition of a “good” strain of the bacteria lactobacillus (which is also found in yoghurt) to the gut of mice reduced their anxiety levels. The effect was blocked after cutting the vagus nerve – the main connection between brain and gut. This suggests the gut-brain axis is being used by bacteria to affect the brain.It works the other way, too: In rat pups, exposure to a stressor (being separated from their mums) changed their gut microbiota, and therefore their stress response and their behaviour. Probiotics containing “good” strains of bacteria reduced their stress behaviours.

Lastly, two human studies looked at people with major depression and found that bacteria in their faeces differed from healthy volunteers.

At Paddington Clinic we can help you make the changes to your diet to ensure that you are receiving all the nutrients and adequate fibre that is required to nourish your nervous system but also ensure that your microbiome has enough good bacteria to help you manage your mood, sleep and stress levels effectively. For example, probiotics (live bacteria) treatments in mice have been shown to reduce cortisol, an important stress hormone, and decrease anxious and depressive behaviours.

Our naturopaths can also order tests to assess the levels of both good and harmful bacteria. Therefore, we can offer specific and very customised treatments to ensure you have a healthy microbiome balance.

4. Massage Therapy

Most of us think of massage as indulgence, but research has found a group of benefits proven across all research papers: reduction in anxiety, pain (immediate and delayed), depression, stress hormones (cortisol), heart rate and blood pressure, and an increase in circulation, relaxation and feelings of well-being. Reductions in anxiety and depression were massage therapy’s largest effects, with a course of treatment stated as providing benefits similar in magnitude to those of psychotherapy.

5. Herbal Support

We use many herbs in the clinic to stabilize the nervous system and boost moods which are customized to the individual person. Many of you may have heard the famous St John’s wort being used to combat depression with some research suggesting it may change how the brain processes serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in a similar way to anti-depressants. As always, we advise you speak to one of our Health Practitioners before any self-prescribing.

6. Exercise

Exercise has been shown to both prevent and treat depression, and is a vital part of any depression management program.

7. Acupuncture

Many people know that acupuncture treats physical symptoms, but it also manages emotional ones as well as supporting your general well-being and vitality. Traditional Chinese medicine recognizes the relationship between emotions and organs, and it is an integral aspect of how both traditional Chinese acupuncturists and herbalists practice. While the system is rather complex, the point is that when an emotion becomes excessive or chronic, it will show in the corresponding organ it relates to. We can assess organ health by feeling the pulses and palpating the abdomen, then by draining any excess present in the organ, or strengthening any weaknesses, the emotion can be brought back into balance. We also might look out for physical symptoms which represent organ dysfunction and can suggest chronic emotional disruption. For example, because sadness relates to the lungs, chronic grief may turn into a physical symptom like a long-term cough. Another example is digestive problems in those who over-think and worry, since these emotions relate to the Spleen (digestion) in Chinese medicine. Symptoms which may occur are loose bowels, constipation, bloating, stomach pain or more severe digestive disorders. Or someone with long-tern anxiety experiencing heart palpitations or insomnia (insomnia is often a heart symptom in acupuncture). Acupuncture is not a miracle happiness cure whereby negative emotions will not exist – it simply balances the severity of the emotion experienced, so you can address the situation or general life from a more grounded perspective.

As always, we advise consulting with a health practitioner before self-managing depression, to allow you the best support possible and to prevent any worsening of symptoms.