Depression Causes, Symptoms, And Natural Treatments
By Dr. James Lake, MD, Board-certified psychiatrist - September 14, 2018
The causes behind depression are complex and not yet fully understood. A holistic approach to depression might unravel the main cause of
depression by looking at several factors, such as family history, diet &
lifestyle, vitamin D and other vitamins, amino acids, and minerals - as well as
the gut microbiome. An Integrative Medicine approach to depression may help.
What is depresssion?
Depression, also known as depressive disorders, is a mental illness characterized by a profound and persistent feeling of sadness or despair or a reduction of interest in things that once were pleasurable. Disturbance in sleep, appetite, and mental processes are a frequent accompaniment.
Depression can also occur in bipolar disorder, an affective mental illness that causes radical emotional changes and mood swings, from manic highs to depressive lows. The vast majority of bipolar individuals experience alternating episodes of mania and depression.
What causes depression?
The causes behind depression are complex and not yet fully understood. While an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain that transmit messages between nerve cells, is thought to be crucial to depression, external factors like upbringing (more so in dysthymia than major depression) may be as significant. For example, it's speculated that, if someone is abused and neglected during childhood and adolescence, a pattern of reduced self-esteem and negative thinking may emerge, and from that, a lifelong pattern of depression may follow. A 2003 study reported that two-thirds of individuals with major depression say they also suffer from chronic pain.
According to Mayo Clinic, like many mental disorders, various factors may be involved, for example:
- Biological differences. Individuals with depression appear to have physical changes in their brains. The importance of these changes remains unclear, but may eventually help pinpoint causes.
- Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that probably play a role in depression. A recent study suggests that changes in the use and impact of the neurotransmitters and how they interact with neurocircuits involved with maintaining mood stability may play a substantial role in depression and its treatment.
- Hormones. Changes in the body's balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression. Hormone changes can lead to pregnancy and during the weeks or months after delivery (postpartum) and from thyroid issues, menopause or lots of other conditions.
- Inherited traits. Depression is more common in people whose blood relatives also have this condition. Researchers are attempting to discover genes that might be involved in causing depression.
In addition to diagnostic tests used in conventional Western medicine, many non-Western healing traditions use a variety of approaches to detect changes in “subtle” energy that may provide clues about underlying energetic causes of medical, mental or emotional symptoms. For example, practitioners of Tibetan medicine, Chinese medicine, and Ayurveda use information obtained from measuring the pulse to identify energetic ‘imbalances’ associated with illness.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Different mental and emotional symptoms are associated with characteristic features in the pulse. Even in cases where there is no apparent medical problem, identifying the ‘energetic’ imbalance that manifests as your particular symptom ‘pattern’ may help you develop a treatment plan that uses different approaches including a natural supplement, a mind-body practice, energy work or other approaches that may alleviate the causes of symptoms and restore your body and mind to a healthy state of balance.
If you are experiencing a potentially life-threatening medical or mental health problem you should seek immediate emergency care. Symptoms that may point to a serious or medical or mental health emergency include:
- severe headaches
- changes in vision
- sudden onset difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- a recent change in the level of consciousness
- feelings of disorientation
- auditory or visual hallucinations
Natural therapies for depression
A Holistic functional medicine approach to depression might unravel the main cause of depression by looking at several factors, such as family history, diet & lifestyle, vitamin D and other vitamins, amino acids, and minerals - as well as the gut microbiome. A number of alternative medicines have shown to be useful in treating depression. A recent report from Great Britain highlighted that more doctors should encourage alternative treatments like behavioral and self-help programs, supervised exercise programs, and watchful waiting before subscribing to antidepressant drugs for moderate depression.
Chocolate, sugar, coffee, and alcohol can negatively affect mood and must be avoided. Essential fatty acids may decrease depression and boost mood. Expressing feelings and thoughts in a journal is curative. Aromatherapy, especially citrus odor, has had a positive effect on depression. Psychotherapy or counseling is an integral part of treatment since it can detect and treat the cause of the depression.
- Psychosocial therapy
Psychotherapy explores a person's life to bring Forth potential contributing causes of depression. During treatment, the therapist helps the patient to know their thinking patterns and how they originated. There are numerous distinct subtypes of psychotherapy, but all have the common objective of helping the individual develop nutritious problem solving and coping skills.
- Cognitive-behavioral treatment assumes that the patient's negative thinking is causing the present depression and focuses on changing thought patterns and perceptions. The therapist helps the patient identify twisted or negative thought patterns as well as the emotions and behavior that accompany them, and then retrains the individual to comprehend the thinking and respond differently to it.
- Chinese medicine and herbals
The principle of treatment of depression involves regulating qi, reducing phlegm, calming the mind, and promoting mental resuscitation. The Chinese medicine Bai Jin Wan (White Metal Pill) is used to deal with Depression (5 grams twice daily). A practitioner may prescribe an assortment of treatments - such as lifestyle changes - based on the kind and severity of the depression.
There's some evidence that acupuncture is a helpful remedy for depression. One double-blind study found that patients who received acupuncture specific for depression were significantly less depressed than control patients who had nonspecific acupuncture or no treatment.
- St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is the Hottest antidepressant in Germany. Many studies on the efficacy of St. John's wort have been performed. 1 review of the research determined that St. John's wort is superior to placebo and similar to traditional antidepressants. In early 2000, well-designed studies comparing the efficacy of St. John's wort versus traditional antidepressants in treating depression were underway at America. Despite doubt concerning its efficacy, a 2003 report stated approval of this treatment continues to increase. A survey showed that about 41 percent of 15,000 science specialists in 62 countries said they would use St. Johnís wort for mild to moderate depression. Although St. John's wort appears to be a safe alternative to traditional antidepressants, care ought to be taken, since the herb may interfere with the activities of some pharmaceuticals. The typical dose is 300 mg three times daily.
- Orthomolecular therapy
Orthomolecular treatment refers to therapy that Strives to achieve the perfect chemical environment for the brain. The theory behind this strategy is that mental disease is brought on by low concentrations of particular chemicals. Linus Pauling believed that emotional disease was caused by low concentrations of the B vitamins, biotin, vitamin C, or folic acid. Supplementation with vitamins B1, B2, and B6 improved the symptoms of depression in geriatric patients taking tricyclic antidepressants. The amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine have been proven to have positive effects on depression, although large, controlled studies will need to be carried out to confirm these findings.
- SADENOSYL-METHIONINE. In several small studies, S-adenosyl-methionine (SAM, SAMe) was proven to be more effective than placebo and equally effective as tricyclic antidepressants in treating depression. The typical dose is 200 mg to 400 mg twice per day. In 2003, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services team reviewed 100 clinical trials on SAMe and reasoned that it worked as well as many prescription drugs without the side effects of stomach upset and diminished sexual desire.
- 5-HYDROXYTRYPTOPHAN. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HT, 5-HTP) is a precursor to serotonin. The majority of the commercially available 5-HT is taken from the plant Griffonia simplicifolia. In several smaller studies, treatment with 5-HT significantly improved depression in over half of the patients. 1 review of these studies suggests that 5-HT has antidepressant properties, however, large studies have to be performed to verify this finding. The typical dose is 50 mg three times daily. Side effects include nausea and gastrointestinal disturbances.
- Homeopathic remedies
Homeopathic remedies can be useful treatments for depression. A homeopathic practitioner should be consulted for dosages, but common treatments are Arum metallicum for severe depression, Ignatia for adjustment disorder, and Natrum Muriaticum for depression of extended duration.
- Light therapy
Light therapy is helpful in controlling the Depression of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Treatment includes exposure to light of a high intensity and/or special spectra for one hour daily from a light box set on the ground or on a table. The light intensity is generally 10,000 lux that's like the light of a sunny day. The opposite might be used, also, that's using a dawn simulator for those patients with an overdose of light exposure and need more sleep with less light. Most persons will observe an impact within a few weeks. Side effects include headaches, eye-strain, irritability, and sleeplessness. Weekly or more in a sunny climate can improve SAD.
Many non-medication approaches used to treat mental health problems or maintain optimal wellness are based on lifestyle choices that cost nothing but require an on-going commitment to your health. These approaches include changing your diet to include healthier foods such as grains, fresh vegetables, and lean meat while cutting down on unhealthy foods such as saturated fats and refined sugar. Healthy lifestyle choices also include regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and using simple relaxation techniques for stress management. In addition to positive lifestyle choices, many natural supplements have beneficial effects on mental health in general and can be used to ‘treat’ the root causes of specific mental health problems including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, psychosis, ADHD and others.
Natural supplements used in ‘traditional’ healing go beyond herbals and include complex herbal formulas (i.e. in Chinese medicine and Ayurveda), vitamins, essential fatty acids, amino acids, trace minerals, and multi-nutrient formulas. Many natural supplements can be safely combined with prescription medications increasing their effectiveness and, in some cases, reducing adverse effects caused by them. A variety of non-biological approaches are also beneficial for maintaining optimal well-being or treating particular mental health problems. Examples include biofeedback, bright light therapy, mind-body approaches such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, and tai chi, and energy therapies such as acupuncture, healing touch, Reiki and Qigong.
Healthcare providers increasingly recommend a broad range of complementary and alternative treatments in addition to prescription medications for both medical and mental health problems. Many of these so-called ‘traditional’ healing approaches have been used for centuries or longer for maintaining optimal health and for treating specific mental health problems. In recent decades courses on ‘traditional’ healing approaches have been taught in medical schools, nursing schools and advanced seminars for psychiatrists and psychologists in the U.S., Canada, and many European countries (more).
To increase your chances of getting positive results it is important to use approaches that interest you and that you are motivated to try. For practical purposes, it is also important to use approaches that are available where you live and affordable. For example, if you find out that a particular Chinese herbal formula is beneficial for improving your memory problem but a quality brand of that herbal formula is difficult to obtain where you live or very expensive, it doesn’t make sense to rely on this particular treatment approach.
Prevention of depression
Patient education in the form of treatment or self-help groups is vital for training individuals with depressive disorders to recognize early signs of depression and to take an active part In their treatment plan. Extended care treatment with antidepressants may be needed in certain patients to prevent relapse. Early intervention with children with depression is successful in preventing the development of more severe problems.
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