According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression affects about 121 million people worldwide. Some common symptoms of depression include feelings of guilt, low self-worth, disturbed sleep patterns, and lack of energy, poor concentration, and changes in appetite. These symptoms can become chronic or recurrent. While doctors prescribe antidepressants for more severe cases, patients with mild to moderate depression can be treated with natural treatments like dietary changes, exercise, massage, herbs, and sunlight.
What is depression?
According to the American Psychiatry Organisation, depression is a serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and the way you act. It causes sadness or lack of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can also lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function well at home or work (1).
Symptoms of depression
The common symptoms of depression are –
- Persistent sadness
- Loss of energy
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Sleeping too much
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Low sex drive
- Increase in purposeless physical activities like pacing or hand wringing
- Slow movements or speech
- Thoughts of death or suicide
These symptoms should last two weeks for a diagnosis of depression.
What causes depression?
Several different factors can lead to depression. These include –
Difference in certain chemicals in the brains can lead to symptoms of depression.
A history of depression in your family makes it more likely for you to get it. For example, if one twin has depression, there is a 70 percent chance that the other twin will have depression sometime in his life.
People with very low self-esteem or those who are generally pessimistic are more likely to experience depression. People who are easily overwhelmed by stress are vulnerable to depression.
Continuous exposure to violence, abuse, neglect, or poverty can lead to depression.
Depression can also be a side effect of some medication that you are taking. In such a case, you must talk to your doctor about changing your prescription.
Almost 30 percent of the people who use drugs or alcohol have depression. Some people use drugs or alcohol when they feel depressed. For others, the heavy use of drugs and alcohol can lead to depression.
How is depression diagnosed and treated conventionally?
To diagnose depression, a health professional usually conducts a thorough diagnostic evaluation, which includes an interview and a physical examination. He identifies specific symptoms, medical and family history, and other environmental factors to determine the cause. He may also conduct a medical test to make sure that depression is not due to another medical condition like a thyroid problem.
Conventional treatment includes medications for depression called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Celexa, Lexapro, Zoloft, Prozac, and Paxil. Unfortunately, once the patient stops taking these medications, the symptoms of depression can reappear. These drugs can also cause neurotransmitter degradation, leading to changes in the brain (2).
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is used in cases of mild depression. For patients with moderate to severe depression, psychotherapy can also be used in addition to antidepressant medication. For people with severe depression or bipolar disorder who do not respond to other treatments, Electroconvulsive Therapy is used. It involves a brief electric stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anesthesia.
Natural remedies for depression
Regular exercise can improve mood and help you sleep better. Try out different activities or exercise routines to find out what you enjoy the most. You can take walks around your neighborhood with a friend or join an aerobic exercise class. Start slowly at first and then gradually work up to exercising every day.
According to a study from the Division of Psychiatry, Royal Edinburgh Hospital, exercise is an effective way of reducing the symptoms of depression, especially when it is done in combination with psychological therapies (3). According to a meta-analysis of 33 clinical trials that included 1877 participants, resistance exercise training is associated with a significant reduction in symptoms of depression (4).
2. Sleep well
Some people with depression have insomnia; others may sleep too much. So it is essential to incorporate healthy sleeping habits. You must take some time to unwind before you go to sleep. Turn off all electronics after 9 pm and get dressed for the night. Do a relaxation exercise and spend a few minutes reading before you close your eyes. If you still find it difficult to sleep, get out of the bed and go to another spot in another room and do some more relaxation exercises.
3. Get some sunlight
Some people feel depressed during winters when the days are short, and the nights are long. This form of depression is known as a seasonal affective disorder. Research shows that improving vitamin D levels in the body can reduce the symptoms of depression. According to experts, the relationship between depression and lack of exposure to the sun has been known for thousands of years.
Spend at least 15 minutes in the sun every day. You can also talk to your doctor about whether light therapy with artificial light may help.
4. Stay involved
Depression can lead to a lack of energy and interest in doing anything. According to the Department of Psychiatry, the University of Michigan, the quality of social relationships is a significant risk factor for depression. People with overall low quality of social relationships had more than double the risk of depression (5).
Stay connected with our family and friends that push you to do activities with them. Find a community of friends that encourage and support you. Personal relations are one of the most important remedies for depression.
5. Follow a routine
Depression can strip away the structure of your life. When one day melts into another, you tend to lose track of time. It is essential to establish patterns that structure the way you live to combat the surprises that depression throws your way. Follow a daily schedule to help you get back on track with your life. Some things that you can incorporate into your routine include –
- Wake up and sleep the same time every day
- Set aside some time during the day to take care of yourself
- Set meal times and stick to them. Don’t skip meals.
6. Set doable goals
When you are depressed, you may feel that you cannot accomplish anything. Setting goals and achieving them can help you deal with depression. Start small so that you can build up your wins and feel good about yourself. Celebrate tiny victories; this gives you the momentum to keep going.
7. Eat a well-balanced diet
Our eating habits affect every aspect of our health, including our mental health. Several studies have shown that there is a link between what a person eats and their risk for depression. A 2017 meta-analysis from China evaluated the relationship between dietary patterns and the risk of depression. The research showed that a diet that contains a high intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grain, olive oil, fish, low-fat dairy, and antioxidants and low consumption of animal foods is associated with decreased risk of depression.
A diet consisting of red or processed meat, refined grains,high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes, high-fat gravy and sweets, and low intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with a high risk of depression (6).
8. St. John’s Wort
St. John’ wort is an herb that is known to fight mild to moderate depression. It increases the amount of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the body. These neurotransmitters help boost the mood and improve the symptoms of depression. A 2008 review of several studies found that St. John’s wort is effective in treating depression and has far lesser side effects than standard antidepressants (7).
9. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that are found in fish such as salmon, trout, and sardines. They are also available as supplements and are known as fish oil capsules. A review of three studies on the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on depression was carried out at the Beer Sheva Mental Health Centre. The results showed that omega-3 fats are more effective than placebo for depression in both adults and children and also for bipolar depression (8).
According to scientists, the microorganisms living in our gut, including probiotics, play a crucial role in the gut-brain axis by producing neurotransmitters that affect mood, sleep, and eating habits. They can also help in reducing inflammation, which can lead to depression. They also affect your response to stress.
According to a 2005 study, the gut-brain axis may be the missing link to our understanding of depression (9). So, taking probiotics can change your behavior, brain chemistry, improve cognitive function, and reduce depressive symptoms.
11. Rhodiola Rosea
The roots of the Rhodiola plant are considered adaptogens. They contain more than 140 active ingredients, including rosavin and salidroside. During one study, when 118 patients with stress-related burnout were given 400 mg of Rhodiola extract for 12 weeks, it improved stress and depression (10).
During a study by the Department of Neurology, Armenia State Medical University, 89 people with mild to moderate depression received either 340 mg or 680 mg of Rhodiola pill for six weeks. Both groups experienced significant improvements in overall depression, emotional stability, and insomnia (11).
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen herb that is known to reduce the symptoms of depression. It also helps to combat stress, increase focus and memory, and improve mood. During a study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 64 subjects with a history of chronic stress took 600 mg of ashwagandha extract for 60 days. The results showed a 79 % reduction in severe depression (11).
13. Essential oils
Essential oils have been used for centuries for stress relief. They can be used along with conventional treatments to lower the symptoms of depression. Some of the best essential oils for reducing the symptoms of depression include –
- Lavender oil
- Rose oil
- Vetiver oil
- Ylang Ylang oil
- Frankincense oil
- Geranium oil
- Jasmine oil
- Chamomile oil
Natural remedies are an effective method to lower the symptoms of depression. However, since these supplements are readily available over the counter, many people choose to self-medicate without professional supervision. You must always check with a medical professional before taking any supplement for depression. In case you notice any adverse reaction to these medications, you must immediately consult with your doctor.
Depression is a serious illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and the way you act. While doctors prescribe antidepressants for more severe cases, patients with mild to moderate depression can be treated with natural treatments like dietary changes, exercise, massage, herbs, and sunlight. While you can make specific lifestyle changes on your own, always consult your doctor before you take any natural supplements.