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Natural tools for depression

Published:Tuesday | July 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM

DOCTORS DESCRIBE real depression (clinical depression) as a disorder of mood in which ongoing feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for several weeks or more. Depression is a very common disorder that causes much suffering for large numbers of people and their loved ones.

Researchers claim that only a quarter of individuals with clinical depression seek treatment, and that only 10 per cent of them receive adequate care. A popular misconception is that depression is an illness that you cannot do anything about except use prescription drugs to balance your brain chemistry.

Though these powerful medicines may be useful and necessary in severely depressed individuals, they are often over-prescribed and may create serious side effects, including an increased risk of suicide. Research clearly indicates that there are natural, safe tools that can be used to treat clinically depressed individuals, not just people who are feeling a little sad.

Research published in the medical journal Biological Psychiatry shows that certain nutrients (sadly lacking in our modern diet) may be better at treating depression than just antidepressant drugs. Research also suggests that eating too little fresh foods and consuming too much processed foods containing unhealthy fats and sugars is leading to depression, anxiety, stress-related and other mental disorders.

omega-3 fatty acids

Sixty per cent of the dry weight of the brain is fat, including the essential fatty acids (EFAs) like omega-3 fats. These are good fats, and, unfortunately, are in short supply in the modern western diet. EFAs are important components of nerve cell membranes and are involved in the electrical and chemical activity in the brain. Lack of these fats can cause the brain to malfunction and promote mental illnesses like depression.

The omega-3 fats are found in fish oils, other marine lipids, and to a lesser extent, in flax and some other seeds. Your grandmother was right when she told you that fish is brain food. Major medical institutions around the world are now using high doses of omega-3 fats to treat depression and other mental illnesses. Even if you are taking antidepressant drugs, fish oils make these drugs more effective and may even replace them. When used to treat depression, the daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids should be much higher than usually suggested. In addition the omega-3 fats offer many other health benefits and, in my opinion, everyone, not just the depressed should take these supplements regularly.

The B-complex vitamins

Research shows that low levels of essential B vitamins like B1, B3, B6, B9 and B12 may contribute to poor mood and feelings related to anxiety and depression. Supplementing your diet with the B vitamins can have a direct effect on important neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Evidence also suggests that B vitamins are important factors that help balance and neutralise chemicals that are toxic to the brain and have been linked to depression.

Vitamin B3, niacin, plays an important role in the fatty acid metabolism of brain cells and is particularly useful in some mental disorders like depression. The body needs higher amounts of these B vitamins to allow your nervous system to handle stressful situations effectively so, the greater your stress, the more you need.

Exercise - A natural antidepressant drug

In many ways, the brain has its own pharmacy, producing its own natural drugs in the right dosage at the right time. Exercise stimulates the brain to produce more of its own relaxing and antidepressant substances called endorphins.

In a study which involved 80 adults aged 20 to 45 years who were diagnosed with mild to moderate depression, researchers evaluated exercise alone to treat the condition. Here is what they found:

After 12 weeks, depressive symptoms were cut almost in half in those individuals who participated in 30-minute aerobic exercise sessions, three to five times a week.

Those who exercised with low-intensity for three to five days a week, showed a 30 per cent reduction in symptoms.

Participants who did stretching and flexibility exercises for even 15 to 20 minutes three days a week averaged a 29 per cent decline in symptoms of depression.

The results of this study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in January 2005 are similar to that of other studies, which involved patients with mild or moderate depression - proving patients need not rely on drugs alone to treat depression.

Sunshine is a potent anti-depressant agent, but our modern western lifestyle and medical misinformation has caused many of us to miss out on Dr Sun. Exposure to sunlight helps to regulate the important mood regulating hormones serotonin and melatonin, while improving blood flow to the brain.

Our bodies produce vitamin D when sunshine strikes our skin. Research shows a link between low levels of vitamin D in the blood and symptoms of depression.

For these reasons, I strongly recommend a daily sunbath as an important part of the prevention and treatment of depression. Of course you can combine your sunbath with your exercise, and while at it, include some deep breathing.

You may email Dr Vendryes at or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. His new book, An Ounce of Prevention - Particularly for Men, will shortly be available at local bookstores and on the Internet.