Depression is a frequently occurring grave emotional disorder affecting more than 19 million Americans every year. It’s a state of mind that goes far beyond temporal blues. It tends to affect one’s thoughts, feelings, behavior, mood, and physical health. In fact, it lingers, interferes with every sphere of life, and affects the quality of life of the person and people around them.
Signs of depression can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms that a depressed person experiences are feelings of sadness, irritation, anxious, dejection, deep sense of loss, low energy, disinterest in everything including favorite activities, mental trauma, overeating, loss of appetite, lack of sex drive, suicidal thoughts, and disturbed sleep.
This brain disorder can make life very distressing. Some types of depression occur under special circumstances. They are persistent depression, postpartum depression, psychotic depression, and seasonal affective disorder (1).
There are many factors that contribute to depression, including biological, environmental, and psychological. Researchers now believe a person can have a genetic predisposition to depression—a reason why it tends to run in certain families. People of all ages are prone to depression. Even alterations in brain chemistry can lead to depression.
Other contributing factors include anxiety, tension, mental stress, low self-esteem, childhood abuse, neglect, chronic illness, drug addiction as well as deficiencies of vitamin B-complex and omega-3 fatty acids. Also, women are 70 percent more likely to have depression than men. Stressful life events can also lead to depression.
But everything about depression need not be depressing! There is still hope–depression is one of the most treatable mental diseases. Around 80-90% people with depression recover well with treatment and proper support.
Changes in lifestyle, medication and talking therapies all form a part of this treatment. Depression is a serious problem that if left untreated can be debilitating. There are many types of therapies and medications for depression.
Along with these, you can try some simple, natural home remedies to help lift your mood and restore your excitement for life.
1. St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort is a popular herbal treatment for mild to moderate depression. It is a herb that is native to Europe, West Asia, and North Africa. In Europe, people often use it to treat depression however it is not approved by the FDA for the treating depression. It has chemical constituents like hypericin and hyperforin that work like antidepressants, blocking re-uptake of serotonin and serotonin receptors (2).
Like several antidepressants, it enhances the levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a feel-good factor which is discovered to be low in people with depression. Earlier many studies have shown that St John’s wort is effective. A study published in 2008, reviewing the activity of St John’s wort extracts for the treatment of depression demonstrated that it was considerably effective against major depression in comparison to a placebo used (3).
A systematic review done in 2016 of 35 studies that investigated around 6993 patients concluded that therapy exclusively with St John’s wort for depression was superior to that of placebo in improving depression symptoms and comparable to antidepressants. The adverse effects due to treatment with St John’s wort was less than that of the standard antidepressants and comparable to the placebo (4).
However, researchers suggest using caution as there are conflicting reports and more studies need to be carried out to establish its effectiveness and safety.
- Add one or two tablespoons of dried St. John’s wort to a cup of hot water and let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain and drink this tea twice daily. Follow this routine regularly to lift your mood.
- Alternatively, you can take 300 milligrams of St. John’s wort supplement three times a day.
Consult a doctor before beginning regular use of St. John’s wort. Do not take with Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) medications. It can interact with the activity of birth control pills, cyclosporine, digoxin, cancer medications, warfarin, HIV drugs, etc. It can also cause dizziness, indigestion, headaches, dizziness, dry mouth, etc.
Cardamom is an aromatic spice that can help detoxify the body and rejuvenate the cells, in turn helping improve your mood and treat depression. In addition to its use as a flavoring in food, this “queen of spices” has been used popularly for helping digestion, reducing fat, mouth freshener, perfume, etc.
Cardamom has been used in traditional medicine both in India and South Asia for treating depression, nausea, vomiting, dysentery, diarrhea, certain heart disorders, etc. The extracts prepared from cardamom seeds are used in various herbal medicines to treat dementia, anxiety, tension, and insomnia (5).
The major active compounds in cardamom are cineole, pinene, limonene, methyl eugenol, etc. (6). Cardamom extract has been demonstrated to enhance the memory and learning in animal models in a recent study published in 2018 (7).
- Add one-half teaspoon of cardamom powder to one cup of warm water or milk. Drink it once daily.
- You can also add a few drops of cardamom oil to your bath water. Soak yourself in this uplifting aroma-filled bath for 30 minutes daily.
Nutmeg works like a brain tonic and helps stimulate your brain, eliminate fatigue and stress, and improve your mood. Studies on nutmeg reveal that it can soothe stomach aches, stop diarrhea, and also help in lowering blood pressure.
It is rich in minerals like copper, calcium, manganese, magnesium, zinc, iron, and phosphorus. It also contains carotene B and crypoxanthin B. Nutmeg oil is mostly constituted by d prinene, d camphen, myristica acid and mymiristin. Nutmeg extract is said to give a boost to the brain by stimulating it. It reduces stress and also improves mental activity (8).
According to a study done in 2006 to investigate the effect of nutmeg seed extract on depression in animal models; nutmeg extracts brought about a considerable reduction in depression symptoms in mice. The antidepressant activity of nutmeg extract was mediated by its interaction with adrenergic, dopaminergic and serotonergic systems (9).
- Mix one-eighth teaspoon or a dash of nutmeg powder in one tablespoon of Indian gooseberry juice.
- Drink this two times daily to calm the mind and relieve depression.
Note: Do not take raw nutmeg in large doses as it has psychoactive effects. It also helps with sleep, so take it before bedtime, and limit daytime use if you do experience this sleep effect.
This highly prized spice not only adds flavor and aroma to your food but also has medicinal benefits. Saffron is high in carotenoids and B vitamins that help increase the levels of serotonin and other chemicals in the brain.
The bioactive constituents of saffron include crocin, crocetin, picrocrocin, and safranal have many health-promoting benefits. It can be used for the prevention or treatment of gastric disorders, heart problems, insulin resistance, depression, insomnia and anxiety (10).
Many studies have investigated the antidepressant activity of saffron and saffron compounds in treating mild to moderate depression both in human subjects and animal models. In fact, a study published in Journal of Ethnopharmacology has found saffron to be as effective as fluoxetine (Prozac) in reducing mild to moderate depression (11).
These studies also stressed the potential of saffron as a natural relatively safe alternative to synthetic antidepressants which are often accompanied by side effects (12).
- Take 15 mg of dried extract of saffron twice daily to fight depression.
- You can also use a little bit of saffron in cooking, milkshakes or smoothies.
Caution: Avoid consuming too much of saffron. Taking doses of more than 10 g of saffron may cause nausea, drowsiness, vomiting, abortion, decreased appetite, uterine bleeding, vertigo, and dizziness.
Cashew nuts are nutrient dense foods. It has a fat content of 46%, which mostly consists of beneficial fats like monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) mostly linoleic and linolenic acids (13).
Being rich in vitamin C, cashew nuts stimulate the nervous system. Also, the riboflavin in cashews boosts energy so you can be active and joyful. Other useful nutrients in cashews that help combat depression are magnesium, tryptophan, and vitamin B6.
Potassium is the most abundant mineral in cashews. They also contain calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and sodium (14). Tree nuts like cashews are also reported to be good for mental health. A diet supplemented with nuts reduces the risk of depression (15).
- Add one teaspoon of cashew nut powder to one cup of warm milk. Drink it once daily.
- You can also eat a handful of dry roasted cashews as a healthy snack to lift your mood.
- You can also drink cashew milk, available at most grocers, or turn it into a beverage of your choice. It makes great hot cocoa – just use a mug of cashew milk, heat, and add in 1 tsp to 1 tbsp cocoa or raw cacao powder. Cocoa also improves mood!
6. Fish Oil
Studies have found that people with depression usually have a low intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are required for normal brain functioning, and is highly recommended for people with depression.
People with depression have been shown to have considerably low levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in comparison to healthy individuals. Clinical depression is reported to be negatively related to the intake of omega-3 fatty acids in a study published in 1996 (16).
- Take a daily supplement of fish oil to fight depression. Fish oil supplements are sold in health food stores, drug stores, grocery stores and online. A minimum safe dosage for almost everyone is 1000 mg daily, but for many people, 2000 mg -3000 mg daily is a safe and healthy dose. For post-partum depression or other use, dosages may run much higher; consult your natural health practitioner for advice.
- Alternatively, you can eat cold water fish like salmon, sardines, and anchovies that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed and soy products are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Nutritious food plays a significant role in the prevention of depression. An apple a day–helps keep depression at bay. Apples are a rich source of phytochemicals.
Apples contain high levels of vitamin B, potassium, and phosphorus. It is also a rich source of active ingredients like quercetin, catechin, phloridzin, and chlorogenic acid that have antioxidant properties (17).
Antioxidants as supplementation therapy are said to play an essential role in reducing stress-related disorders like depression and anxiety (18). All these nutrients help your brain repair damaged nerve cells to improve its functioning, in turn helping fight symptoms of depression.
- Chop one apple and put it in a blender or juicer to extract its juice.
- Add the apple juice and one tablespoon of honey to one cup of warm milk.
- Drink this twice a day.
Also, you can eat one apple daily to prevent depression.
Honey is a sweet concoction of natural sugars, vitamins, minerals, acids, and enzymes. The natural sugars present in honey helps fight the low feelings of depression. Plus, honey can relax frayed nerves.
The amino acid called tryptophan present in honey induces sleep, which can help when depression is preventing you from getting proper sleep. According to a study done in 2009, long-term feeding of honey to animals decreased their anxiety levels and improved memory retention power (19).
- Gently crush five to 10 almonds and mix it with one tablespoon of honey. Eat one teaspoon of this mixture twice daily, once in the morning and again before going to bed.
- Mix one tablespoon of honey and one teaspoon of ginseng powder. Add one cup of hot water to this mixture and let it stand for five minutes. Drink it twice a day.
Asparagus contains several powerful compounds that can help lift your spirits and fight various symptoms of depression.
Asparagus is extensively used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine for conditions like nervous disorders. This plant has several medicinal properties including adaptogenic (natural substance that helps cope with stress), anti-stress, immunomodulatory, and anticancer properties. It is rich is steroids like shatavarins, saponins, immunosides, etc (20).
A study published in 2009 concluded that the aqueous extract of asparagus stem containing sarsasapogenin possessed very powerful anxiolytic (anxiety reducing ability) activity in experimental animal models and hence could serve as an alternative method of managing anxiety disorder (21).
The high folate content in asparagus improves brain functioning, while its vitamin E helps put you in a good mood. Plus, the tryptophan present in asparagus produces serotonin in the brain that stabilizes moods.
- To fight depression, eat asparagus fresh, steamed or grilled three or four times a week.
- You can also take one-half or one teaspoon of powdered asparagus root with a glass of water daily to beat depression.
Lean meat protein sources like chicken are excellent in balancing the levels of serotonin. Chicken is also rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which gets transformed into serotonin—the feel-good factor of the body.
Low levels of vitamin B6 can contribute to depression. The body needs vitamin B6 to make mood-enhancing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. You can get the required amount of vitamin B6 from chicken. There is 0.5 mg of the vitamin in just 3 ounces of chicken.
Chicken is best for you when baked in the oven or stir-fried with your favorite vegetables. You can also have a bowl of chicken soup. Avoid eating the skin or fried chicken, which can cause other health problems. Eat chicken two or three times a week.
Along with these remedies, do some practical things to lift your mood like get enough rest, avoid junk foods, abstain from alcohol, exercise daily, socialize, laugh, and think about things that make you happy. If you suffer from depression, avoid trying to treat it on your own and seek professional help. If depression persists or makes you feel as if life is not worth living, see a doctor immediately.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Armin Hoes, MD (Psychiatrist)
How long does an episode of depression normally last?
Depression comes in many forms and the onset and courses vary considerably. Therefore, it is important to first identify the specific form of depressive disorder the patient has before any determinations can be made about duration.
Generally, the form of depression can be determined based on a thorough history and physical/mental status examination. For Major Depressive Disorder in particular, a single episode may last upto 6 months for untreated cases. During these periods the symptoms often “wax and wane” which means they may fluctuate in intensity, even day-to-day.
Can depression be cured without any medication?
Yes and no. Single depressive episodes are usually self-limiting, which means that with time, they resolve on their own without treatment. Complete symptom resolution is referred to as remission.
However, for chronic forms of depression like Major Depressive Disorder, single episodes are self-limiting and will typically resolve within six months when left untreated.
While single episodes go away eventually, the natural course of the illness includes recurrent episodes of active mood disturbances throughout the lifespan and there is no known cure.
The primary goal of depression treatment is to both reduce the duration of depressive episodes and prevent the occurrence of new depressive episodes.
What can be the possible side-effects of an untreated case of depression?
Side effects refer only to the unintended symptoms caused by the treatment itself and does not refer to the impact of the illness. For instance, SSRIs are a class of medications commonly used to treat anxiety and depressive conditions and have been known to cause sexual side-effects like reduced libido.
Generally speaking, the ‘effect’ of untreated depression is recurrent depressive episodes that overtime invariably worsen and may lead down the path of hopelessness, despair or even thoughts of death which may trigger suicidal behaviors. Before this happens, urgent psychiatric treatment may prove to be a life saving intervention.
Can depression damage the brain?
It is unclear if untreated depression directly causes injury to the brain, however, there is good evidence that Major Depressive Disorder is linked to states of chronic systemic (meaning through out the entire bloodstream) inflammation.
Major Depressive Disorder has also been strongly linked to the development of coronary artery disease. During an acute depressive episode, our bodies’ immune system is activated and produces chemical mediators that can become harmful to us if we are exposed for prolonged periods.
Under normal circumstances our immune system is our primary defense but when left unregulated, the immune system can wreak havoc. When inflammation becomes chronic (persisting for more than 30 days) it can cause irreversible damage which over time leads to vascular changes in the brain that place us at higher risk for developing dementia.
What is the best course of treatment for depression?
It is widely accepted in the field that there is no evidence supporting any one particular medication over another for the treatment of depression. Clinical trials have consistently demonstrated similar efficacies among various depression medicines when compared head-to-head.
As it turns out, a stronger predictor of outcome in depression treatment seems to relate more to the degree to which the treatment is tolerated. Tolerability plays a tremendous role in maintaining adherence rates. Relapse (when symptoms become aggravated following a sustained period of recovery or wellness) frequently occurs when a patient abruptly stops taking their medications after having stabilized the illness.
When an effective dose of medication has been achieved, it is imperative that the dose is maintained for a sufficient period of time to ensure recovery and prevent relapse. Patients should inform their prescribing clinicians before deciding to discontinue in order to plan an appropriate tapering trial as well as discuss alternative treatment options.
Please share some important tips about dealing with depression and avoiding depressive episodes for the benefit of our readers.
Depression is a serious illness that can have a serious impact on functioning and in more severe cases can precipitate suicidal behaviors. In many cases depression can be managed with regular exercise, a balanced and healthy diet and good stress management strategies like mindfulness meditation, yoga, etc.
Symptoms of depression may include changes in appetite or weight, sleep disturbances, fatigue, deficits in drive and motivation, lost interest in social activities, problems with focus and concentration, pervasive feelings of guilt or hopelessness and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
If you have been experiencing several of these symptoms simultaneously on most days for more than a couple weeks a mental health evaluation is highly recommended. Moderate to severe forms of depression should be referred for treatment with medications. Ideal treatment for moderate to severe depression involves dual treatment with medicine and therapy.
About Dr. Armin Hoes, MD: Dr. Hoes is the founder and Medical Director of Latitude Mental Health, a mental health care practice based in Los Angeles, CA. Latitude Mental Health provides comprehensive mental health care services that integrate medicine, therapy and coaching and go beyond treating the illness by making wellness the primary goal.
Dr. Hoes completed post-doctoral residency training in Psychiatry at the UCLA-Greater Los Angeles VA Psychiatry Residency Training Program. He has additional post-doctoral training in Neurology at Duke University. Dr. Hoes attended Medical School at Howard University and completed his Internship in Internal Medicine at Howard University Hospital.
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