(Photo credit: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul)
Depression and anxiety treatment continues to explode as a highly profitable industry for drug companies. A growing number of people are popping prescriptions, desperately seeking solutions that will work long term and don’t carry risky side effects.
Pharmaceutical companies continue to spend millions on advertising to convince consumers that the solution to conquering mood disorders comes from a doctor’s prescription pad. Yet there are numerous natural alternatives available that cost little money, are safe and effective and will treat a spectrum of acute and chronic mood issues.
Serotonin Not Always Solution to Depression
Many prescription anti-depressants are designed to address low levels of serotonin and nor epinephrine. Yet in a 2005 review, researchers Jeffery Lacasse and Jonathon Leo wrote that they couldn’t find any article to directly support the long-held claim that a serotonin deficiency causes mental disorders.
Moreover, not all mood disorders are due to a biochemical imbalance, and medications often miss the mark or don’t address the underlying causes. Drugs can have unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, loss of libido, or diminished affect (emotion); and can even exacerbate symptoms. Alternatively there are a number of natural alternatives to boost mood.
1.Increase Dopamine for Depression Relief
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in arousal and motor function is a precursor to adrenaline and a related molecule, not adrenaline. Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine and is central to the creation of reward systems such as food, sex, positive social interactions, even humor. While doctors can prescribe medications to treat dopamine-dependent depression, there are natural ways to elevate dopamine.
Michael Lardon, a doctor and researcher on the neuroelectric assessment of athletic peak performance explains in an online article for the Modesto Bee that everyone who exercises can reap the benefits from the “dopamine buzz.”
“Dopamine is released within just 20 minutes of moderate exercise, says Lardon, “and triggers within your brain positive feelings about yourself even after your first session of exercise, before your body has had a chance to firmly establish an association between the exercise and the great feelings.”
2. Boost GABA for Mental Health
Another neurotransmitter involved with mood regulation is GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA controls the brain’s rhythmic theta waves that allow individuals to feel physically and mentally balanced.
Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of Mind Boosters [St. Martin’s Press, 2000] explains GABA’s key brain balancing role, “GABA is the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Excitation in the brain must be balanced with inhibition. Too much excitation can lead to restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and even seizures. GABA is able to induce relaxation, analgesia, and sleep.”
GABA is involved in the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that create feelings of well-being known as the “runner’s high.” An imbalance can be involved in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder but it’s also inherent to several critical day to day brain functions.
A GABA-rich diet and certain supplements can elevate GABA, and so can yoga, research finds. “The practice of yoga should be explored as a treatment for disorders with low GABA levels such as depression and anxiety disorders. Future studies should compare yoga to other forms of exercise to help determine whether yoga or exercise alone can alter GABA levels,” write scientists in a 2007 study.
3. Take Fish Oil to Improve Mood
Fish oil is most often associated with cardiovascular health, but the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can also improve mood in some people.
According to Dr. Mercola, a leading natural health expert, “Numerous studies worldwide have linked lack of omega-3 consumption – specifically DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – with depression. One study found that depression symptoms were higher among infrequent fish consumers than among those who ate fish on a regular basis.”
Researchers found that low plasma concentrations of DHA were good predictors of low concentrations of brain serotonin. Low serotonin can be associated with depression and suicide in some individuals.
4. Socialize With Cheerful People
Depressed people often avoid social interaction, but forcing face-to-face connections with upbeat people can boost mood, research indicates.
Forbes.com reported on a 20-year study that found social networks can have a deep impact on an individual’s happiness. Scientists tracked over 4,700 people and found that social interactions with both cheerful friends and strangers considerably influenced the subject’s chances of happiness.
5. Pet a Pet to Boost Mood
Petting Rover can be plus for mental and physical health. “The benefit is especially pronounced when people are strongly attached to their pets,” says researcher Judith Siegel, PhD for a WebMD article.
Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health [Peak Press, 2000] tells WebMD that like any enjoyable activity, playing with a pet increases serotonin and dopamine. “People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature, “says Justice.
While the pharmaceutical industry continues to promote a long list of medications for anxiety and depression, several natural alternatives are available that are safe, often very effective, and without risky side effects.
People suffering with acute or chronic mood changes who are interested in natural treatments should seek a holistic practitioner. Holistic physicians often measure neurotransmitter and hormone levels and then develop a comprehensive treatment plan that may include a combination of diet changes, exercise, hormone replacement and supplements. Treatment may be combined with conventional approaches to mood management or as an alternative.
Lacasse JR, Leo J, “Serotonin and depression: a disconnect between the advertisements and the scientific literature,” Florida State University College of Social Work, Tallahassee, Fl., 2005 Dec;2(12):e392.
Lerche Davis, Jeanie, “5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health,” WebMD. November 16, 2009.
Mercola, Joseph, Ph.D., “More Omega-3 Studies Find Links to Depression,”November 24 2004.
Rebecca, Ruiz, How To Beat The Winter Blues. Forbes.com. December 15, 2008.
Streeter, CC, Jensen JE, Perlmutter RM, Cabral HJ, Tian H, Terhune DB, Ciraulo DA, Renshaw, PF, “Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study.” Journal of Complementary Medicine, 2007 May 13.