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02-26 Natural therapies to treat depression

Natural therapies to treat depression

Citalopram, amitriptyline, St. John’s wort, bupropion and sertraline are common antidepressant pharmacologic therapies prescribed by health care professionals. Each one of these agents has unwanted side effects and some of these therapies even lead to an increased suicide risk. Most antidepressive agents take an average of four to six weeks to work and many studies suggest that these agents be used with additional psychotherapy.

Depression is rampant, especially in the United States where it affects approximately 15 percent of the population. “The lifetime incidence of major depressive disorder in the United States is 20 percent in women and 12 percent in men,” according to statistics in a Medscape article. Americans are overworked and constantly trying to get ahead in society by consuming more and working more hours, instead of taking vacation and focusing on the more important things in life. This constant “workaholic and materialistic” mentality could be why the U.S. has some of the highest depression rates.

Popping prescription medications are not the end-all treatment to cure depression. There are many alternative natural remedies to help alleviate signs and symptoms of depression, especially in teenagers. Clinical trials for antidepressants are tried and tested on the adult population and not on children or adolescents, so many pharmacologic agents have many “black box” warnings when prescribed to the adolescent population.

Light therapy

Many studies demonstrate the beneficial effects from natural antidepressant remedies. Light therapy has been shown to be effective at reducing depression. A recent study showed that light therapy when used alone had better success rates at treating depression compared to pharmacologic therapy. However, the best results were found when light therapy was used in combination with pharmacologic therapy.

According to the same study, spending time in outdoor sunlight can create therapeutic effects; “We have evidence that people who are outdoors at least one hour a day are less depressed and report fewer sleep complaints in the general population. Such a study doesn’t prove causality, but since we have shown beneficial effects in experimental studies, it is reasonable to think that a large segment of the population, which isn’t in daylight even an hour per day, is causing themselves problems.”

A healing touch

Pet therapy has been used as a form of mental health treatment since the late 1700s. According to an article “The Health Benefits of Dogs (and Cats),” having a pet can help reduce depression because pets fill a basic human need for touch. “Even hardened criminals in prison have shown long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with dogs, many of them experiencing mutual affection for the first time,” the article states. Hugging a dog or cat can literally make our brains happy by releasing oxytocin and dopamine, hormones that reduces stress and increase happiness.

According to the article “Touching makes you healthier,” released in January 2011 by CNN Health, holding hands can reduce the stress-related activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain, part of our emotional center. The touch can actually stop certain regions of the brain from responding to threat clues.

Exercise and relaxation

Multiple studies have confirmed that aerobic exercise increases natural endorphins and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are depleted in people who are depressed. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise daily not only decreases high blood pressure and cholesterol but has drastic effects on a person’s mood.

Relaxation therapies such as yoga and meditation have also shown to be beneficial in patients with depression. Acupuncture and psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy and psychodynamic therapy have also been shown to be very effective in treating depression.

There are many alternatives to antidepressant pharmacologic agents, and it is important to explore all your options.
The Sovereign Health Group is a leading treatment group with locations across the United States that help treat adults and adolescents with addiction, mental health disorders and co-occurring disorders. Our Rancho San Diego facility serves adolescents and cares for their unique needs. For more information, call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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