Behavioral health issues can be exceedingly difficult to treat for a variety of differing reasons: uncertain/incorrect diagnosis, patients who are tired and reluctant to try new medications because of the possible (and sometimes very likely) side effects, a collapsing and unaffordable medical system, myriad external and internal repressions, and even more. When a person who suffers from an illness as frustrating and often frightening as Major Depression, Bipolar, or Anxiety disorder, the thought of “holistic medicine” may sound like a bunch of nonsense. How could an SSRI do something that could also be done by, say, Valerian root? It is a curious argument I’ve found myself coming across again and again when discussing the pluses and minuses of different approaches to treatment. Holistic medicine = hocus pocus, while, say Zoloft, is deemed a “real” medication, the former discounted completely. But people shouldn’t be so quick to write off medicinal alternatives, especially since they can often be a greatly useful compliment to one’s current drugs, or even work on there own to benefit the patient. More example, I have found Valerian root works brilliantly when coupled with sleep aids, and I end up having to take less of a powerful hypnotic or Trazodone if I have a cup if Valerian Root tea (I like the mint variety). I end up sleeping better, waking up more refreshed, and don’t have as much as of a “hangover.” And that’s but one of a few!
Further, according to a study conducted at Boston University, “eating a balanced diet can keep your blood sugars stable throughout the day and help calm your mood. This stability is especially important if you’re depressed. [E]ating a balanced diet can keep your blood sugars stable throughout the day and help calm your mood. This stability is especially important if you’re depressed.” It comes as not surprise that exercise provides full body wellness, and is quite useful for those with any type of mood or “personality” disorder. A 2007 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found exercise was “as effective as medication in treating depression in some people. Research has shown that exercise causes biochemical changes in the brain that are similar to those produced by medication, including an increase in serotonin levels.” One can even incorporate these activities into their daily routines, like walking (quickly!) to a further bus stop, taking the stairs instead of the escalator, taking a long walk on one’s lunch break, or engaging in yoga at home while something cooks in the oven (it helps if it contain Vitamins B-12 and D and Omega-3s, which are remarkably promising for alleviating depressive symptoms). Fortunately, one of the foods doctors regularly recommend is a small piece of dark chocolate (hooray!). Researchers at the world famous Johns Hopkins Medical School have revealed that “Eating small amounts of dark chocolate can be a physical uppers” because they have “effect on the levels of brain endorphins,” those feel-good chemicals that our bodies produce. Not only that, but dark chocolate also seems to have a heart-healthy anti-clogging effect in our blood vessels.”
With such little time left for leisure in the standard American work day actually bolsters rates of depression, and exercising can take away some of the “I did nothing for myself today” overwhelming blues that open cause anxiety and misery into the night, rendering one sleepless. By simply changing one’s routine a bit, it is possible to merge exercise into the day, which has been clinically shown to reduce depression viz-a-viz a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. Frankly, it is an imperative if one wants to be healthy in mind and body. And now let’s keep it honest here! And it doesn’t hurt that you will look better in your bathing suit…and maybe even want to go to the beach rather sitting inside with the A/C running all summer!
Best of all, there are no negative side effects to eating right and exercising. Only positive ones. You will want to speak with your psychiatrist about the possibility of holistic medications, most likely as an adjunct. I am fortunate to have a doctor who is educated in alternative medication as well as more typical psychotropic drugs, and thus he has given me a wealth of education during our years together. Of course, this doesn’t come in a vacuum, nor a cure all. Multitudinous doctors agree that eating a healthy diet and maintaining a positive lifestyle is essential, as well as sticking to one’s medications, whatever they may be.
What Are Some Trusted Holistic Medications?
(Note: Make sure you talk to your doctor before taking any of these medications!)
- St. John’s Wort. Extracts of this herb serve an antidepressant effect by inhibiting the reuptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. It is generally considered quite gentle. (St. John’s Wart cannot be used by people taking MAOIs.)
- Passion Flower. This important herb acts as a non-drowsy, natural sedative that relieves intermittent nervousness, anxiety and panic attacks. It also contains mood stabilizing properties.
- Ginkgo Biloba. This popular herb improves circulation to the brain, elevates mood, and contains natural antidepressant chemical. Side effects are minimal, but patients considering taking Ginkgo Biloba must talk to their doctors. (It has been linked with bleeding disorders, so people with this cannot take it.
- Valerian Root. I confess: this is a personal favorite (for transparency, I am on an MAOI, so cannot take St. John’s Wart) that has been used through out the ages for sleep problems, digestive problems, disorders of the nervous system, headaches, and arthritis. Valerian root also has an impact on the availability of the neurotransmitter GABA (which causes relaxation) in the brain.
- Kava Kava. This is a very popular choice for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia. It can be used as an adjunct or alternative to Valium—that’s how well it has been known to work. Keep in mind that Kava Kava is a rather powerful herb, and should only be taken at night. Otherwise, you’ll be snoozing on your desk! Still, a clear advantage is that Kava Kava has no addictive features.
- SAM-e (s-adenosyl-methionine). SAM-e is created by combining with the amino acid L-methionine and other nutrients in the body, and boosts the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which can elevate and improve mood. According to a wealth of research in the United Kingdom and other European nations, “SAM-e has the same rate of effectiveness as most prescription antidepressants, about 70%, but that it works faster and has fewer side effects.
- Melatonin. This is a hormone found naturally in the body, which can easily adjust the body’s internal clock. Long-heralded as “the cure for jet lag,” Melatonin has been proven highly effective. Though also commonly used as a remedy for insomnia, Melatonin is thought to have a positive effects on numerous conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, ringing in the ears, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, migraine and other headaches, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bone loss (osteoporosis), tardive dyskinesia (TD), a movement disorder, and epilepsy.
- 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan). According to WebMD, “5-HTP is a chemical by-product of the protein building block L-tryptophan. It is also produced commercially from the seeds of an African plant (Griffonia simplicifolia). It works in the “brain and central nervous system by increasing the production of the chemical serotonin” which affect “sleep, appetite, temperature, sexual behavior, and pain sensation.” Since 5-HTP increases the synthesis of serotonin, it is used for several diseases where serotonin is believed to play an important role including depression, tension headaches, fibromyalgia, insomnia, obesity, and many other conditions. This is a powerful chemical that can cause side effects like other, more well-known antidepressants do (i.e., heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, sexual problems, and muscle problems) but it is far less likely to do so.