Naturally Treating Depression
Nature's one-two punch against depression
I've written before about St. John's Wort for the treatment of depression. But long before I was writing about this powerful herb to you, I was suggesting it to patients as a worthy alternative to addictive, risky antidepressant drugs. And now, in the wake of the recent antidepressant/suicide scandal, it's more important than ever to explore substitutes for prescription blues-fighters.
Along those lines, and in a perfect stroke of cosmic timing, Reuters Health reported in early February that a high-grade extract of St. John's Wort (also called hypericum perforatum) is MORE EFFECTIVE at treating moderate to severe depression than at least one commonly prescribed antidepressant drug: Glaxo SmithKline's Paxil.
According to the article, researchers compared the treatment of more than 250 patients between 18 and 70 years of age for six weeks. At the end of the study, fully half of the patients in the St. John's Wort extract group reported improvement in their depression, while only a third of those in the Paxil group reported any benefits at all.
And needless to say, the side effects experienced by the hypericum group were much fewer and farther between than in the drug group.
This finding only mirrors what other studies have shown before: That St. John's Wort works. It's also one of the few herbal treatments that has met with truly widespread mainstream acceptance - just walk into any Wal-Mart or grocery store and you're likely to run smack into a 6-foot display rack of it
There's only one problem: Not all St. John's Wort is created equal.
Some kinds of supplements of this herb (and of every other herbal remedy, for that matter) are more effective than others. This is due to a couple of factors: Differences in the quality of the ingredients and differences in the "absorbability" of those ingredients. Unfortunately, there are no uniform standards of freshness, quality, bioavailability, or even recommended effective dosages in the supplement industry. And in my experience, such products run the gamut from utterly useless wastes of money to extremely effective medicine that's still a fraction of the cost of killer drugs.
How do you find the good ones? A little online research helps, but good old-fashioned trial and error works, too. One rule of thumb, though: Cheap, "grocery store" vitamins and herbs tend not to be as powerful as those available through alternative medicine doctors and compounding pharmacies. To locate one of the latter, call the International Association of Compounding Pharmacists at (800)927-4227.
And in more good news for drug-less depression therapy
February was a good month for natural depression fighting. First, St. John's Wort gets some major affirmation - and now another old favorite of mine, DHEA, gets some well-deserved kudos
According to a new study conducted by a branch of the National Institute of Mental Health, the hormone precursor DHEA (dihydroepiandrosterone) proved effective at combating so-called "mid-life onset" depression in roughly 50% of cases. Though I don't have the numbers handy, I'd bet this is at least as effective as what mainstream medicine considers "first-line" treatments: Anti-depressant drugs.
The difference is that when used properly, DHEA is perfectly safe. In fact, your body produces more of this natural substance than all other hormones combined. Production typically peaks between 20 and 30 years of age, however - beyond that, your DHEA levels decline dramatically.
This study marks the first time I can recall ever having heard of DHEA's effectiveness against depression, but previous research has linked the hormone to benefits against heart disease, arthritis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and some other afflictions typical in the aging.
Currently, it's widely available in health food and vitamin stores (perhaps even Wal-Mart and the corner grocery) just about everywhere. If you're feeling low, or just want to live longer, you might consider picking some up.
Doing - and reviewing - what's natural,
William Campbell Douglass II, MD
Herbs and Supplements
Winter Sun Protection
Winter "warning" from the wackos!
Something I read online really got my goat the other day: It was a short piece warning people of the "dangers" of autumnal and winter sunlight.
Basically, it said that just because it's a little cooler and cloudier outside doesn't mean you should skip the sunscreen.
These paranoiacs then all-too-cheerfully reminded readers that killersunlight can reflect off of water, sand, snow, and cement (cement?) even in the bitter cold
What alarmist crap!
So just to pull the rug out from under these goofball kooks, I did a little digging around online and found out they were 100% wrong when it comes to this "winter-skin-cancer" warning. As it turns out, Alaskan Eskimos - who spend their entire lives in the glare of sunshine both from above and reflected from the ice and snow - enjoy LOWER rates of melanoma when compared to whites in the lower 48. Doesn't exactly jive with their doom-and-gloom winter sunlight warning, does it?
Take that, you dimwits!
Look, you know I've railed long and loud about the needlessness of over-priced sun-protective goop (Daily Dose, 2/27/04, and many others). But I can't stress enough that we NEED vital sunlight to maintain good health - especially in the fall and wintertime. Sunlight triggers your body's production of vitamin D (which, I might add, is made from another whipping-boy of the mainstream, cholesterol), which is vital in keeping your bones strong, your teeth healthy and keeping you upbeat and free of the "blahs."
Further, a recent report in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association concluded that many in the U.S get less than the recommended amount of vitamin D every day. Based on a study of more than 27,000 people, the research showed that an alarming 90% of adults aged 50-70 weren't getting enough vitamin D - and that only 2% of those over 70 were getting enough of this precious bone-booster from their diets.
But there's good news, too. Keep reading
D is for "Darn right!"
Offsetting the disturbing (and utterly irresponsible) piece written by Yahoo's yahoos, I also came across a study from the Nutrition Journal online - one that casts a better "light" on solving the vitamin D crisis the vast majority of our country's seniors face.
According to the article, a pair of recent Canadian studies concluded that aggressive wintertime supplementation with high doses of vitamin D (as much as 7 times the recommended minimum of 600IU per day) carried no measurable downsides - while facilitating a marked improvement in the "well being" of the high-dose vitamin D subjects.
What's "well being" mean? For the purposes of this research, the term refers to depressive symptoms - mood swings, melancholia, etc. The study also highlighted the vitamin-D-caused boost in blood calcium levels - a crucial co-component of this miracle vitamin's benefits to your bones and other tissues.
So what's to be done to make sure you get enough D this winter? Eat plenty of eggs, fish, and dairy products to do it the dietary way. Or you can fortify your body with a daily dose of supplemental vitamin D-up to several thousand IU without worry, if the Canadian research is worth its salt. But most importantly, expose yourself to as much sunlight as you can: Take the grandkids sledding, go for a snowy hike in the woods behind the house - even just sitting for 15 or 20 minutes a day in front of a sun-soaked window is better than nothing.
These are by far the best ways to "activate" the vitamin D you're ingesting, so you can stay as resilient and cheery as you can be this winter.
Shedding "light" by being right,
William Campbell Douglass II, MD
- The study included more than 150,000 women between ages 26 and 70 - and although younger women showed the most dramatic benefits, subject women in the highest age brackets also enjoyed a 13% reduction in hypertension risk
- According to the article, data from 2003 shows that osteoporosis diagnoses have increased SEVENFOLD since 1994.
- As you know, I've been singing milk's praises (the raw variety of course) for decades - I've even written a book on the subject. It's a great source of calcium, vitamin D, lactoferrins (natural antibiotics), and other good stuff.
- I've often wondered - and more than once in print - how the human race ever managed to survive and thrive if what the mainstream says about sunlight is really true.
- By now, you've probably heard about homocysteine. I've been writing about it for 20 years, and unless you're new to alternative medicine, you've probably heard a bit about how it relates to heart disease.
- In the past, I've been mostly skeptical and hard on genetic engineering, as you may well know. As a concept, I find it a little scary. As much as I foresee the incredible opportunity for advancement in the healing arts
- However, the truth is, Americans over 60 are probably far more likely to be prescribed another class of mind-regulating drugs called atypical antipsychotics than they are antidepressants. Why?
- I'll tell you, my favorite vitamin - the big D - has sure been on a roll lately. First, research linking deficiencies of this sun-made vitamin to rising rates of many diseases