Depression: An Herbalist's Approach

part one

Feeling a little down, a little sad or uneasy? It used to be that as a culture we would just pop a pill or take something illegal. Like the counter-culture song of the 60s where you "just ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall" if you couldn't get something on your own or from Alice you could ask your physician and he would prescribe. One and two decades ago it was not unusual for physicians to use antidepressant medications more liberally. But many of these drugs ­­such as Valium, Xanax and Ativan­­ in spite of first reports of safe long-term use have left their users feeling hooked and physicians unwilling to prescribe. This is not all bad.

It is normal for people to experience depression when life isn't going right. We feel down when we are unhappy in our work or when our relationships are difficult. Many times a season change will bring on the blues. We all experience it and when we try to continually live life in a superficially happy state we fall out of balance. It simply isn't normal.

We can ease the symptoms of the down times without resorting to medications. Oriental medicine traces depression to a liver that has become stagnant either by emotions that have been kept inside or because of foods such as hydrogenated fats, alcohol and sugars that have "gummed up" the liver and kept it from working efficiently.

So one of the first things I recommend for people seeking relief from depression is to take stock of their diet. I suggest that they eat limited amounts of the foods listed above and partake of more nutrient-rich foods such as apples, artichokes, carrots and lots of green leafies. A journal is also in order for several weeks, recording what they eat and how the feel each day. Kristina Turner in her book The Self Healing Cookbook calls it a food-mood journal.

The journal may reveal an eating pattern that is unhealthful and could be contributing to depression. Some of the common problems are skipping meals, eating late at night and bingeing­­ especially of sweets including fruit juices. Empty sweets destabilize blood sugar levels and lead to feelings of lethargy and vulnerability. On the other hand, eating small, frequent meals that contain protein and complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal, barley, brown rice, and other whole grains, as well as vegetables, helps the body function more efficiently and stay on a even keel.

It is also helpful for individuals to take stock of what medications they are taking and whether they may be part of the picture. Antibiotics and birth control pills many times have side effects of depression.

Other individuals are affected by their work or home environment. Various chemicals­­ including household cleaners, a leaky gas stove, or the newly painted office space or the toner from the copy machine­­ may be adding to your symptoms. Be your own sleuth. Put things under the microscope. Notice how you feel when you're away from work or home. Do I feel better one place rather than another? Be particularly suspicious of chemicals if you suffer feelings of free floating anxiety. Most individuals will find they could take enough Valium to fill a pick-up truck and won't experience relief from this kind of anxiety until the offending item is removed.

Next week I'll talk about safe useful alternatives in the herbal kingdom to help manage symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Stay tuned. Till next time, Rebecca

This article posted to Zephyr online September 25, 1997
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