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Dealing with Depression: A Holistic Approach

Dealing with Depression: A Holistic Approach
Depression is a multi facetted disorder that can also be treated from a holistic approach; even new trends in psychology acknowledge this.

Depression is more than just occasionally feeling “blue”. There are life situations that may cause us to feel sadness, sometimes profound, like the death of a loved one (grief). However, if that response stretches over a long time, the person’s response is no longer considered “normal” and a diagnosis of depression might be made.

Major depression is marked by the person’s inability to function. A diagnosis must include five of the following symptoms that occur simultaneously over a two-week period:

  • Fatigue, loss of energy
  • Feeling worthless or feelings of guilt
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Significant change in weight or appetite
  • Depression lasts all day or most of the day
  • Lack of interest or enjoyment in everyday activities
  • Excessive sleep or daily insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts

Interestingly, I have found that many people who really are depressed are not aware that they are. They have always felt that way, so they do not consider it abnormal. It usually runs in families and because of that and social reasons, many depressed people are never given appropriate care.

There are many causes of depression (many things can alter our brain chemistry) ranging from life stressors, insufficient blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain, altered blood glucose level, fluctuation in hormones, food sensitivity or heavy metal toxicity.

Mainstream Approaches

There are many ways to approach depression. Some approaches are more successful than others and response to different approaches differs from one person to another. Depression is a multi facetted disorder that can also be treated from a holistic approach; even new trends in psychology acknowledge this.

At the level of psychiatry, depressive disorders are treated by one or more of three methods: drugs, psychosocial therapy, or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Drugs work by changing the way neurotransmitters work in the brain. Psychosocial therapy consists of interviews between the patient and a trained specialist to find out the causes of a person’s depression. ECT makes use of severe electrical shocks to treat a person’s depression by releasing more neurotransmitters.

In some depression cases such as those involving heavy metal toxicity, food sensitivities and nutritional deficiencies; psychotherapy, anti depressants and electroshock therapy may not be the most appropriate avenue. In such cases, treatment is directed towards the cause.

Natural Alternatives

These herbs might act as natural alternatives to antidepressants:

· St. John’s Wart

· Passion Flower

· Hops

· Oat straw

· Skull cap

· Chamomile

· Catnip

There is a very strong supportive role that nutritional and lifestyle approaches can make towards healing depression. These suggestions will depend on the cause and the symptoms someone is experiencing.

The diet should focus on eliminating any food sensitivities, diagnosed by lab tests, elimination diets or pulse tests.

Optimally organic foods are the best. Eating organic reduces the toxic load on the liver and will support the body by providing vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and their co-factors.

Also to assure proper digestion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients and proper immune function; stomach hydrochloric acid levels should be assessed.

Taking digestive enzymes may be beneficial as well. Digestive enzymes will allow the body to take full advantage of the nutrients.

Keeping an eye on intake of sugar and introducing whole grains is important in keeping the blood sugar level under control. There should also be adequate amounts of protein in the diet to ensure there are sufficient amounts of amino acids, which are the building units of the body. Fats should also be consumed in an appropriate ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 (3:1) to maintain healthy cell membranes.

In case of heavy metal toxicity, fiber rich foods help the body eliminate the toxins. Adding cilantro and chlorophyll to food is useful as well in such cases.


Depression Fighting Nutrients

Foods that provide many of the mentioned nutrients in abundant amounts and should be part of the healing diet include:

· Omega 3 containing fish

· Turkey

· Chicken

· Eggs

· Grass feed beef

· Fresh juice

· Leafy greens

· Nuts and seeds

· Whole grains-high in B vitamins

· Brown rice-high in B vitamins

· 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day

· Flaxseed oil

· Butter

· Coconut oil

  • Serotonin: this neurotransmitter is derived from the amino acid L-tryptophan. Insufficient dietary intake of L-tryptophan promotes depression.
  • Folic Acid: the most common nutrient deficiency.
  • Riboflavin: commonly found to be deficient in people with depression.
  • Niacin: is a B complex vitamin, and since B vitamins work best as a team it should be taken alomg with a B complex supplement due to the synergistic effect of B vitamins.
  • Thiamine: similar to other deficiencies in B complex vitamins, depression is also a common symptom of thiamine deficiency. A double blind study amongst healthy university students concluded that mega doses (50 mg/day) improved mood.
  • Vitamin B6: besides being a member in the B complex vitamins, Vitamin B6 is also a co-factor in converting tryptophan into serotonin.
  • Vitamin D: typically deficient levels of vitamin D are found in SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
  • Magnesium: magnesium levels in cerebrospinal fluid in people hospitalized for depression were found to be low. The levels were even lower in those who were suicidal.


Depending on each person, the amounts you ultimately need to take will vary and you may want to consult with a nutritionist.


Smell Your Way Out of Depression

(Please do not attempt to use these herbs without the supervision of a well-trained health care practitioner.)

The sense of smell has a profound effect on the nervous system so including various essential oils and blends may prove to be a useful. Use essential oils with caution with the elderly, small children and pregnant women.

Use only on your skin and with a carrier oil. Always smell the oils before using them. If you do not like the way they smell, do not use them. Add 5-7 drops of essential oil to one ounce of carrier oil.

Essential Oils:

  • Melissa (lemon balm): It is calming, uplifting, and useful with anxiety.
  • Lavender: Is calming and useful with anxiety.
  • Clary Sage: Especially when there is a female hormonal imbalance.
  • Sandalwood: Topically, it has a slight detoxification action, and is grounding and uplifting.
  • Jasmine: Balances female hormones, and is grounding.
  • Petite grain: Is light, uplifting, and useful with anxiety
  • Grapefruit: Known for its joyful qualities, most people enjoy this scent and it is a good way to introduce aromatherapy to someone.
  • Black Cumin Seed: Known as “the ray of sunshine”, it is rare to find, but both the carrier oil and the essential oil help balance hormones.


Carrier Oils:

  • Sweet Almond Oil: This carrier oil is not strong smelling and pleasant. It will not cause a rapid intake of the essential oil into the body like grape seed oil or a slow intake like olive oil.
  • Un-toasted Sesame Seed Oil: It has qualities that ground and center, especially when used to massage the feet. For a deeper sense of calm, find an Ayurvedic doctor who can recommend other ways for you to use it.


Make Some Changes

Many people may find these lifestyle changes helpful:

  • Counseling
  • Chiropractic work
  • Acupressure, acupuncture, body work
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Yoga, Tai chi
  • Exercise which releases endorphins and helps reduce stress. movement also assists and supports liver function and lymph flow.
  • Surround yourself with beauty and find the beauty that is already around you
  • Increase your social network and foster healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Find healthy outlets for stress reduction
  • Engage in spiritual life


Search around for what will best fit you and your situation and may Allah (SWT) heal you.


This article was first published in 2009 and is currently republished for its importance.


About Anisa Abeytia

Anisa Abeytia, B.A. USC , M.A., Stanford is an integrative health specialist currently pursuing a M.S. in Holistic Nutrition. Over the past ten years Anisa has pursued various fields of holistic and traditional medicine. She has studied at the oldest herbal school in the United States and pursued a two year certificate program in Islamic Healing. She writes regularly on the topics of health and nutrition. She maintains the website Women's Healing Circle, a site dedicated to the natural health of women and their families.

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