Alternative Medicine for Depression

Lost of interest in enjoyable activities, persistent sadness or a feeling of worthlessness, weight or sleep problems, loss of energy, thoughts of death or suicide – these are all symptoms of depression.  Approximately 20 million adults in the United States have depression and although it can be helpful, most do not seek treatment.  Because depression can be a symptom of other medical conditions, it is important to consult with your health-care provider if you should exhibit any of the signs and symptoms.

In lieu of medications with uncomfortable side effects, many people are turning to alternative medicine for depression.   Practitioners of alternative medicine believe the mind and body must be in harmony to maintain good health.  The integration of mind-body techniques into a daily routine can help relieve symptoms of depression and improve the quality of life.  While some alternative therapies for depression haven’t been researched extensively, there is evidence to suggest that the following practices may be of benefit to people with depression.

Yoga
A review published in 2005 examined five randomized and controlled trials that studied the impact of yoga on people with mild to severe depression.  Although some of the interventions were not feasible in patients with physical disabilities, the results showed that yoga was beneficial in the reduction of depressive symptoms.

In a more recent 2007 study, 37 depressed subjects were assigned 20 session of yoga.  While only 17 completed the study, researchers observed a significant decrease in reported symptoms of depression, anger, anxiety and neuroses in these subjects.

Meditation
Two studies show that transcendental meditation (TM) may be an effective alternative medicine for depression.  One study was conducted at the University of California in Los Angeles and the other at the University of Hawaii in Kohala.  The studies examined subjects over the age of 54 who were at risk for cardiovascular disease, including 59 African Americans and 53 native Hawaiians.  Subjects were randomly placed in either a TM program or a health education control group and were assessed for depression with a standard test over nine to twelve months.

Subjects in both studies who followed the TM program showed significant reductions in depressive symptoms as compared to the subjects in the health-education control group. Participants who indicated clinically-significant depression exhibited the largest reductions.  Those subjects who followed the TM program showed an average decrease in depressive symptoms of 48 percent.

Acupuncture
While acupuncture is a form of traditional medicine in China, in North America, it is thought of as alternative medicine.   Acupuncture uses needles to move the Qi, or “vital energy,” that flows through the body via non-structured pathways called “meridians.” This therapy has been effective in the reduction of stress, and a new pilot study at the University of Arizona has shown that acupuncture is a promising treatment for reduction of depressive symptoms in women.

Thirty-eight adult women subjects with mild to moderate depression were examined. Each subject was treated with acupuncture for specific patterns of depressive symptoms according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  Subjects received treatment twice a week for one month and once a week for an additional month, with 70% experiencing at least a 50% reduction of symptoms.  This is comparable to the success rate of medication and psychotherapy for depression.

Guided Imagery
Guided imagery is also referred to as visualization or mental rehearsal.  It is the process of creating an intention of a desired result with the use of mental images.  These images can be visual (what the person sees), kinesthetic (how the person feels) or auditory (what the person hears).

Guided imagery trains the mind and body to perform an imagined skill. Research is showing that physical and psychological response in some situations can be improved with visualization.  Guided imagery can build coping skills and improve confidence in the ability to perform well under pressure.

Many suffering from depression are getting relief through alternative, mind-body medicine - a natural, non-invasive, evidenced-based approach.  Mind-body therapies encourage the individual to engage in self-regulating practices that have been found to reduce stress and improve well-being.

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