Many Therapies Other Than Drugs Show Promise for Depression
A new Consumer Reports study this week has found that Americans prefer drugs to talk therapy for depression and that the most popular medications include the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI’s. However, the 1500 survey participants also often report side-effects that go along with the drugs, including loss of sexual interest or ability.
Nearly 80% of those surveyed were prescribed antidepressants for depression symptoms. SSRI’s remain the most popular, including drugs such as Prozac (fluoxetine) by Eli Lilly, Zoloft (sertraline) by Pfizer, and Celexa (citalopram) or Lexapro (escitalopram) from Forest Laboratories. These drugs, however, were associated with more adverse side effects than newer medications such as Effexor (venlafaxine) and Cymbalta (duloxetine).
SSRI’s work by flooding the brain’s synapses with serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked with mood. They also increase the signaling of the brain’s serotonin receptors. By restoring a “chemical balance”, antidepressants help relieve symptoms such as sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest in life.
“There are big drawbacks to the current therapies for depression,” says John Traynor PhD, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Michigan Medical School and author of a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Therapeutic benefits are delayed, there are unwanted side effects, and it’s not unusual for depressive symptoms to return.”
While antidepressants for some have brought great relief for mild to moderate depression symptoms, they are only one treatment option. (Antidepressants remain the most effective treatment for severe depression). Although the readers in the Consumer Reports survey preferred the drugs, many reported receiving just as much benefits from several sessions of talk therapy with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. The most common types of therapy for depression include cognitive behavioral therapy or cognitive restructuring.
There are now numerous studies that show that exercise can improve mood and other depressive symptoms such as low energy and insomnia. Taking a walk outdoors has been shown to be especially effective for good mental health.
A healthy diet rich in B-vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids may have promise as an complementary therapy for depression. Some studies show that a deficiency in vitamin B12 (found in animal foods such as meat, dairy products and eggs) is linked to the worsening of depression symptoms and that an increased intake of fatty fish such as salmon and sardines may be a useful adjunct to other depression treatments. Dietary components to avoid include caffeine and alcohol.
Alternative therapies may also be beneficial in a comprehensive depression treatment plan. Acupuncture, an ancient healing remedy from China, may help improve mood and reduce feelings of fatigue, anxiety and bouts of insominia. Light therapy may be useful, specifically with those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Meditation and other relaxation techniques can also be a helpful addition to depression therapies by helping to relieve stress and reduce repetitive negative thoughts.