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Depression Treatment Without Drugs

By Nancy Russell, M.D.


Depression used to have a very good outcome. If you went to your physician with symptoms of depression 30 to 40 years ago, he or she would tell you that you could and would get better. You’d be assured that most depression episodes run their course  without specific interventions such as drug treatment. Now advertisements that all but hypnotize you into believing that this drug or that will help you feel better – especially if it turns out that you’re one of the two-thirds of people on antidepressants who aren’t getting better. When it comes to side effects, many people are aware of the most common ones, such as sexual dysfunction and sleeplessness. Or that others, like substantial weight gain and increased glucose and lipid metabolism, can be so unpleasant that people on these drugs just stop taking them.


Exercise: One of Nature’s Best Alternatives to Maintaining Good Mental Health

A Duke University team studied three groups that tried exercise only; exercise plus drugs; and drugs only, to see what treatment best-treated depression. They found that after six weeks, the drug-only group was doing a tiny bit better than the other two groups. The drug used was Zoloft. It was hypothesized that the best stay-well rate would be those with drugs plus exercise. But they were wrong! Ten months later, it was the exercise-only group that was most successful in maintaining wellness! The follow-up study, which followed the same participants for an additional six months, found that patients who continued to exercise after completing the initial trial were much less likely to see their depression return than the other patients. Only 8 percent of patients in the exercise group had their depression return, while 38 percent of the drug-only group and 31 percent of the exercise-plus-drug group relapsed. Findings from these studies indicate that a modest exercise program is an effective and robust treatment for patients with major depression. And if these motivated patients continue with their exercise, they have a much better chance of not seeing their depression return.


Nutrition Also Plays an Important Part

It’s already known that many additives, preservatives, and food colorants can cause behavioral changes and sugar should definitely be on this list as well. One of the most recent and highly plausible theories that explain sugar’s impact on your mood and mental health is the connection between sugar and chronic inflammation. Other studies have also found significant links between high-sugar diets and mental health problems such as depression and schizophrenia, even though they were not focused on the presence of inflammation per see. For example, a 2004 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that a higher dietary intake of refined sugar and dairy products predicted a worse 2-year outcome of schizophrenia.


As explained by Dr. Russell Blaylock, high sugar content and starchy carbohydrates lead to excessive insulin release, which can lead to falling blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia, in turn, causes your brain to secrete glutamate in levels that can cause agitation, depression, anger, anxiety, panic attacks, and an increase in suicide risk. The dietary answer for treating depression is to severely limit sugars, especially fructose, as well as grains.


How the Sun Can Influence a “Sunnier Disposition”

Another essential nutrient in the treatment of depression is vitamin D. One study found people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who received healthy doses. I strongly recommend optimizing your vitamin D levels, by sunlight and taking a high-quality vitamin D supplement, to your list of depression fighters. Ask your healthcare practitioner to check your blood level to make sure you are not toxic as vitamin D3 is a fat-soluble vitamin. An ideal level is 60 to 80 with the normal range being 30 to 100. 


What To Do if You’re Already on Medication for Depression

What you want is a cautious approach to discontinuing prescription drugs and you need to do this with the assistance of a qualified and knowledgeable clinician who can slowly wean you off over a period of a few weeks or months. Ideally, this would be someone who has roots in natural health, and who will help you use natural, healthy options such as dietary changes, exercise, counseling, and supplements to do this.

Having a professional can guide you through the physical and emotional changes you’ll experience as you leave the drugs behind, including any uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.


Assessing neurotransmitters with a simple urine test can determine what amino acids, minerals, and herbs can help naturally balance brain chemistry and assist in helping depression, anxiety, insomnia, and lack of focus. 


Always remember that these three primary factors -- exercise, addressing emotional stress, and eating right -- will make you feel at the top of your game. Whether you want to overcome depression, feel happier, or just want to stay healthy, these are the lifestyle changes that will get you there.

Nancy Russell, M.D. has been a holistic Internal Medicine physician in the Kansas City northland for over 30 years at 5140 N. Antioch Road in Kansas City, MO.


Her phone number is 816-453-5545 and website is where you can get more information. Dr. Russell is board certified in holistic medicine and is a member of the American Holistic Medical Association and a prior board member.

Evolving Magazine

Kansas City

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