Herbal Remedies and Dietary Supplements

Some people find herbal remedies and dietary supplements useful in relieving the symptoms of depression. Herbs and supplements commonly used for this purpose include:

  • amino acids and their precursors
  • DHEA
  • folate or folic acid
  • SAMe
  • St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Scientific evidence supports the effectiveness of at least one herbal remedy (St. John’s wort) and two dietary supplements (DHEA and SAMe) for reduction of depressive symptoms. However, herbal remedies and dietary supplements do not help all people and in some cases, the effectiveness of these treatments has not been completely established.

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The Best Ways to Stop Job Worries

The surprising cure for job stress: Schedule one more meeting. The current daily avalanche of headlines about layoffs, mergers, plant closings, and jobs being exported to countries halfway around the world can give even rock-solid employees job jitters. What to do if you’re on edge? You can’t change what researchers call “collective uncertainty about the future,” but you can book a meeting with your supervisor to discuss the company’s goals and define your role in achieving them. Research shows that clearly defined goals make workers happier and healthier.

Then, run. Not from your job, but for the financial health of your company (and for your own health). See, gym-goers perform better at work than sedentary people. And when one study looked at entrepreneurs — people under extreme stress and time constraints — it was clear that those who took the time away from their business to run regularly were not only better at attaining personal satisfaction, but also had significant improvement in sales over companies managed by nonrunners.

Why does that work? Physically active people process data faster, and they’re more likely to have less stress or to handle it better than chair-bound types. Workouts help your mind relax, so it’s a better incubator for new ideas and solutions. As one study subject said, “Running gives me a body that performs better at everything that I must do during the day.” Even if your job is secure, why pass up the chance to be at the top of your game all day long?

Laugh for Better Blood Vessels

Laugh your way to better blood vessel function by watching a funny flick.

Laughter relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow — the exact opposite of what your blood vessels do when you are stressed. In a small study of healthy men and women with normal blood pressure, watching a funny movie increased blood flow by about 22 percent. If funny movies aren’t your style, spend time with the people who tickle your funny bone.

Blood vessels are lined with a layer of cells called endothelium; they regulate blood flow by helping blood vessels expand and contract. In a small study, healthy men and women watched either a funny movie or an intense, violent one while researchers measured blood flow through an artery in their upper arm. Watching the funny movie caused blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow by about 22 percent. The action movie caused mental stress and blood vessel constriction, decreasing blood flow by about 35 percent. Having relaxed blood vessels decreases strain on the heart. Researchers aren’t exactly sure how mood states affect blood vessels. Different mood states may alter levels of hormones, such as cortisol, that affect blood vessel function or nitric oxide function. Nitric oxide is a chemical messenger that promotes blood vessel relaxation. Proper diet and regular exercise are the mainstays of improving blood vessel health, but laughing often is a great adjunct.

Fine-Tune Your Focus

A short attention span is a hallmark of adult ADHD. But even those with highly distracted minds can take steps to improve their focus. For starters, ADHD adults can minimize daily distractions, like cleaning up cluttered personal spaces, powering down attention-stealing digital devices, and keeping daily to-do lists to a reasonable (and realistic) length.

Beyond that, there are lifestyle strategies that have a direct impact on the brain’s ability to pay attention:

Catch more ZZZs. Lack of sleep — common in adults with ADHD — worsens daytime fatigue and seriously impairs concentration and productivity. It also messes with learning, memory, executive functioning, and emotional stability. If you have a sleep-deprived ADHD adult in your life, suggest that they talk to their doctor about sleep aids that might help.

Hit the gym. According to research, exercise is a powerful tool to boost attention in adults with or without ADHD. But in ADHD-specific studies, exercise improved impaired attention, impulse control, and executive functioning by enhancing neurological functioning in parts of the brain responsible for these jobs.

Be more Zen. Mindfulness meditation may train the brain to focus better. This ancient mind-quieting technique teaches people to reign in mental chatter and focus on the present moment. Although more research is needed to confirm its specific benefits for ADHD adults, one study did find that meditation boosted neural processes in regions of the brain responsible of sustaining attention.

Eat breakfast. Skipping breakfast leads to low blood sugar later in the day — and that means no fuel for your brain cells. Talk about a recipe for poor focus. According to several studies, eating breakfast improves concentration, mood, learning, memory, and overall cognitive functioning. But watch what you put on your plate. Choose complex carbohydrates like fruit and whole grains, which trigger a slow, steady, attention-sustaining release of blood sugar.

How Your Doctor Will Diagnose Major Depression

An accurate diagnosis is the first step toward recovering from clinical depression.

Unlike health conditions marked by clear physical signs, major depression (also called clinical depression, major depressive disorder, or MDD) can be hard to diagnose. One reason is that the symptoms of major depression can look a lot like other health conditions — especially other types of depression or grief. Another reason is that many of the most important major depression symptoms have to do with how you feel emotionally, so a solid diagnosis depends on you sharing symptoms information clearly and openly with your doctor.

To diagnose major depression, your doctor will ask you several questions to help rule out other health conditions and pinpoint the type of depression you have. Your doctor may also conduct other medical and psychological tests to better understand what’s causing you to feel depressed. Here’s what to expect from a depression screening:

  • Questions about your symptoms. To be diagnosed with major depression, you must have certain symptoms for at least two weeks. Your symptoms must also be severe enough to interfere with normal activities, work, and your ability to take care of yourself. To make a major depression diagnosis, your doctor will ask you about your feelings, thoughts, and behavior.
  • A physical exam. A physical exam won’t tell your doctor whether you have major depression, but it will help your doctor assess your overall health and rule out obvious illnesses and injuries that may be related to your depression. A physical exam is likely to include a check of your height, weight, temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and abdomen.
  • Blood tests. Some health conditions, such as hypothyroidism (a slow thyroid) or kidney disease, can cause symptoms of depression, so your doctor may also want to do a blood test to check your hormones or complete blood cell count.

Many people don’t realize they have major depression, so some doctors include depression screening as a part of a regular office visit. Answering these two questions honestly if your doctor asks them can help you get the diagnosis and treatment you need:

  • In the past month, have you felt down, depressed, or hopeless?
  • In the past month, have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?

A “yes” response means you may need further depression screening.

Living with Major Depression

Major depression can take a toll on your life. Learn about your symptoms and your treatment options.

7 Ways Major Depression Impacts Your Life

Major depression (also known as clinical depression, depressive disorder, or MDD) doesn’t just affect you. It impacts your friends and family, and anyone close to you. It follows you to work and school. “Depression affects a person across the board,” says Rob Doyle, MD, clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and staff member at Massachusetts General Hospital. Left untreated, it’s an equal-opportunity destroyer, he adds. Until you recover from major depression, be aware of how it affects your life.

Alcohol and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is common among people with depression, says William Marchand, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah and author of Depression and Bipolar Disorder: Your Guide to Recovery (Bull Publishing Co.). People with depression may self-medicate to feel better. Sometimes addiction is the main disorder, and depression follows. “Drinking or taking illegal drugs may have a short-term effect of feeling better, but there is good evidence that it worsens depression,” Marchand says. A drink or two a day doesn’t mean you’re an alcoholic, but your doctor should assess this. To help you recover, your doctor needs to know if you need treatment for substance abuse, depression, or both. It’s important to tell your doctor if you drink or use drugs.

Problems at Work or School

Depression can cause sleep problems, making it hard to fall and stay asleep. If you don’t get enough ZZZs, you’ll think unclearly and feel sluggish the next day. Major depression causes lost productivity at work. “If you’ve got a boss keeping an eye on things in this tight economy, the first to be let go will be those perceived not to be pulling their weight,” Doyle says. If you arrive late or take too long on tasks, coworkers may notice. “They don’t know you’re functioning on 3 hours of sleep,” Doyle says. Resentments may form, affecting work relationships, and you could be pegged as lazy or disorganized. To make matters worse, “you may not even know you’re depressed and buy into the idea that you’re lazy,” Doyle says.

Depression and Loneliness

If you have major depression, the things you used to enjoy aren’t enjoyable anymore. Say you’re a huge Red Sox fan and the team is on a losing streak. Someone not suffering from depression will get over it, especially after a few wins. “But a depressed person doesn’t care either way,” Doyle says. “If you offered them free tickets, they’d say, ‘No, give them to someone else.'” There’s a general loss of interest in life. “The depressed person is just going through the motions, not engaged,” Doyle says. “They’d rather sit at home and isolate themselves in their room.”

Thoughts of Self-Harm

A person with depression may feel like there’s a dark cloud hanging over his or her head. “It can become quite painful,” Doyle says. Friends and family may become impatient, especially if it’s the kind of depression with a genetic component that gets triggered even when life is good and things are going your way. You may start to think life is too difficult or have thoughts of harming yourself. Discuss with your doctor a plan for what you will do if these thoughts occur. If you think you might hurt yourself, call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, go to the emergency room, call your healthcare provider, or call a designated family member.

Family Problems

“Depression almost always changes a person’s thinking,” Marchand says. It changes the way you act at home. You feel negative about yourself, and see the entire world through a negative lens. On top of this, work issues can lead to family problems, especially if there is job loss. Often, family members of people with depression don’t understand what’s going on. Statements such as, “What’s wrong with you?” or “Snap out of it!” only increase feelings of worthlessness and sadness. Learning about depression can help stave off comments like these. To promote understanding and support, it may be helpful for a family member or friend to go with you to some of your doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions.

Relationship Problems

When major depression sets in, your spouse or partner may wonder what he or she did wrong. “There’s a real set-up for misunderstandings and arguments,” Marchand says. Loss of sex drive can be frustrating for your spouse, adding fuel to the idea that you aren’t attracted to or don’t care about them anymore. Your partner may even blame his or herself for your behavior. Relationship problems only lead to more depression, and it becomes a vicious cycle. This is a good reason for your spouse to have an understanding of major depression and symptoms of depression, and to go with you to occasional doctor’s appointments or therapy sessions.

Depression and Anxiety

“Anxiety disorder is common with depression,” Marchand says. If you have it, it’s important to establish that upfront, since some antidepressants can initially worsen anxiety. Treatment for anxiety and major depression may include medications, psychotherapy, or both. For people with less severe symptoms, medication isn’t always necessary. Talking through feelings of sadness and anxiety with a skilled therapist is sometimes enough to alleviate the condition. “The brain changes in response to our experience,” Marchand says. A new experience changes your brain function. In this way, psychotherapy can help you find constructive ways of coping with the stress that brought on the depression or anxiety, and help you feel more like yourself again.

Top Ways to Get Your Energy Back — Now

February 21, 2010 12:00 AM by Mehmet C. Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD

You’re grumpy at the groundhog (who needed extra weeks of winter?) and a little short with your spouse, and you have been spending more time with the mac-and-cheese casserole than the treadmill. Winter can do that. But it doesn’t have to. Use these strategies to cuff the classic energy thieves that are still hanging around this time of year, and get your mojo back before spring hits:

Energy thief #1: Short, dark days.
What happens: Short days can cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — neurochemical changes in your brain due to lack of sunlight. This results in depression in up to 6% of Americans (the further north you go, the more likely you are to be a SAD sufferer). From late fall until spring, people with SAD become depressed, sleep too much, withdraw from friends, and battle low energy and relentless carb cravings.
Turn it around: Light therapy — sitting in front of a special box that shines ultra bright lights — has long been considered to be the best way to combat SAD. But a new University of Vermont study reveals that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be even better. CBT is a type of psychotherapy that helps people outsmart depression by teaching them to change their negative ways of thinking. In fact, in this study, CBT alone was able to stomp out SAD with a success rate of 81% (compared with 49% for CBT plus light therapy and 32% for light therapy alone). Why wouldn’t more therapies be better? Researchers surmise that trying to balance two therapies was just too confusing, but CBT alone allowed people to focus on the coping skills they needed to banish their winter blues.

Energy thief #2: You can’t get enough comfort.
What happens: When the mercury heads south, we crave calories, carbs (they help our brains make the calming neurotransmitter serotonin), and fat. In fact, a 2006 University of Massachusetts Medical School study found that once the days become shorter, we pack away an average of 86 extra calories a day and weigh more than at any other time of year. We also snarf down more total and artery-clogging saturated fat.
Turn it around: Just cozy up to good-for-you carbs and healthy omega-3 and omega-9 fats that will satisfy your biology and your brain without packing on a gratuitous layer of blubber.

Trade meatloaf and pot roast for hearty whole grains like whole-wheat pasta and brown rice, or try polenta, a veggie burger, or salmon. Or warm up with a satisfying bean-based vegetable chili or Tuscan white bean soup. Since beans and whole grains are digested slowly, they’ll keep you full longer, so you’ll eat less overall. And if it seems like there are slim pickings in the produce department, now is actually the prime time to load up on nutrient-packed starches, including sweet potatoes and winter squash (roast or bake them with a drizzle of olive oil). Finish your feast with seasonal winter fruit (think apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines, or even frozen berries) topped with a sprinkle of heart-healthy walnuts or almonds and you’ll get all the carbs and fats your body craves — but you’ll do it the healthy way.

Energy thief #3: You stay in. On the couch.
What happens: Your workout plan bites the dust. We log less exercise in winter than any other time of year, with a paltry 45% of Americans and 36% of Canadians keeping active. Pretty ironic, since exercise can lift you out of the winter doldrums by boosting energy, improving mood, and helping you sleep better.
Turn it around: Start with your schedule. Make regular exercise appointments on your calendar the same way you’d ink in any other non-negotiable activity. But give yourself a bit of a break: Don’t think exercise needs to be a hard-core trip to the gym. Taking the dog for an extra-long walk or doing crunches and lifting weights in front of the TV count, too. Still uninspired? Try the 10-minute rule. Make a deal with yourself to get moving for at least 10 minutes. Chances are, once you start, you’ll feel so much better that you’ll keep going.