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People who don’t want to take medication or are uncomfortable with counseling often choose alternative treatments for depression. However, there is little scientific evidence to prove that such treatments and therapies are effective in managing the symptoms of depression. Additionally, some may even pose risks. For example, certain supplements may cause adverse side effects or interact with other medications you may be taking.
Most alternative treatments like massage, yoga, and meditation are regarded as quite safe. Yet, you should always consult your doctor before commencing any kind of alternative treatments for your depression.
Exercise may not be the first thing your doctor suggests when you are diagnosed with depression. A study from Duke University found that just 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise three days a week can have a significant impact on depression. The study showed exercise to be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression.
Some people would rather use relaxation techniques to treat depression symptoms. However, a Cochrane Review of 15 clinical trials showed that relaxation techniques are not as effective as psychotherapy. However, these therapies are still superior to no treatment at all.
Relaxation techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, relaxation imagery, and autogenic training, a technique purported to enable deep relaxation to reduce stress.
Meditation is a form of relaxation in which people try to clear their minds by focusing on their breathing or repeating a word or phrase. The word or phrase is known as a mantra. Some studies suggest that daily meditation can help alleviate stress, anxiety, and some symptoms of depression.
Yoga is an exercise that works mind and body. Yoga moves people through a series of poses that help improve balance, flexibility, strength, and focus. The ancient practice of yoga is thought to help align the spine, improve mental clarity, and rejuvenate the nervous system. It also may help reduce stress and promote relaxation. A few small studies have shown that yoga has potential as a treatment for anxiety and depression, but larger and deeper studies are still needed.
Guided imagery uses the power of positive thinking to help people reach a specific goal. It is a form of meditation which uses visualization, words, or music to create positive images in the mind. These images help create a calm, peaceful state of mind. A few small studies have shown that guided imagery could be an effective treatment for patients with depressive disorders.
Music therapy has been used to help improve depressed moods. Sometimes it involves listening to music that induces relaxation and a positive mood. Other forms use singing for therapy. Playing an instrument can produce a similar affect.
In Europe, St. John’s Wort is a popular herbal treatment for depression. U.S. physicians are more divided about its usefulness. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), St. John’s Wort does not appear to be effective in treating major depression, though it may benefit people with mild to moderate forms. It may have serious interactions with other medications, herbs, and supplements, so always consult your doctor before taking it.
SAM-e is a chemical that occurs naturally in your body. In a 2002 study, NCAAM found that SAM-e supplements may be more effective than a placebo but less effective than standard depression treatments. But more studies are needed. Because SAM-e may cause mood swings and mania, people who have bipolar disorder should not take the supplements. Other side effects may include nausea, headache, anxiety, and diarrhea. Consult your physician before taking SAM-e.
5-HTP is a dietary supplement that increases the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical associated with mood, sleep, and appetite. Some studies suggest 5-HTP may be effective in treating depression, but if taken at high doses or for long periods, 5-HTP can be dangerous. As the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplements they are not tested for purity. Contaminants have caused some 5-HTP users to develop a sometimes-fatal blood condition called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). More studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of 5-HTP. Do not use the supplement without your doctor’s supervision.
Kava is a root from the kava plant. It is used to make a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties. It is most commonly seen as an ingredient in relaxing teas. But in areas of the South Pacific, kava is used for stress relief, improved mood, and other calming effects. It has been likened to benzodiazepines for its relaxing effects.
Studies have shown kava is effective in treating tension and anxiety. These effects may help ease depression symptoms. However, there is a limited amount of research on kava. The long-term effects are still unknown.
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed on: Jun 24, 2014: Brenda B. Spriggs, MD
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