There’s no doubt about it: Depression is a real problem. One in every 10 adults reports being depressed and 15 percent of the population will experience depression so severe that it will require treatment at least once in their lifetime.
Depression also continues to be one of the most misunderstood problems of our time with dozens of underlying causes – and yet a large part of the clinical research has only focused on the effects of decreased serotonin levels. Antidepressants are pharmaceuticals that artificially increase serotonin levels. But there are natural ways to boost serotonin that don't come with the debilitating side effects of antidepressants.
In severe cases of mental illness, drugs may be helpful. In most other cases, however, there are viable natural and safe alternatives. These are three of the most reliable (and surprising) natural treatments that I feel very good about recommended.
Just a few generations ago, the majority of the world’s population was involved in agriculture. This resulted in high levels of exposure to bright light, even in the winter months.
Even on cloudy days, outside light intensity can be greater than 1,000 lux (a measure of illumination). That’s a level that is rarely, if ever, achieved indoors! In fact, one study found that people working 30 hours a week averaged an exposure of 1,000 lux for only 30 minutes day in the winter and for just 90 minutes in the summer. Their daily summer light exposure was significantly less than what our ancestors received during the cloudy days of winter. From all indications, we are living in a bright light–deprived society.
Generations ago we lived as farmers and worked outside all day. Now we work in offices and shops, living in a world deprived of bright light. For some people, this can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder, or seasonal depression. Are you getting enough light?
Bright light exposure is important for treating depression—especially seasonal affective disorder—because it increases levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland (in response to light), blood platelets, the central nervous system, and the digestive tract.
Serotonin influences and helps regulate learning, sleep, constriction of blood vessels, appetite, and particularly our mood. It is often referred to as the “feel good” hormone. Many antidepressant medications are designed specifically to increase the levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin in the brain.
Gut bacteria and depression are linked through a very tangible connection—the enteric nervous system (ENS), also known as the “second brain” that controls and regulates our intestinal tract. The ENS is responsible for sending signals between from the brain to the gut—and it helps the gut report back to the brain as well.
About 40 different neurotransmitters that can be found in the brain are also found in the intestinal tract, including 95 percent of all the serotonin found in the body! It has been well established, however, that the nerve signals from the gut to the brain, passing along the vagus nerve, do affect our mood. Stimulating the vagus nerve has been shown to be an affective treatment for depression.
If you have problems with depression, it’s imperative that you re-establish and maintain the proper bacterial flora in your gastrointestinal tract. Taking the right probiotic and eating live fermented foods are just two ways you can encourage beneficial bacteria to flourish in the bowel.
Sceletium tortuosum, a type of succulent plant found in dry regions of South Africa, has been used for centuries by the native San Bushmen people to help increase their energy, elevate their mood, and reduce hunger, thirst, and the effects of stress.
Historically the San have chewed or smoked the plant, but researchers have recently found a way to produce a powdered extraction referred to as Zembrin. I’ve been testing Zembrin for about a year now, and it’s one of the few natural products I’ve seen that produces consistent and noticeable results in almost everyone tested. To say I’m impressed would be an understatement.
Zembrin’s mode of action is still being analyzed and studied, but like many prescription antidepressants, it appears to improve serotonin levels. And studies have shown that Zembrin can help in the management of everyday stress and, at the same time, improve cognitive function.
Unlike commercial antidepressants, Zembrin doesn’t cause dangerous side effects. In fact, safety studies have never found any evidence of toxicity, nor have any users reported any adverse events or side effects.
Prescription drugs are typically extremely pure chemicals, but Zembrin, being a natural extract, contains hundreds of different, synergistic components. Like other plant-based remedies, this probably accounts for its lack of side effects.
Preliminary double-blind studies have shown that as little as 25 mg a day of Zembrin can trigger a profound improvement in one’s mood accompanied by a significant enhancement in cognitive ability. As additional research is carried out, it will be interesting to see if it also reduces hunger, as has been repeatedly reported by the San Bushmen. I suspect that will be the case since one of the effects of increased serotonin is that it promotes satiety (the feeling of fullness), which can result in eating less and ultimately, weight loss.
Zembrin offers another very effective and safe way to counter the effects of stress and depression. I highly recommend trying it if you’re dealing with these problems.
In fact, there are dozens of good natural alternatives to prescription drugs. A few others to consider include, aerobic exercise for 30 minutes; supplementing with di-methyl glycine (DMG), low doses of the trace mineral lithium, fish oil and other essential fatty acids, melatonin, tryptophan, niacinamide; eliminating food allergies; removing liver congestion; bringing down excess copper levels, trying the herb St. John’s Wort; and balancing blood sugar fluctuations and hormonal function
J Psychiatr Res 08;42(4):311–319
Br J Psychiatry 06;189:282–283