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 Integrative Medicine: Many Paths to Healing to Depression 

"It's supposed to be a professional secret, but I'll tell you anyway. We doctors do nothing. We only help and encourage the doctor within."

                                                                             Albert Schweitzer

There is no shortage today of media stories on depression. Newspaper headlines from this year cover a wide range of issues surrounding depression: "Herb is Found to Aid Mild Depression," "Researchers Probe Heart Disease-Depression Link," "Millions of American Teenagers Suffer from Depression," "A Hidden Epidemic of Male Depression," "Feeling Blue? Check your Thyroid," "Medicating Kids: A Pacifier for Depression," and of course, "Prozac Keeps Drug maker Feeling Good After 10 Years." Why this sudden fascination with depression? Is it because depression is rapidly becoming recognized as the one of the biggest health problems facing our society, not only affecting adults, but teens and children?

This current climate is a far cry from the amount of public interest and media coverage of depression just four years ago in 1994 when we produced a conference called "Healing Depression" in Santa Monica, California that inspired this book. At that time, depression was still a taboo subject socially, a frightening and mysterious condition that was treated medically with powerful psychotropic antidepressants which had disturbing side effects. The controversial antidepressant drug, Prozac, had been on the market for several years and was just penetrating the public consciousness and beginning to make headlines. There was little or no interest in, nor knowledge of natural alternatives to treating depression.

Today, thanks to the barrage of media stories and a number of well known public figures who have disclosed their battles with depression, including television journalist Mike Wallace, actor Rod Steiger and novelist William Styron, much of the social stigma surrounding depression has been removed. Discussion of depression in our culture has become more commonplace, and it can now be mentioned in the same breath as being "anxious" or "stressed out." Concurrently, there is an increasing public interest in natural approaches to dealing with this health condition. Even conventional medical doctors who have historically been known to only prescribe antidepressants, are now responding to the public demand and are beginning to recommend natural remedies like St. John's wort for mild to moderate depression.

A National Health Problem
One in four Americans will experience some degree of clinical depression or mood disorder during their lifetime, and each year over twenty- five million people will be diagnosed with a depressive illness. Two-thirds of those suffering from depression are women. However, the recent focus upon a "silent epidemic" of depression among men indicates that these figures are in need of adjustment.1

All told, it is estimated that depression will cost our economy more than forty-four billion dollars, and an annual loss of two hundred million work hours. These numbers may be deceiving, however, given people's reticence in the past to talk to their physician about depression. Today over 17 million people, including teens and children, are currently on Prozac, the second most commonly prescribed drug in America. Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, the maker of Prozac, is now engaged in a major media campaign to raise public awareness about depression and Prozac. With the rising tide of awareness of depression, many who would have never considered themselves depressed will be taking Prozac, or some other antidote, pushing the statistics even higher.

And it appears we are bringing our children along for the ride. It is estimated that close to 13% of teenagers and approximately 3% of children under thirteen suffer from depression according to the Center for Mental Health Services. Until recently, no one has wanted to recognize that teens and children suffer from depression. To make matters more difficult, childhood depression is hard to identify and diagnose because it is so easily confused with other health conditions, and because children lack the verbal skills to explain what they are experiencing. As a result they act out their depression in the only way they know how--what we commonly describe as moodiness irritability, anger and even rage.

Are we becoming a "Prozac nation?" Prozac, despite its ability to transform personality, appears to be a short-term solution to a long-term problem. FDA statistics reveal unsettling reports of adverse side-effects ranging from loss of sexual appetite to suicide and death. These serious shortcomings, the rising incidence of depression, and the growing popularity of natural health care, clearly demonstrates the need for safe and reliable drug-free treatments. It is no surprise then that the antidepressant herb St. John's wort, despite having been successfully used for centuries, was barely on the radar screen in the United States four years ago, but is now the number four-selling herb in the U.S. and is outselling Prozac in Germany.

Where Does the Answer Lie?
We have spoken with an endless succession of people whose psychiatrist or psychologist reflexively prescribed antidepressant medication for their depression as the only available option. Modern medicine, with its focus on treating disease with a single "standard of practice" has created a serious situation for those being treated for depression in the class of psychotropic antidepressant drugs. Many complain they have been on a treatment merry-go-round for years, going from one antidepressant to another, and are still seeking help. They report that they have had some relief but at the cost of unpleasant and grave side-effects. Others, however, have received virtually little or no relief, or have actually gotten worse, and are becoming increasingly desperate.

Two things are clear. The human suffering resulting from depression is real and impacts every aspect of one's life--family, work, and relationships. Secondly, depression is not an illness that can be reduced to a single cause or a single cure, as demonstrated by the problems associated with the succession of antidepressant drugs produced over the years. There are no magic bullets for depression.

Where then does the answer lie to relieving the toll of human suffering brought on by depression? We have discovered that there are many answers to solving this complex malady. The key is in understanding the many underlying causes of depression, and becoming aware of the variety of natural approaches to its treatment.

Many of the solutions come from the world's great systems of traditional health care. Some have ancient roots such as herbal medicine, the oldest form of health care on the planet, and the Greek medicine of Hippocrates. Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, both of which have both been practiced continuously for five thousand years, can rightly be called the original systems of holistic medicine.

Other systems of traditional health care have more modern origins, such as homeopathy and naturopathic medicine, each of which originated in early- to mid-19th century Germany before taking root in the U.S. After having fallen into obscurity for most of the 20th century due to the advent of miracle drugs, both are now enjoying a major renaissance.

What all of these systems of traditional health care have in common is a focus on health maintenance, prevention, treating the whole person, reliance on natural therapies, and taking a more integrative, multi-disciplinary approach to treatment in order to restore health and internal balance. These systems also share another commonality--for most of this century, each has remained outside the accepted standards of conventional Western medicine, but are now becoming increasingly in demand by people like yourself in search of solutions to their health problems.

In order to prevent illness and achieve optimum level of personal health, it is important to be familiar with the tools that can help build a wellness-based lifestyle, and become aware of all of your treatment options. The approaches in this book represent the collective wisdom of thousands of years of the great healing traditions as well as the best of the emerging field of integrative medicine--nutrition, healthy lifestyles, mind/body therapies, and spiritual practices.

We have brought together a team of nine leading experts from each of these fields to present, for the first time, a comprehensive and integrated picture of depression, including an understanding of its many causes, prevention and time-tested natural approaches to its treatment. This team of health professionals will provide an in-depth understanding of the following primary systems of natural medicine:

  • Ayurveda: The traditional system of medicine in India, the practice of Ayurveda extends to 3500 BC. The term Ayurveda means "Science of Life," and it has a long history working with rejuvenation, longevity, and mental health through diet, lifestyle, herbs, massage, yoga, and meditation.
  • Chinese Medicine: Practiced for over 5,000 years, Chinese medicine includes the use of herbs, acupuncture, dietary therapy, massage, lifestyle as well as qigong, a system that uses movement, energy and breath. This medicine is based on balancing the flow of qi or life force through the body's meridian system or energy pathways.
  • Herbal medicine: The therapeutic use of herbs to alter physiology and mental/ emotional states. Both western and Chinese herbs are explored here in the treatment of depression, and an emphasis on St. John's wort as the most highly researched and publicized herb for treating depression today.
  • Homeopathy: Homeopathic remedies are designed to stimulate the body's own natural powers of recovery to aid in overcoming the disease rather than simply suppressing symptoms. Homeopathy aims to treat the patient rather than the disease and has effective treatments for mental/emotional disorders.
  • Mind/Body Medicine: The use of stress-reduction techniques, guided imagery, biofeedback, meditation and other modalities to achieve higher levels of mind/body integration, greater capacities for self-regulation and inner peace in order to better control anxiety and mood swings.
  • Naturopathic Medicine: A comprehensive and natural approach to medicine which looks at all of the factors needed to help move a person towards health. This medicine looks to understand the underlying causes of illness, and then addresses these causes with natural therapies such as diet, lifestyle, herbs, homeopathy, nutritional supplements, hydrotherapy and acupuncture.
  • Nutritional Medicine: This approach involves the use of diet and nutritional supplements to correct nutritional deficiencies that may contribute to biochemical imbalances in the brain resulting in depression. Nutritional medicine also utilizes nutrients in higher, pharmacological doses in order to push biochemical reactions in the desired direction to bring about a return to balance and health..
  • Qigong: The Chinese art and science of gathering, circulating and storing body/mind energy (qi) through breath and energy work. These are techniques that involve movements and visualizations while standing, sitting and moving.
  • Spiritual Medicine: An emerging field that explores the spiritual dimension of health and psychology, utilizing psychospiritual disciplines such as meditation, yoga, breathwork, self-inquiry and other spiritual disciplines. In the more ancient systems of traditional health care, the spiritual dimension of health was an integral part of a comprehensive, holistic approach to health and well-being.
  • Yoga: A spiritual discipline practiced in India for many thousands of years, employing diet, lifestyle, relaxation, physical postures, breathing practices, meditation, and awareness to promote physical, mental, and spiritual health.
  • (Excerpted from Natural Healing for Depression:
    Solutions from the World's Great Health Traditions and Practitioners ISBN: 0399525378)
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    James Strohecker James Strohecker, HealthWorld Online's President and co-founder, brings a deep, personal commitment to's vision and mission as well as to the success and growth of the company. An e-health pioneer and......more
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