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 Integrative Medicine: Many Paths to Healing to Depression 

(For a complete list of therapies covered in this book see Appendix B: "Quick Reference to Therapies" in Natural Healing for Depression.)

Many Perspectives on the Causes of Depression
There are many underlying causes of depression beyond the conventional biomedical perspective that focuses solely on imbalances in brain chemistry. We now know that numerous biochemical and physiological factors can induce depression. Many physical illnesses can be the cause and, conversely, depression can lead to physical illnesses. Depression may be caused by emotional, psychological factors or life's circumstances. On an energetic level depression can be viewed as an imbalance of vital energy, and on a spiritual level it can be seen as stemming from spiritual disconnection or lack of soul awareness.

From an overall systems perspective, depression can be viewed as a "warning sign" that the body-mind is off-course in some manner--whether it be biochemical, physiological, psychological, energetic or spiritual--and is signaling that there is a need to make some change in your life.

Psychological/Emotional Causes of Depression
Depression often has emotional or psychological roots in the experience of loss, which may involve the loss of a loved one, a job, a change of circumstances, or divorce. Depression that accompanies the grieving process following a significant loss is a natural phenomenon that we all experience at one time or another in our lives. In many cases, depression can run its course without professional intervention, and in these cases it is not appropriate to "medicalize," the experience and classify it as "mental illness." On the other hand, more severe and enduring forms of emotional and psychological depression due to preocuppation with a loss, long-term disappointments in life, or chronic pain and physical trauma may require psychological intervention or counseling to help guide one through the often dark and difficult process of emotional healing.

Biochemical/Physiological Causes of Depression
Contrary to conventional wisdom, there are numerous biochemical and physiological factors that can induce depression. These elements include diet, stress, sleep, exercise, environmental toxins, nutritional deficiencies, or hormonal imbalances. Similarly, depression may be a symptom of other underlying health conditions such as candidiasis, hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, or hormonal imbalance. Cases of chronic, psychologically-based depression may eventually result in altered biochemistry, which in turn, may reinforce depression as a psychological state, making it even more difficult to alleviate. In these cases, it may be beneficial to deal with the biochemical factors while simultaneously addressing the psychological level. The contributing health professionals in this book will cover the following underlying factors that can cause or contribute to depression:

  • Alcoholism: Depletes levels of many essential nutrients and amino acids which are necessary for proper brain physiology.
  • Candidiasis: Chronic overgrowth of yeast in the gut
  • Chronic pain: The experience of ongoing physical or emotional pain
  • Dietary Imbalances: Excess sugar and caffeine consumption
  • Environmental factors: Toxic reactions to neurotoxins such as solvents and heavy metals--aluminum, cadmium and lead.
  • Food and chemical sensitivities: Allergies to foods such as dairy and wheat as well as to chemicals such as aspartame
  • Hormonal imbalance: When the endocrine glands (thyroid, ovaries, testes, pituitary, and adrenal) are under stress or not functioning properly, hormone levels may fluctuate and profoundly effect mood.
  • Hypoglycemia: This condition of low blood sugar can lead to chronic mood swings and depression.
  • Hypothyroidism: Low levels of thyroid hormone can lead to exhaustion and depression.
  • Infectious Diseases: Such as strep throat, especially in children, affects the auto immune system
  • Intestinal parasites: Symptoms of parasitic infection include brain fog, depression and feelings of doom.
  • Lack of exercise: Non-exercisers are three times more likely to have depression as exercisers.
  • Leaky Gut Syndrome: Caused by candidiasis and intestinal parasites can lead to allergic reactions, poor absorption of food, and malnourishment.
  • Lifestyle: High stress levels, smoking and lack of exercise can lead to depression.
  • Low levels of neurotransmitters: Low levels of serotonin and nor epinephrine
  • Malabsorption: Inability to properly absorb nutrients due to deficiency in stomach HCL, pancreatic enzymes or bile acids.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Deficiencies in vitamin B Complex, vitamin C, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium
  • Pharmaceutical Drugs: Anti-psychotics, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, cholinergics, corticosteroids, estrogens (including contraceptives, levodopa, reserpine.
  • PMS/Menopause: Often accompanied by mood swings, anxiety and depression.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Caused by lack of exposure to sunlight.

    Energetic Basis of Depression: According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) illness results from an energetic imbalance of qi or life force in the body's meridians and internal organs. TCM views depression as resulting from a blockage or stagnation of emotional qi. Similarly, the Chinese system of energy training known as qigong and the Indian system of yoga, both recognize the link between the mind and life force (qi or prana), while utilizing breathing and awareness practices to help regulate the flow of life energy in the body/mind.

    Spiritual Basis of Depression: According to the "perennial philosophy" found in the world's great spiritual traditions, we have essentially forgotten who we are--our true nature and divine heritage--and feel disconnected from our spiritual source. This disconnectedness or separation is viewed as the primary source of unhappiness. Many sacred traditions view mental illness and conditions such as depression not as a disease of the mind, but as a lack of connection to and awareness of soul. It is when we lose touch with our essential spiritual nature, and forget our true purpose in life that we become subject to depression and other illnesses.

    Is Depression Preventable?

    "The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease."

                                                                                                         Thomas Edison

    When looking at the many faces of depression, the logical question arises: is depression preventable? In many cases the answer is, "yes" if we can learn to minimize or avoid the previously mentioned causes by living a balanced, wellness-based lifestyle, and maintaining a healthy psychological and spiritual perspective. Until recently, however, prevention has been a hard sell in America, as our system of health care has actually been a "sickcare" system focused on treating disease, not in preventing illness and maintaining health. In this book, each of the health traditions discussed by our team of health experts offer secrets to not just treating, but preventing depression through a healthy lifestyle and having tools and resources at hand to help deal with depression at its onset.

    What Do the World's Systems of Traditional Health Care Offer?
    Throughout history, the world's great systems of traditional medicine have provided a more balanced approach to health care, echoed in the World Health Organization's classic definition of health:

    "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being,
    and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

    The World Health Organization (WHO) uses the term "traditional medicine" to describe established systems of health care worldwide considered "unconventional" by modern, standardized western medicine. Most people are surprised to learn that according to the WHO, 80% of the world's population receives their health care from the various forms of traditional medicine considered to be "alternative" or "unconventional" in the U.S. These systems include Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, unani (Graeco-Arab medicine), native American medicine, traditional African medicine, naturopathic medicine, homeopathy, chiropractic and osteopathy, among others.

    The maintenance of health and the prevention of disease form the basis of Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, naturopathic medicine and other forms of traditional health care. The therapeutic protocols in these systems are intended to restore balance to the body systems in order to reestablish health. Samuel Hahnemann, the late 18th/early 19th century founder of homeopathy wrote volumes on hygiene, health maintenance, mental health, as well as the prevention of disease. These systems all understood the connection between diet and mental health, the influence of lifestyle factors, the strong connection of mind and body, and finally the importance of the spiritual dimension in physical and mental health.

    Yoga and qigong are psychospiritual practices aimed at integrating body, mind and spirit. Meditation, now regularly prescribed by many physicians, is one of the eight limbs of classical yoga. In fact, the basis of much of today's mind/body medicine, including guided imagery, biofeedback and other relaxation techniques, have strong ties to the practices of yoga and meditation.

    The following poetic passage written thousands of years ago in the Yoga Vasistha, a Sanskrit text of yoga and spiritual philosophy, demonstrates a profound and time-less understanding of how illness can originate in the mind--an understanding that is now weaving itself into the fabric of today's medicine:

    "When the mind is agitated, then the body also follows in its wake. And when the body is agitated, then there is no proper perception of the things that are in one's way and prana (vital force) flies from its even path onto the bad road, staggering like an animal wounded by an arrow. Through such agitation's, prana, instead of pervading the whole body steadily and equally, vibrates everywhere at an unequal rate. Therefore, the nadis (subtle channels for circulation of prana) do not maintain a steady position, but quiver. Then to the body, which is the receptacle of partially or completely digested food, the nadis are simply death, because of the fluctuations of the pranas. The food which settles down in this body amidst such commotion is transformed into incurable diseases. Thus through the primary cause (of the mind) the disease of the body is generated. If this primary cause be annihilated at its root, then all diseases will be destroyed."4

    The formation of a truly global medicine in the spirit of the World Health Organization's vision of integrating modern western medicine with the world's traditional medicines, is more and more becoming a reality. This process involves a revitalization of medicine, inspiring the evolution of even greater numbers of safe and effective forms of naturally-based approaches to health care, side by side with the cutting edge developments in the field of mind/body medicine and energy medicine.

    Alternative, Complementary or Integrative Medicine? What's in a Name?
    Alternative medicine is a relative term that refers in large part to the systems of traditional medicine that until recently were considered to be outside of the mainstream of western medicine. Today, courses on many of these systems are now being taught in over fifty U.S. medical schools, including Chinese medicine, acupuncture and qigong, Ayurveda, herbal medicine, mind/body medicine, nutritional medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy and chiropractic. There is a growing number of traditional patient-care organizations who now offer alternative medicine services in their clinics as well as insurance reimbursements.

    Many in conventional medical circles, however, still refer to "alternative" as unproven therapies which purport to replace or act as alternatives to conventional medical treatment. The issue as to what constitutes proof, conventional double-blind studies as opposed to hundreds or even thousands of years of favorable or successful outcomes, remains a contentious issue in conventional medicine.

  • (Excerpted from Natural Healing for Depression:
    Solutions from the World's Great Health Traditions and Practitioners ISBN: 0399525378)
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