So what is the solution? Many effective answers to depression can be found in readily available natural substances.
St. John's Wort to the Rescue
Some of the most potent therapeutic agents are herbs. Actually concentrated foods, herbs supply our bodies with essential nourishment not found in our usual diets. They promote balance by supporting the body's basic functions, helping it to regulate and heal itself. Unlike the sledgehammer approach taken by many modern drugs, herbs work to fine-tune the body into the precision instrument that it can be.
In the treatment of various types of depression, one herb stands above all the rest: St. John's wort. I have had many opportunities to see the effects of this remarkable plant. Cindy is a good example.
A 35-year-old secretary and mother of two, Cindy had been depressed on and off for years, her intermittent attempts at psychotherapy providing only temporary relief. Her family doctor, surmising correctly that there might be a biochemical component to her depression, referred her to a psychiatrist, who prescribed Prozac.
Despite some misgivings about being dependent on a drug, Cindy accepted the recommendation out of desperation. After a few weeks, the medication began to work. Her energy level increased, and she felt better about life and herself for the first time in years. She experienced renewed interest in her husband and children. Even her job, which she had come to resent, became more enjoyable, more of a positive challenge than a burden. However, after another couple of weeks, she began to notice some troubling symptoms.
During her deepest depression, Cindy had lost all interest in sex. As she began to feel better, she expected her libido to increase as well. Instead, it declined even more. Even when she did have sex, she was unable to reach an orgasm. Both sexual problems are common side effects of Prozac and drugs of that type. In addition, she felt irritable and had trouble both falling and staying asleep. Despite her exhaustion and need for sleep, she began to dread bedtime, for more reasons than one. It didn't seem fair that she was paying so high a price for her positive change in mood!
Cindy felt betrayed, angry at herself and the world in general. While her husband, Phil, had been very supportive during her days of darkness, he was now losing his patience. He took her lack of sexual interest personally, not understanding that it wasn't her fault. She stopped taking Prozac to see if that would help, but after a few weeks, the depression began to return. Cindy's doctor offered to prescribe a different medication, but she was afraid that she would just have other problems. Fortunately, a sympathetic coworker, Joan, noticed Cindy's mood swings. Joan told Cindy about her own success with a more natural approach to psychiatry.
Cindy sat across from me relating her story. Though she was an attractive, well-dressed woman, with stylishly cut black hair and large brown eyes, there was something missing. The lack of shine in her downcast eyes, the drooping corners of her mouth, and her discouraged tone gave her away. "Doctor, I've had it. My psychiatrist wanted me to try another drug, but I just can't go through that again."
Cindy's initially promising response to Prozac confirmed that her brain chemistry was indeed out of balance. She had stopped taking Prozac six weeks earlier. But instead of giving her a synthetic chemical, I prescribed St. John's wort. I told her to take three 300-milligram capsules of the dried herb daily. A little doubtful, she asked, "How can an herb that's available without a prescription be as strong as a drug and not have side effects, either?" I explained that unlike drugs, which harshly manipulate the body's chemistry, St. John's wort works with the body to gently improve mood. Somewhat reassured, she looked up at me with a hint of her former spirit. "I know you helped Joan, so I'm willing to give it a try."