Have you tried any of these natural ways to combat depression?

St. John's Wort capsulesOctober 11 is National Depression Screening Day. If you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed or have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning because you don’t want to face the world it’s time to evaluate your emotional health. You can take an anonymous screening online here: Select a state to find a screening.

If you are suicidal please call the national suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.  The Lifeline provides 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.


If you have mild to moderate depression, there are a number of proven natural supplements and modalities that can help.

While I cared for my husband who had younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, I lived behind a persona of forced cheerfulness because I didn’t want anyone to know that my private world was being deconstructed bit by bit. I went through bouts of depression and grieving periods. I took the supplement St. John’s wort, danced and meditated. I met with girlfriends and did yoga. I also used essential oils and tried to eat well. It all helped.

I gave St John’s wort to my husband, too, until he was in late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. By then he needed a pharmaceutical anti-depressant. But the St. John’s wort worked well for mild to moderate depression.

  1. Here’s what we know about St. John’s wort
  • It is a safe and effective way to treat mild to moderate depression over long periods of time
  • Is similarly effective as standard antidepressants
  • It has minimal side effects when compared to standard antidepressants

One study done on laboratory animals found that St, John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) has antidepressant properties similar to standard antidepressants. The antidepressant profile of H. perforatum is closely related to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors class of antidepressants.

A Swiss study evaluated 440 patients suffering from mild to moderate depression and treated them with 500 mg. of St. John’s wort for up to one year. Although mild side effects such as upset stomach were reported—which may or may NOT have been related to the treatment—the researchers reported that is a safe and effective way to treat mild to moderate depression over long periods of time. They also found that it is especially suitable for preventing a relapse.

A meta-analysis at the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research, Technische Universitaet Muenchen, Munich, Germany analyzed 29 trials (which included 5,489 patients), comparing St. John’s wort with placebo or standard antidepressants. The evidence suggests that the hypericum extracts tested in the included trials a) are superior to placebo in patients with major depression; b) are similarly effective as standard antidepressants; c) and have fewer side effects than standard antidepressants.

2. Support serotonin levels. Omega 3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. Your brain is 60% fat and depends on the fat you ingest from food. Healthy fats found in cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and in olive oil, walnuts, flax and avocado will improve your mood. It is important to cook with a healthy fat such as olive oil, walnut or avocado in order to feed your brain! Canola oil, peanut oil, and safflower are not able to provide you with the fat your brain needs.

As a nutrition educator, I also like to recommend foods that increase the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin. Whole grains, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, support your brain’s ability to process more serotonin.

3. Drink water. Your brain needs to stay hydrated. Make sure you drink at least six tall glasses of water every day. When my mom went into the hospital for severe dehydration, among other things, she began hallucinating. A psychiatrist called to tell me “your mom has full-blown dementia.” I said, “No she doesn’t,”  and refused to allow the doctor to prescribe an anti-psychotic prescription. Sure enough, several days later my mom sounded completely normal. Her body had been dehydrated, as well as her brain. The simple habit of drinking water is sometimes all we need to maintain mood and mental health.

4. The Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments published a report in the “Canadian Journal of Psychiatry” in 2016 with this conclusion: For the management of mild to moderate depression it says exercise, light therapy, St. John’s wort, omega-3 fatty acids, SAM-e, and yoga are recommended as first- or second-line treatments.

5. A recently published study in the “Journal of Clinical Medicine” concluded that individuals who engaged in a meditative movement practice of Tai Chi, Qigong, or Yoga showed significantly improved treatment remission rates. The researchers conclude that emphasizing the therapeutic effects of meditative movements for treating MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) is critical because it may provide a useful alternative to existing mainstream treatments (drug therapy and psychotherapy) for MDD. Given the fact that meditative movements are safe and easily accessible, clinicians may consider recommending meditative movements for symptomatic management in this population.

6. Music is the universal language as well as one of the most common ways to affect mood.  My husband was never without head phones as he listened to music and wandered through the halls of the memory care home where he lived the last two years of his life. Music made him happy. It makes toddlers spin until they’re dizzy, teens hand bang until their necks get sore, and adults drum their car’s steering wheel. Music also helps decrease anxiety and improves functioning of depressed individuals as found in a meta-analysis that concluded music therapy provides short-term beneficial effects for people with depression. 

Other natural ways to combat depression

7. Create a calm environment. Light candles at dinner, play classical music, have a vase of fresh flowers on the table.

8. Get some physical exercise every day; even just a 20 minute walk helps tremendously.

9. Use aromatherapy oils. For more information about the use of aromatherapy to reduce stress, improve immunity, reduce agitation, and to promote relaxation read chapter 18 “Aromatherapy” in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn

10. Vitamin B complex optimizes cognitive activity and brain function, has a positive effect on memory, learning capacity and attention span, and supports a healthy nervous system and a stable mood. Vitamins B6 and B12, in particular, play a role in the synthesis of serotonin, the neurotransmitter linked to improving memory, lifting mood and regulating sleep.

11. Maintain your social connections. Loneliness can actually lead to health problems and mental decline. Join a group—any kind of group: worship,  hiking, scrabble, table tennis, knitting, discussion group or book club. Volunteer at a food bank, soup kitchen or animal shelter. It’s important to stay connected and to feel as though you are a contributing member of society.

12. Sleep well by getting to bed before 11:00 pm, eating your last meal before 8pm, turning off your electronic devices, and eliminating light in your bedroom. If you have trouble sleeping consider using a lavender essential oil spray on your pillow or a sachet of lavender inserted into the pillowcase. There are lots of natural sleep aids available at your local health food store, such as melatonin, calcium/magnesium, valerian, hops, etc. Consult with a nutritional consultant about what might work best for you.

“Surround yourself with people who are only going to lift you higher.” anonymous


 

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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

What does marijuana do for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients?

Medical marijuana from the DoctorMy husband passed away eight years ago from younger-onset Alzheimer’s.  Recreational marijuana is now legal in Colorado, but before medical marijuana was legal I’d find a way to obtain it for him to smoke or eat in cookies and brownies. It calmed him down and made him happy. It reduced his anxiety, but it definitely did not help his memory. And that’s not what I was looking for. I just wanted him to feel calmer, and in so doing, it helped me feel more at ease. (Please read Is it a good idea for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients to use marijuana?)

I am not a scientist, but having interpreted studies for the nutritional supplement industry for several decades I can say that it’s possible to find a pro and con study for almost any drug, nutraceutical, herb, vitamin or mineral. Every person is unique, every situation is unique and every environmental factor will influence the outcome of a scientific study in some way. This fact is especially interesting: Because of the federal restrictions, researchers’ only legal source of cannabis for study is a Mississippi farm. But the marijuana plants there are not necessarily identical to those that people get at the dispensary or on the street. Just another indication that studies don’t always demonstrate accurate findings.

Marijuana studies vary in quality and the conclusions are frequently conflicting, according to experts on the issue. What we do know is that marijuana contains hundreds of chemical compounds, the most powerful of which are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD. THC produces the psychoactive effects — the marijuana high. CBD has a role in pain control and also moderates the effect of THC. But many strains of marijuana in use today have high concentrations of THC and little CBD to balance it. The long-term effects of this shift are unknown.

Here are some recent studies showing the effects of marijuana use on cognition, dementia and heart health.

  1. It’s a known fact that high beta-amyloid—the culprit in Alzheimer’s disease—triggers inflammation and nerve cell death. This leads to memory loss and cognitive deficits. A study published in the journal Aging and Mechanisms of Disease (Amyloid proteotoxicity initiates an inflammatory response blocked by cannabinoids) found that the compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) reduced beta-amyloid levels and eradicated the inflammatory response to beta-amyloid, preventing nerve cellular death. While clinical trials are needed to confirm the role THC might play in protecting nerve cells against beta-amyloid, the researchers believe their findings shed more light on the role beta-amyloid plays in Alzheimer’s disease, which could pave the way for new treatments.
  2. Another study examined mice with induced symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The laboratory animals were given a combination of THC and CBD.  The animals displayed improved learning and had less evidence of amyloid clumps in their bodies. Other researchers believe that targeting the CB2 receptor could control the activity of microglia, (a type of cell located throughout the brain and spinal cord) preventing the potentially harmful overactivation of the immune system in the brain.
  3. A Harvard study indicates that medical marijuana has a positive impact on executive functioning in adults. The study points out that medical marijuana products themselves may protect against the executive function deficits that affect most recreational marijuana users because of the inherent differences between medical and recreational products. Medical products are usually low in THC, the primary psychoactive constituent of the plant, and high in other cannabinoids, including CBD. CBD is a non-psychoactive component touted for its therapeutic potential, which may also mitigate some of the negative effects of THC. On self-report questionnaires, patients also indicated moderate improvements in quality of sleep and depression. Obviously, individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s are not  making important decisions, but this study shows how cannabis can help with sleep and mood.
  4. Research presented in March 2017 at the American College of Cardiology’s 66th Annual Scientific Session showed that using marijuana raises the vascular risks of stroke and heart failure, both major risk factors leading to vascular dementia. Research in cell cultures shows that heart muscle cells have cannabis receptors relevant to contractility, or squeezing ability, suggesting that those receptors might be one mechanism through which marijuana use could affect the cardiovascular system. The study drew data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, which includes the health records of patients admitted at more than 1,000 hospitals comprising about 20 percent of U.S. medical centers. Researchers extracted records from young and middle-aged patients—age 18-55 years—who were discharged from hospitals in 2009 and 2010, when marijuana use was illegal in most states. Marijuana use was diagnosed in about 1.5 percent (316,000) of more than 20 million health records included in the analysis. Comparing cardiovascular disease rates in these patients to disease rates in patients not reporting marijuana use, researchers found marijuana use was associated with a significantly increased risk for cardiovascular events such as stroke, heart failure, coronary artery disease and sudden cardiac death. Marijuana use was also linked with a variety of factors known to increase cardiovascular risk, such as obesity, high blood pressure, smoking and alcohol use. After researchers adjusted the analysis to account for these factors, marijuana use was independently associated with a 26 percent increase in the risk of stroke and a 10 percent increase in the risk of developing heart failure.

“Even when we corrected for known risk factors, we still found a higher rate of both stroke and heart failure in these patients, so that leads us to believe that there is something else going on besides just obesity or diet-related cardiovascular side effects,” the lead researcher said. “More research will be needed to understand the pathophysiology behind this effect.”

Conclusion

A lot of clinical research needs to be done in order for the medical community and Alzheimer’s Association to recommend the use of cannabis for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

As with any pharmaceutical, it’s important to understand that no drugs are, as a general rule, 100% safe. But if they can fix something, we take a calculated risk by using them. If cannabis calms down an agitated person, helps with sleep, puts a smile on one’s frozen face, it might be worth trying. If you do decide to give it to an individual with Alzheimer’s, please be cautious. Start with a very small dose in a cookie or brownie and see what the reaction is. Watch for signs of distress and nausea. And hope for some sense of calm and joy.

It helped my husband relax and appear as his old, happy self. But it certainly didn’t help his cognition.


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.