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Alternative Treatments for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress: Dr. Podell's Perspective on Brain, Mind, and Mood

Adding natural alternative treatments for depression, natural anxiety treatments and stress management techniques can make a big difference in your life. Dr. Podell can help you understand your options for alternative treatments for depression, natural anxiety treatments and stress management techniques.

Why are natural depression treatments, stress management techniques and anxiety treatments likely to be more effective treatments than just standard therapies alone?
Our approach adds to standard therapies for depression, stress management, and anxiety, the often over-looked elements of natural healing, including nutrition, herbal and mind-body therapies. These add holistic support for the body’s natural healing systems, which help resist and overcome a broad range of both physical and mental health problems-- including but not limited to depression, anxiety, and stress.

The unstated assumption of most conventional strategies is that mind and body function separately. Each organ of the body is largely on its own. However, current science shows that just the opposite is true. The multiple systems of mind and body communicate and interact with each other in a complex holistic web of biochemical, hormonal and metabolic relationships. Even such distant organs as the brain, thyroid gland, adrenal gland, immune system, gut, and liver interact, and in important ways, function effectively as one.

Our functional medicine approach views all systems of the mind and body as part of one, large interactive web. This implies that any obstacle to healing that affects on part of the system, feeds through and harms all others. Any improvement we can make in any part, is also likely to feed through this web and improve your well-being as a whole.

Click here for a discussion of the philosophical basis for applying complementary alternative medicine to a broad range of health issues.

Many Alternative Treatments for Depression act by strengthening the same biochemical pathways that medicines use to treat depression. For example, St. John’s Wort acts in part by increasing the activity of brain neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine. Other natural depression treatments work on metabolic pathways that standard medicines don’t seem to use. These include the one carbon methylation pathways, omega-3 fatty acids, and intracellular signaling messengers such as Inositol. Other natural depression treatments include diet and depression, restorative sleep, the correct level of exercise and mind-body stress management techniques. All can play a vital supportive role.

Many, probably most, alternative treatments for depression can be used safely and supportively along with standard medicines. However, other natural depression treatments should not usually be combined with Prozac or with other anti-depressants because of potential adverse interactions. For example, the amino acid 5-hydroxy tryptophan, and St. John’s Wort both raise the brain level of Serotonin, as does Prozac. This might often be of benefit, but rarely, too much Serotonin can cause harm, the “hyper-serotonin syndrome” which causes agitation, fever, confusion and other symptoms, and which can be fatal.

Alternative Treatments for Depression

Alternative treatments for depression rely on the fact that depression, at heart, is a biochemical illness. Whether the main triggers are physical or emotional, these triggers then induce a broad range of neurochemical changes that, in turn, leads to the feelings of depression and to the physical and psychological disruptions that being depressed then causes.

Once one thinks about the biochemistry it should not be surprising that alternative treatments for depression often play an imortant role. Almost every biochemical in our body is either directly derived from a biochemical found in food, or else is the product of the body’s processing of such foodstuff. Especially important are the co-factors or small molecules that help our metabolic enzymes assume their proper shape, so that enzymes can make our metabolic pathways do their work. In almost every case these enzyme enabling co-factors are vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, magnesium, and selenium. The following tables list selected natural treatments for depression that have good scientific support for a beneficial role for treating depression.

Alternative Treatments for Depression:  Nutrients and Herbs with their Presumed Mechanism of Action

Inositol Intracellular Second Mechanism
S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAMe) Improves Methylation Pathways
Fish Oil Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid
Tyrosine Amino Acid, body uses to make Norepinephrine and Dopamine
Eliminate Wheat Gluten May apply if blood antibody test is abnormal
Anti-Hypoglycemia Style Diet Mood Stabilizing Effect
Folic Acid Improves Methylation pathways
Vitamin B12 Improves Methylation Pathways
Tryptophan Amino Acid, body uses to make Serotonin
L-Carnitine Improves mitochondrial energy metabolism


Thiamine (Vitamin B1) May help energy pathways
“Allergy” Elimination Diet May be helpful for some

Alternative Treatments for Depression:  Herbs and Hormones

St. John’s Wort Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor
Estrogen Often helps in perimenopause; usually does not help during menopause
Testosterone Possibly helpful for both men and women
Thyroid, especially T3 form Double Blind Studies Show Improvement even if thyroid blood tests are normal
DHEA Adrenal gland hormone
Appropriately paced Exercise conditioning Many studies show benefit

Other Natural Depression Treatments

If you are vulnerable to depression due to biochemical, psychological, medicine side-effects other factors, this vulnerability will tend to increased if you also have suboptimal function of one or more of your body’s functional physiological symptoms. For example, we will want to repair any nutritional deficiencies and metabolic imbalances we can identify whether or not that particular nutrient or metabolic pathway has been specifically studied as a treatment for depression.

Natural Anxiety Treatments

Anxiety, feeling tense or nervous, is not the same thing as depression, although they often occur together. Many but not all of the alternative treatments for depression also improve anxiety, but others do not. The following natural anxiety treatments that have some scientific studies supporting their use:

  • Magnesium

  • Inositol

  • Valerian Root

  • Kava Herb

  • Rhodiola Herb

  • Appropriate Exercise (not too much, not too little)

  • Hypoglycemia Diet

  • "Food Allergy" Elimination Diet

  • Candida Yeast Theory (speculative)

Stress Management Techniques and  Treatments

The body’s ability to withstand stress improves with the mastery of a few basic stress management relaxation techniques that calm and regularize the body’s natural rhythms. For example, most people with chronic stress or anxiety fall into a pattern of shallow, relatively rapid chest breathing. For the most part we don’t even realize when we do this, since the pattern is fairly subtle. However, even at modest levels, this breathing habit tends to make people feel tense. In contrast, even a few minutes of slow, deep diaphragmatic breathing can usually be counted on to have calming effects.

We offer a broad selection of physiologically based stress management techniques and treatments. Behavioral medicine relaxation skills can quickly calm the mind and body once a stress reaction has occurred, or better yet prevent it. Brief training in diaphragmatic breathing, visual imagery, muscle relaxation and other methods often have great rewards. For preventing and reversing crises we are especially impressed with a technique that employs the natural biorhythms of the heart to trigger the “relaxation response” within just about one minute. Most stress management techniques can be learned in just one or two training sessions.

Cognitive-behavioral treatment counseling (CBT), is another highly effective practical stress management technique than can be learned very quickly. It often does wonders. CBT is very different from standard psychotherapies, emphasizing practical skills for handling stresses and not over-reacting. ). Most people who are ill tend to fall into frustration’s mental traps—making mountains out of molehills, seeing the glass half-empty; feeling helpless and losing hope. Fortunately, once we realize how this happens, we can quickly master simple “mental tricks” that quickly put our thoughts and feelings into a more constructive mode.

CBT stress management techniques are not a substitute for standard psychotherapy. It’s techniques are different. However, CBT Stress Management techniques can make standard therapy more effective. Indeed even people who don’t require therapy, but are struggling to cope with an illness, often find benefit from even a few sessions of training in CBT stress management techniques.

Click here for a discussion of the philosophical basis for applying complementary alternative medicine to a broad range of health issues.

Anxiety, depression and vulnerability to stress are influenced by the following Metabolic Systems and Activities:

System I:  A fresh look at your medical history, lab studies, and previous treatments.  This is the central focus of our first, long office visit.

System II:  Nutrition:  Metabolism of Essential Fats and Oils, especially the omega -3 class.

System III:  Building brain neurochemicals one carbon atom at a time:  the methylation pathways, including SAMe, folic acid, and vitamin B12.

System IV:  Nutrition:  Amino Acid imbalances that alter brain neurotransmitters.

System V:   Hormone Imbalances:  Thyroid, estrogen, testosterone, DHEA, prolactin, growth hormone. 

System VI:  Respiratory Bio-rhythms: Proper breathing induces the relaxation response.  "Disordered" breathing worsens distress. 

System VII:   Nutritional Deficiencies and Food Sensitivities. 

System VIII:   Integrative Medicine:  Brain, Gut and Liver Connections. 

System IX:   The Healing Power of Sleep. 

System X:   Energy Medicine  How Mitochondria produce energy for the brain.

System XI:  EXERCISE, the best medicine, if done just right.

System XII:  Positive Psychology:  How To Feel In Control while coping with Illness.

Summary of natural alternative treatments for anxiety, depression and stress

Functional mood-enhancing therapies

  • Diet and depression, anxiety and stress options:  Hypoglycemia-style diet, cave man diet, food allergy elimination diet, Candida diet, anti-inflammation diet, increased intake of colored fruits and vegetables, dairy elimination, gluten elimination, detoxification diet, well-balanced diet

  • Minerals that can augment stress, depression and anxiety treatments: Minerals:  Zinc, Magnesium; Vitamins:  B12, B6, thiamine, folic acid; Other supplements: S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAMe), Inositol

  • Herbal contributions to stress management techniques:: St. John's Wort, Kava, Ashwaganda, Ginseng, Ginkgo

  • Bio-Behavioral approaches as Stress Management Techniques:  Appropriate  exercise, Better  Sleep, Repairing Disordered Breathing, Relaxation Skills (e.g. Guided Visual Imagery), Instant Stress Reduction Techniques (e.g. Freeze Frame)

  • Others components of natural depression treatments, stress relief and anxiety improvement: Fish Oil, Borage/Primrose Oil, Inositol, phosphatidyly serine, CDP-choline, DNA/RNA mixes, trimethyl glycine, L-Carnitine, Acetyl-L-Carnitin, tryptophan, 5-hydroxy tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, GABA

Alternative treatments for depression, stress management techniques, and natural anxiety treatments can make a big difference in your life.  Dr. Podell can help with diet and depression as well as other natural depression treatments and a holistic approach to stress and anxiety issues.

Click here for bibliography:  Alternative treatments for depression, anxiety and stress are widely documented in the scientific literature.

Natural depression treatments, anxiety treatments, and stress management techniques: clinical results

Functional Medicine views all systems of the mind and body as part of one, large interactive web. This implies that any obstacle to healing that affects on part of the system feeds through and harms all others. Any improvement we can make in any part, is also likely to feed through this web and improve your well-being as a whole.

Click here for a discussion of the philosophical basis for applying complementary alternative medicine to a broad range of health issues.