In this article I want to go through natural ways to treat anxiety and depression. The first thing to get clear is understanding the causes of anxiety and depression, although we may think it is because certain events happen to us or even genetics, the truth is when we attach, we suffer. This is what the Buddha outlined in the Noble Eightfold Path, as he understood the causes of suffering he also understood the way to its cessation (Bodhi, 1984). This is what modern science is now confirming with many clinical studies on mindfulness (Hofmann et al., 2010). However, mindfulness isn’t for everybody so tools like cognitive behavioral therapy can be used (Butler et al., 2006). Additionally, herbal medicine and diet changes may prove very useful as I will now discuss.
Herbs can be very helpful for certain people and I have come to believe they are overly ignored in our society. I think depression and anxiety should be seldom dealt with pharmaceutical drugs, herbal medicines offer a gentler, healthier, and effective solution. Take St. John’s wort, we know this works for depression because it has been very well studied, and a recent meta-analysis concluded it was effective for mild to moderate depression (Ng et al., 2017). So why aren’t we using it in the NHS as they use in their primary health system in Germany? The answer is cultural stigma; we are conditioned to believe in pharmaceutical drugs over herbal medicines and our research system is highly dependent on pharmaceutical companies which are not interested in funding natural healing methods. Having worked with pharmaceutical companies quite a lot myself, I think they have their place and so do their drugs, especially in very serious cases of diseases. However, they are far over used in my view and it is causing a drain on our medical system. There are natural and effective ways to treat depression and anxiety.
St John’s wort is only recommended for mild to moderate depression, but St. John’s wort is just one herb, and it never was thought of as an anti-depressant traditionally (Castleman, 2001). It was used internally to treat neuropathic pain and anxiety. It’s use goes as far back as the ancient Greeks as a treatment for Sciatica. A more traditional Western herb for depression is Motherwort. 17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper wrote, ‘There is no better herb to take melancholy vapours from the heart … and make me a merry cheery soul’. Combining herbs can increase the medicinal effect. Personally, I think we need to be researching into Motherwort. These two herbs St. John’s wort and motherwort can be used together as a formula for depression, I would have thought would be a safer option than taking a strong chemical drug like Cymbalta. Note, St. Johns wort does have a few contraindications so please read up about it, but while herbs can have side effects, the truth is they are less dangerous than chemical drugs.
Another good herb to include in a three-way formula for depression with St. John’s wort and motherwort is Tulsi. Tulsi (photo above) has been found to reduce stress in a large double blind placebo controlled study (Saxena et al., 2011) and has a rich history of traditional use in India. Tulsi is a rasayana herb in Ayurveda, otherwise known as a rejuvenator, and is thought to nourish a person towards health and long life (Winston, 2007). Since plants are more like food and they are so diverse, the idea of special tonic healing herbs makes intuitive sense to me. All three of these herbs have a gentle sedative action that may also help stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
A nervine herb that I am fond of is skullcap which is an old Native American remedy and it is a relaxing tonic for nerves in fresh tincture. One study found a significant anxiety reducing effect versus placebo in a double blinded trial (Wolfson and Hoffmann, 2003). Milky oats is another effective nervine which works well with skullcap and St. John’s wort in an nervous system restorative three-way formula. This is a good option if stress and anxiety are your problems. The idea of these tonic herbs, quite different to pharmaceutical drugs, is to restore the nervous system into balance.
Finally, diet is very important as it is for managing pretty much any health problem. There is increasing evidence the gut microbiome is related to mental health (Foster et al., 2013). So clean up your diet, remove processed foods and sugars, reduce or eliminate grains and dairy, eat more vegetables and fruits. Legumes, beans, and chickpeas can be useful substitutes, wild or good quality seafood is excellent in small amounts relative to the vegetables.
In summary, we need to research more into medicinal plants for depression and anxiety, and in the current lack of knowledge I think we can rely on traditional knowledge which often proves correct. After all more than 80% of the total population in the developing world dependent on herbs and up to 50% the approved drugs during the last 30 years are from from natural products (Veeresham et al., 2012). I truly believe natural ways to treat depression and anxiety are the way forward in the vast majority cases, so if you are suffering from these problems there is cause for optimism. I have found my way out of some rather dark places myself without the use of strong chemical drugs.
By the way there are many good ones, but an excellent meditaton manual is found here for free.
Bodhi, Bhikkhu. “The Noble Eightfold Path–The Way to the End of Suffering.” The Wheel Publication (1984).
Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review.” Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 78.2 (2010): 169.
Butler, Andrew C., et al. “The empirical status of cognitive-behavioral therapy: a review of meta-analyses.” Clinical psychology review 26.1 (2006): 17-31.
Ng, Qin Xiang, Nandini Venkatanarayanan, and Collin Yih Xian Ho. “Clinical use of Hypericum perforatum (St John’s wort) in depression: A meta-analysis.” Journal of Affective Disorders 210 (2017): 211-221.
Castleman, Michael. “The new healing herbs.” Bantam Book, New York (2001): 465-471.
Saxena, Ram Chandra, et al. “Efficacy of an extract of ocimum tenuiflorum (OciBest) in the management of general stress: A double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012 (2011).
Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.
Veeresham, Ciddi. “Natural products derived from plants as a source of drugs.” Journal of advanced pharmaceutical technology & research 3.4 (2012): 200.
Wolfson, P., and D. L. Hoffmann. “An investigation into the efficacy of Scutellaria lateriflora in healthy volunteers.” Alternative therapies in health and medicine 9.2 (2003): 74.
Brock, C., Whitehouse, J., Tewfik, I., & Towell, T. (2014). American Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): A Randomised, Double‐Blind Placebo‐Controlled Crossover Study of its Effects on Mood in Healthy Volunteers. Phytotherapy Research, 28(5), 692-698.
Foster, Jane A., and Karen-Anne McVey Neufeld. “Gut–brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression.” Trends in neurosciences 36.5 (2013): 305-312.