Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Three Herbs and Spices That May Relieve Anxiety and Depression

Mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are sadly common, affecting about 18% of the American population. The mainstream perspective is that anyone with one or more of these disorders has a "chemical imbalance" in their brains, and therefore they must take pharmaceutical drugs to manage it. However, these drugs are often ineffective or come with side effects that may be worse than the actual illness. Then, there is also the question of what exactly this "chemical imbalance" is, and where it came from. These causes can actually be the quite preventable problems of nutrient deficiencies, inflammation or hormone imbalances, and thankfully there are natural medicines that can help without being so debilitating.

Botanical illustration of saffron.
Once again, one of these is turmeric, more specifically, curcumin, its main "active ingredient". In a study of 60 people with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), everyone was assigned to either fluoxetine, 1000mg of curcumin, or both for six weeks. After the six weeks, it turned out that all three interventions were roughly equal in effectiveness. This ranged from about a 62-78% response rate, but the differences were not seen as significant. The average improvements in the HAM-D17 depression scores were also similar. These results mean that the choice between natural, pharmaceutical or integrative treatment can be entirely up to the individual, based on their beliefs and values, in at least some cases. In another study on 108 Chinese men, adding curcumin to their usual antidepressant use resulted in significant benefits to their depression scores. Levels of salivary cortisol (the primary stress hormone), as well as some inflammatory immune chemicals, also fell significantly.

Another of these is rosemary, a common staple of kitchen gardens. While we know the herb as an ancient memory aid, one much more recent study tested its effects with lavender on nursing students about to sit an exam. Use of these two oils together resulted in improved anxiety scores, which were backed up by personal statements and pulse measurements. Research on mice has also found anti-anxiety effects of rosemary, possibly by reducing cholinesterase enzymes, some of the enzymes that break down neurotransmitters.

On the more expensive side is saffron, a spice that is essentially part of a flower's tiny reproductive area. A meta-analysis of 2 placebo-controlled trials and 3 antidepressant-controlled trials studied what effects it may have on major depressive disorder, a condition where the expense is likely worth it for a safe, effective natural therapy. It was found that saffron performed significantly better than placebos, and had similar efficacy to antidepressant pharmaceuticals. The average Jadad score was 5, meaning that these were high-quality trials. Overall, there are effective natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals for depression and anxiety, we just have to keep our minds open, and enlist the help of qualified practitioners.

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