Natural Foods and Herbs to Combat Anxiety and Depression

Combat Anxiety Depression NaturallyDepression and anxiety disorders are mental health conditions and are both classified as mood disorders. They are more common than most people realize, with 40 million adults in the U.S. coping with an anxiety disorder and nearly as many dealing with major depression at some point in their lives.

When left undiagnosed and untreated, these disorders can cause symptoms that make the routines of daily life difficult to impossible. Living with anxiety or depression untreated is no way to live. Treatment with medications and therapy can help relieve symptoms, but so too can certain herbs, supplements, and foods, many of which blend well in smoothies.

What is Major Depression?

Depression, which is also called clinical depression, major depression, or major depressive disorder, is characterized by feelings of sadness, guilt, hopelessness, and well, depression. It’s normal to feel this way sometimes, but when you can’t shake the feelings for two or more weeks, and it starts to interfere with your life, you may be diagnosable as having depression. Major depression doesn’t just go away. You can’t just cheer up or feel better. Depression requires treatment, and it is a chronic illness, which means it may get better and then recur as another episode.

Aside from the obvious symptoms of depression, this illness may also cause some that you might not normally associate with a mental illness. These include unexplained physical pains, changes in sleeping habits and appetite, difficulty concentrating, and lack of interest in normal activities. Depression may come on for no apparent reason, it may be triggered by a traumatic event or a loss, or it may occur as hormones are changing, such as during and after pregnancy.

What is Anxiety Disorder?

Depression and anxiety disorders often occur together, but not always. If you have an anxiety disorder, you feel anxious or fearful to a degree that interferes with your life. As with depression, feeling anxious or worried is normal at times, and is often a useful response to stressful situations, but when it persists, disrupts your life, or is not caused by anything obvious, it could be an anxiety disorder. There are several different types of anxiety disorder:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder. This means you worry or feel anxious most of the time about all kinds of things, even just ordinary, everyday tasks.
  • Panic disorder. If you have panic disorder you suffer from occasional panic attacks, which have physical symptoms that can be frightening. Many people mistake panic attacks for a heart attack.
  • Social anxiety disorder. With this form of the illness your anxiety is triggered by social situations. Social anxiety is much more extreme than the typical nervousness you might feel when meeting new people and can be very isolating.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is caused by a traumatic event and causes extreme fear, flashbacks, nightmares, and terrible anxiety related to the event.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD is characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors to counteract those thoughts. For instance you might think that something bad will happen to your family if you don’t turn the lights on and off five times before bed.
  • Extreme fears of specific things are considered to be anxiety disorders, and are largely irrational. For instance you may be terrified of clowns even if you rationally know that they are just entertainers dressed up in costume.

Professional Treatment for Depression and Anxiety

It is important that you see a professional if you think you might be struggling with depression or an anxiety disorder. Only a qualified mental health professional can give you a diagnosis and help you create the best treatment plan. While supplements, lifestyle changes, and certain foods have been proven to relieve symptoms of these disorders, some cases are to serious not to treat professionally. Experts use a combination of medications and therapy to treat depression and anxiety, but you can also work with your caregiver to include natural supplements and foods in your treatment plan.

Herbs, Supplements, and Dietary Changes

If your symptoms are mild or you want to include dietary and lifestyle changes in your overall treatment plan for depression and anxiety, there are a number of natural products that can help. The supplements and herbs can easily be added to your daily smoothie to make it easy to include these useful products as part of your everyday routine. Most of these can be found in a variety of forms including extracts, tablets, teas, and powders. Extracts and powders are particularly well-suited to being blended into any smoothie or elixir recipe.

For depression:

  • St. John’s wort. You can easily find St. John’s wort, an herbal supplement, in any vitamin and supplement aisle. St. John’s wort is one of the most researched and proven of all supplements for depression. It has shown to be effective in reducing depressive symptoms and seems to work in a similar way to several types of antidepressant medications. I prefer this as a tincture.
  • Saffron is that beautiful yellow herb used to flavor many dishes in Indian cuisine, but it may also help alleviate depression. The research into its effectiveness is in its early stages, but one study found that it may work just as well as Prozac in treating depression. High doses of saffron can be harmful, so don’t take this without direction from a medical professional.
  • Research suggests that ginkgo may be able to help alleviate depression in older adults. Studies show that the effects aren’t seen in younger people, but that in the elderly ginkgo can help with both memory and depression.
  • Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb, or in other words it helps the body respond to stress. It has long been a part of traditional medicine in the arctic regions of Siberia and Sweden where it grows and is used there for fatigue and memory loss. Modern studies have shown that Rhodiola can relieve symptoms of mild and moderate depression, and that it works faster than prescribed antidepressants. It may also relieve anxiety. I like making Rhodiola tea for my smoothies and elixirs. The powder form blends well too.
  • Studies have found that some people who experience depression are deficient in certain vitamins including B12, D, and folic acid. You might have your doctor test you for deficiencies to see if supplementing with any of these makes sense.

For anxiety:

  • Kava kava. Like St. John’s wort, kava is one supplement that has been proven through research to be effective. The roots of the kava kava plant have been used in ceremonies in the Pacific Islands for centuries, but we now know beyond doubt that this supplement can reduce anxiety. The effect of using kava is relaxation, increased contentment, and mood elevation. I find kava tea after a long and/or stressful day of work is very calming.
  • Valerian. An herb that has long been used to treat insomnia, and part of the reason it can help you sleep better is that it has a mild sedative effect and can help you feel more relaxed. For this reason you should not combine it with other sedatives.
  • Passionflower. Has been shown in studies to be as effective at inducing relaxation as some benzodiazepines, medications often prescribed to treat anxiety. As with valerian, avoid taking this with other sedatives.
  • Ashwagandha. This is an herb that has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. It is most well-known for being a restorative, for helping to boost the immune system and help people recover after being sick. Ashwagandha can also reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders including stress and fatigue. Unlike the more sedative herbs, like valerian and passionflower, this one will not make you drowsy. This is one of my favorite herbs. As a powder it blends well, as a tincture and tea it’s potent and effective. Ashwagandha can also be consumed with warm milk and a little honey – a nice bedtime drink to induce a good night of sleep.

Ashwagandha Elixir

  • 1 cup raw milk or nut milk of choice (optionally warmed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ashwagandha powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon honey

The Effect of Diet on Depression and Anxiety

The more healthful your diet and lifestyle, the better your chances of coping with negative emotions, although lifestyle and diet alone can’t treat clinical cases of depression or anxiety. One interesting study found that the classic Mediterranean diet, which is very healthful compared to a typical American diet, made people happier. The diet includes a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, nuts, legumes, and fish. In contrast to the American diet, it does not include a lot of sugar or meat. Other studies have backed this up by finding that eating more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish and olive oil, reduces depression symptoms.

Foods you should avoid in order to promote better mental health include those with sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. Sugar gives you a quick rush and a surge of energy, but the crash afterward doesn’t feel very good, especially if you’re already feeling low. Need help kicking a sugar habit to the curb? Read my article on doing just that:

Eliminate Your Sugar Habit For Good

Caffeine is another substance we tend to reach for when we need a boost, but it actually suppresses a brain chemical called serotonin, which can make you feel irritable and depressed. Alcohol is something you might try when you feel stressed or anxious, and while it does make you feel better in the short-term, overall it acts as a depressant and will only make you feel worse.

If mild symptoms of depression or anxiety trouble you from time to time, you could benefit from some of these supplements and herbs. They work well in smoothies and elixirs and can easily become part of your daily routine. Just be sure to tell your doctor about every supplement you take. Some herbs carry risks if you have certain health conditions or may interact with medicines you take. Keep up your healthy diet and lifestyle, and try these natural aids and you can boost your mood and relieve stress and anxiety.

My Anxious and Depressed Days

One of the primary reasons I became so enthralled with my health and diet was to overcome social anxiety. Growing up it was something I really struggled with. I used all of the herbs listed above to combat anxiety at one time or another. I’m not completely anxiety free, if there is such a thing, but have taken huge strides and feel much more comfortable in social situations. I attribute my growth and evolution to an overall healthy lifestyle that includes a wide array of organic whole foods (many sourced locally) and of course, smoothies :) These are the dietary guidelines I follow closely in case you’re interested.

I’m much more familiar with anxiety than depression. However, I have experienced Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months in Michigan. It’s no fun.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention exercise, in particular high intensity, sunbathing, and getting outdoors as three things I’ve leaned heavily on to combat anxiety and depression. Any form of movement usually gets me feeling better.

Have you suffered from anxiety or depression? What’s worked for you to alleviate the symptoms – please share in the comments below.

Sources for this blog post include:

http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/anxiety
http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/depression
http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400399/Rhodiola-for-What-Ails-You.html
http://www.chopra.com/ccl/ashwagandha
http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression
http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
http://www.forbes.com/sites/greatist/2014/02/27/mediterranean-diet-happiness/
http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/13/4/312
http://www.everydayhealth.com/anxiety-pictures/anxiety-foods-that-help-foods-that-hurt-0118.aspx – 02

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5 Responses to Natural Foods and Herbs to Combat Anxiety and Depression

  1. Rachelle #

    I’d like you to edit your article to say that none of these treatments should be started without talking toyour doctor first.

    At this link http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/features/risky-herbal-supplements?page=2
    it says (quote) “Besides, depression isn’t something to treat without help. “It’s not the common cold. If someone wants to use St. John’s wort for depression, they still must be managed by a health care provider,” McQueen tells WebMD.

    Here’s one major reason why: drug interactions. St. John’s wort can make many other drugs less effective. There have been cases of unintended pregnancies in women taking St. John’s wort and birth control pills and cases of organ rejection in those taking St John’s wort with anti-rejection drugs after a transplant.

    “If you are taking any prescription drug and are interested in trying a course of St. John’s wort for mild to moderate depression, first discuss possible interactions with your doctor or pharmacist,” says Weil, whose line of dietary supplements includes a product containing St. John’s wort. (end quote)

    This is another link that has a bit more information that people may not think of before taking St. John’s Wort
    http://www.drugs.com/cdi/st-john-s-wort.html

    I hope you take this into consideration as most don’t realize how dangerous taking it can be. I’m definitely not saying that it isn’t helpful just beware.

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Rachelle,

      I appreciate the concern and the information you provided. There is a section in the article titled, Professional Treatment for Depression and Anxiety, in which I recommend people consult a qualified mental health professional. Do you think that is sufficient? I often mention this in articles for supplements and more exotic herbs.

      Regards,
      Ryan

      • Rachelle #

        No actually I don’t. You only mention the benefits of St. John’s Wort but not the dangers of it that can be quite serious if people aren’t informed enough. Most people aren’t likely to talk to doctors before taking something ‘natural.’ And like the link said, there are many serious drug interactions that most people would never think even know about.

  2. karen findora #

    i like your free healthy smoothies book sent to me

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Glad to hear that, Karen :)

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