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Alternatives for Mood Disorders

There are lots of alternative treatments for clinical depression and anxiety disorders, but you may need tried-and-true treatments.

The Top Contenders continued...

"In my mind, SAM-e is really promising," says Glick. "In some studies, it has held up as well as an antidepressant in treatment of major clinical depression. It's a compound in the body, involved in a number of pathways, including the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. And it doesn't cause side effects for most people."

Glick's cautionary note: "Most people don't realize these products are medicines and that there are certain precautions. You don't want to take them with another antidepressant. You can get all kinds of side effects by getting too much serotonin. Also, SAM-e can be outrageously expensive, so that limits accessibility for most people."

Leuchter also likes SAM-e but stresses that the data are "suggestive, not conclusive."


Omega-3 Fatty Acids

It's not fishy, it's likely fact: Growing evidence shows that caviar, salmon, mackerel, and sardines can chase away clinical depression. These coldwater fish -- as well as walnuts and flaxseed -- have high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

"This is another natural substance that plays a part in the functioning of every cell of the body," Glick explains. "It reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer's disease, and it seems to have a preventive effect on manic depression -- but also is beneficial for clinical depression."

In parts of the world where fatty fish are a dietary mainstay, there is less depression, he notes. One small study showed that people with manic depression who took omega-3-rich fish oil capsules every day had fewer episodes of manic-depression than those who took a placebo.

Again, omega-3 is not intended to replace other medications, but it can help in treating clinical depression. There's no downside to eating an omega-3-rich diet, experts say.

Mind-Body Relaxation

Whether it's guided imagery, meditation, or yoga, anyone who suffers from clinical depression or anxiety disorders can benefit from some mind-body relaxation technique, says Glick.

"We feel it's really key that someone experiencing clinical depression, anxiety disorders, fatigue, or insomnia get hooked up with a mind-body technique," he tells WebMD. "It can help with mood, concentration, and energy."

Indeed, studies of meditation -- an ancient spiritual tradition -- show that daily meditation can have long-lasting positive effects on heart rate and other physiological processes, reports Herbert Benson, MD, president of the Mind/Body Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Yoga, tai chi, Lamaze breathing, and repetitive prayer (like a rosary) can do the same thing, says Benson. Any condition that is caused or exacerbated by stress can be relieved by these means -- and that includes clinical depression and anxiety disorders. Relaxation is the key, however it is achieved, he says.

Biofeedback -- which involves "training" the mind to control heart rate and other biophysical responses -- can also provide relief, says Glick. "The person learns to focus on their heart rate, on relaxation, on their emotions -- and learns to make heart rate less chaotic. We've found it can have direct benefit for people with clinical depression and anxiety disorders."

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