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A Holistic Approach to Treating Depression

By Ellen Greenlaw
WebMD Feature

If you’re depressed, taking medication is only one of many treatment options.  A holistic approach focuses on treating your whole being -- body and mind -- to help you feel better. A healthy diet, exercise, and talk therapy are a few of the holistic approaches you can use, along with your medication, to help speed recovery from depression.

In a given year, nearly 15 million adults in the U.S. suffer from depression. Those with depression often have another medical condition such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or cancer, which makes treating the whole body even more important. This article looks at the benefits of diet, exercise, and therapy, and how you can use them alone, or with medication, to help treat depression.

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A Diet for Depression: Eating Well for Your Whole Body

Lisa Brennan has experienced the effect that diet can have on depression. She was first diagnosed with depression as a teenager and has had several bouts of depression as an adult.

“I’d often eat unhealthy food because it was easy, and sugary foods would boost my mood for a while,” she says. “But after a few hours, my energy level and mood would plummet and I’d feel really lousy. Now that I eat mostly vegetables, beans, and whole grains, I feel better and I have a lot more energy. I don’t think I could have gotten over my depression if I didn’t change my diet.”

Many specialists agree that a healthy diet of whole foods -- such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, fish, and lean meats -- is best for people with depression. “We know that diet can have a strong influence on mood,” says Eric Endlich, PhD, a Boston-based clinical psychologist. “And eating a balanced diet can keep your blood sugars stable throughout the day and help calm your mood. This stability is especially important if you’re depressed.”

Researchers are studying specific vitamins and nutrients in foods to see if they have a positive effect on depression. Omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and vitamin B12 show some promise. Experts aren’t certain of the role these substances play in boosting mental health but believe they may help with brain function. However, some experts caution that one of the greatest risks of these treatments is that people who use them may delay in seeking well-established treatments.

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