Depression and Naturopathic Medicine

Depression can have a Natural Solution

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a licensed Naturopathic Physician with a family practice in downtown Courtenay. To ask a question to be answered in her column, please send an e-mail to Please note that this column is for educational purposes only. Dr. Macdonald’s office number is 897-0235.

Dear Dr. Macdonald;
I tend to get quite down in the dumps during the winter months. I know spring is coming…just not soon enough. I am 40 years old with a 3 year old daughter. She needs her mom to be in better spirits. My doctor thought maybe I should take Paxil (an antidepressant medication). Any natural alternatives?
Beth in Comox.

Dear Beth;
There are many reasons people can get depressed, including lack of sun (known as SAD: seasonal affective disorder). My experience is that often depression is caused by a combination of factors. And yes, there are a number of alternatives to anti-depressant drugs that have far fewer side effects and withdrawal effects.

That said, if you are suicidal or have the urge to hurt yourself or someone else, you must get professional help immediately. If your depression is more severe or doesn’t respond to natural medicine, you should see your conventional or naturopathic doctor so he or she can assess whether you need counselling, a referral, or a different combination of therapies.

One of the tenets of Naturopathic medicine is “treat the cause”. Therefore, in treating a patient with depression, I first do a thorough evaluation of their physical and mental health. Sometimes, to get to the bottom of depression we have to treat an illness, manage pain, reverse anemia, balance hormones, overcome addictive behavior, build the adrenal glands, assist in sleep and more. Another tenet is “first do no harm.” In my practice I try to take the least invasive, most supportive route first, working down a continuum of treatments until optimal results are achieved. Following are some strategies I have had good results with.

1. Diet.

  • eliminate refined sugars and grains (to stabilize blood sugar)
  • eat a well rounded diet (high quality proteins and fats, whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables- all organic whenever possible)
  • avoid alcohol or other mood altering substances
  • find and eliminate food sensitivities (through Vega testing or blood tests with your ND) as they can play an enormous role in depression. For instance, gluten allergy is well documented to cause depression.

2. Exercise. The evidence is very clear. People who exercise on a regular basis not only have more stable moods, but have higher self-esteem and greater productivity.

3. Vitamins. Even if you are eating a healthy diet, a good high quality multi-vitamin can be very helpful. Make sure it has plenty of B-vitamins in it, or supplement them additionally.

4. Herbs.

  • St. John’s Wort. Many studies have shown that for mild to moderate depression St. John’s Wort is as effective as several of the common prescription antidepressants. There are some known interactions with other prescription drugs, so it is best to use St. John’s Wort under the supervision of your ND (naturopathic doctor).
  • Ginkgo is used successfully with some types of depression, especially in seniors.
  • Valarian is more frequently used for anxiety but can be helpful for some types of depression.

5. 5-HTP. (5-hydroxy-tryptophan) is a metabolite of tryptophan and a precursor to serotonin. Therefore, it gives the brain the raw materials for making serotonin, which helps depression, carbohydrate cravings and sleep. Some scientific studies have shown it’s effectiveness in relieving depression to be as effective as common prescription serotonin enhancing drugs (SSRI’s) but has far fewer side effects. I have used this with a great deal of success in my practice over the years. It can not be combined with anti-depressant drugs and I recommend being supervised by your naturopathic doctor while on this natural anti-depressant.

6. B vitamin injections. In addition to oral B vitamin supplementation, I sometimes administer an intravenous injection of B vitamins called a Meyer’s Cocktail. It is very useful for people who have experienced chronic stress, adrenal burnout, chronic fatigue, long-term illness, or are experiencing withdrawal difficulties from anti-depressant drugs. B vitamins are essential for the proper functioning of neurotransmitters in the brain, and they help with nourishing the adrenal glands and the nervous system.

7. Fish oil. Over the past ten years, there have been 12 intervention studies conducted using fish oil for depression. Most of the studies showed a positive effect on depression. Healthy brains have a high concentration of DHA, one of the oils in fish oil. Eating fish and supplementing with 4-6 capsules a day helps not only depression but has many side-benefits for the rest of the body.

8. Counselling. This may seem obvious, but often people don’t think of counselling as necessary for your garden-variety blues. The right counsellor or therapist can be hard to find, as it is important to work with someone you like and respect. Many naturopathic doctors do counselling, and there are plenty of qualified professionals in the Comox Valley. Ask friends, call around, and talk to different therapists. The benefits from good therapy combined with natural approaches is often just the trick.

Yours in Health,
Dr. Deidre Macdonald

For more information on naturopathic medicine and Dr. Macdonald, check out or call the office at 897-0235.