Acupuncture and 5 Other Natural Treatments for Depression
Depression, according to TCM theory, is a sign of Qi Stagnation. When your Qi is stagnant, you're stuck, physically (pain) and emotionally (depression). Often both.
Acupuncturists often rely on balancing the Liver to treat depression. Your Liver is connected to the element of Wood.
In the “5 Elements” of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), each element nourishes one other element. Each element also "controls" another element. It's a system of balance.
Springtime corresponds with the element of wood. Also, it relates to the emotion of anger; the color green; and your Liver and Gall Bladder. It relates to the sour flavor; the growth stage of life; the direction East; and your eyes. Wood element tends to flow upward. It vibrates with the musical note of E.
There is a popular TCM herbal formula called “Free and Easy Wanderer.” Its function is to “move your Liver and nourish your Spleen.” It’s used to treat depression, anxiety, or PMS. It also helps with digestive upset or fatigue.
The name says it all: “Free and Easy” like a tree swaying in the wind; “Wanderer” going whereever and doing whatever you want. No stress.
“Pessimism is an indulgence, orthodoxy is the enemy of invention, despair an insult to the imagination.”Wade Davis—
Spring is the right time to let go of stress. To go with the flow.
Springtime, according to the TCM calendar, starts with the Chinese New Year, normally at the beginning of February. The Spring Equinox is technically the MIDDLE of spring in TCM. Basically, when the springtime energy is at its PEAK.
CHOOSE WHICH SEEDS YOU PLANT
Spring is a time of new beginnings and growth. This sounds all good and positive, but do make sure you are growing flowers and not weeds.
A healthy winter starts with a healthy spring. Be mindful of the habits you create at this time.
Be more flexible physically and mentally.
Try something new.
Bend instead of pushing and resisting.
Let go of outdated ideas and people who no longer fit the life you want for yourself.
Be OK with saying “No.”
There are dis-eases that start in your body that affect your mind. Conversely, we have dis-eases that start in your mind and end up affecting your body. You can’t avoid their interconnections.
This time of year is green. There is a definite switch between the growth phase of winter (death or storage) and spring (new growth or birth).
Rather than eating foods that are easily stored (root vegetables, heavy or starchy foods), you may find yourself craving more fresh vegetables in your meals.
Bitter, sour, and pungent greens help flush your Liver and Gall Bladder.
The healthiest foods are vegetables. Everything else you can end up having too much of. No one ever overeats vegetables.
Squeeze half of a lime into your water first thing in the morning. “Half a lime a day keeps the diabetes doctor away.” Sour flavor nourishes the wood element, invigorates the Liver Qi, and helps to cancel out sweet cravings.
WINTER AND "SAD" (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
If Springtime is related to Wood, its "Mother" element is Water, which is connected to Winter.
Water relates to your Kidneys, a source of Prenatal Qi. Prenatal Qi, or "Essence," is the Qi your parents give you and that you give to your children. It gradually depletes through your life, through phases of 7 years (for women) or 8 (for men). Think about how, as a woman, for example, you get your period around age 14 (7x2) and menopause around age 49 (7x7).
If your Kidney Qi is weakened, you age faster, and your Liver doesn't receive proper nourishment. To ensure you don't do this, eat whole foods (not fast and processed foods); keep your internal body heat high; prioritize your rest; and don't have too many kids, haha!
Winter brings to mind a time of death or hibernation. The plants aren't blooming (except cedar trees!); animals rest more. The days are darker. Winter is a time of cold and contraction.
If you wasted your Qi in the spring (late nights, partying, lots of stress and overwork), your health in the winter will suffer.
For me, symbolically, the winter is a time of letting go. What can you let “die” this season?
- Unhealthy relationships
- Old resentments
- Bad eating habits
- Useless routines
According to TCM, winter relates to the emotion of fear. Fear that things won't regrow and transform again.
Fear that can help us prepare for the future.
Think of the story of the ant and the grasshopper. The grasshopper had no fear of winter, and consequently, was alone and starving when it arrived. The ants were prepared. And also generous with that lazy grasshopper!
It's a natural cycle.
In ancient societies where the solstice is celebrated (December 21st, the darkest day of the year, the "middle" of winter in TCM), the celebration is that, although everything is underground and cold now, we know that sunlight will return.
Later, with Christianity, the “sun” changed into the return of the “son.” The gift-giving at Christmas shows that we know there is hope; there is a light at the end of the tunnel; there will be a tomorrow. We're saved, etc.
Feeling emotional this time of the year remembering someone that's gone? That's natural. Let yourself feel sad, don't force happiness, and the feelings will evolve on their own over time.
That’s the funny thing about emotions, the only thing that causes us to be “stuck” in a certain type of emotion is our own stubbornness.
Allow yourself to feel sad, or whatever other so-called "negative" emotions arise, and they will pass on their own. Emotions are vibrations, so feel them as such. Don't try to control them too hard.
It’s like a tree branch in a storm. It’s going to hold on tight. If the wind blows it down, it lets itself go. If the wind isn't strong, it remains attached to the tree as it bends and sways. It doesn’t have to force anything.
To avoid depression in the winter, there has to be an acceptance of death. I know that sounds hard-core, but I mean much more than just regular, old dying. I also mean death of the relationships, habits, and things that no longer serve your purpose. And also, do you or can you accept that your time here is limited? And enjoy the time you have?
We all have a purpose on earth, and when we can let go of the stuff that gets in the way of that purpose, we will discover what truly lends us joy.
WHAT ABOUT ANTIDEPRESSANTS?
SSRIs are the most common form of antidepressant medication. It stands for Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor. Basically, it allows for more serotonin – a “feel good” hormone – to circulate in your brain.
The effectiveness rate according to multiple studies shows – depending on the type and brand – about 31%. Placebo effect is also around 30%. A placebo effect is simply believing something is going to work, even though you're not given a medication or treatment. Positive mindset, basically.
The problems with taking SSRIs are many: they can have dangerous side-effects, especially if you decide to stop taking yours. *NOTE: do NOT just stop taking your SSRI; talk to your prescribing doctor first!!! When you mess with your brain chemistry, many things can go wonky. That’s why one of the side-effects of SSRIs are, oh, for example, homicidal or suicidal thoughts. Yeah…no thank you very much.
Also, with most medications, there's a TEST that confirms you need it. Low TSH? You're prescribed thyroid medication. High blood pressure? You're given a medication based on that result. With antidepressants, there's no OBJECTIVE test to determine you have a so-called "serotonin imbalance." It's just someone's opinion.
- B-vitamin deficiency: bright crimson or painful tongue, fissures on the sides of your mouth, necklace-like rash around your neck, depression, and fatigue are all signs. Physical stress (athletes), emotional stress, alcoholism, and prescription drug use necessitate more B-vitamins. If so, you could take a food-based B-vitamin, increase your intake of grass-fed beef, leafy green vegetables, eggs, full-fat and raw dairy products, and whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, or sprouted grains.
- About vegetarianism: You may be deficient B-vitamins and iron, both of which can cause depression. Consider adding eggs, fish, cheese, or bone broth into your diet if you haven’t already.
- Junk-food: It's easy to grab fast-food or a soda when you're tired and hungry. Cooking a healthy meal might be the last thing you want to do. I get it. But just try. Slap some butter into a pan, cut some garlic, and let it sizzle. The aroma alone may be motivating enough to get cooking. Planning (as in a meal or grocery list) is something your Liver loves to do.
2. Is your gut healthy? Your gut supplies more neurotransmitters for your body than your brain. For a healthy mental state, you must have a healthy gut. If so, getting your gut healthy with a raw garlic supplement, reduced sugars and carbohydrates, and more lacto-fermented vegetables is essential.
3. Some things just take time to get over. There is a time to grieve, and that’s OK. Let yourself feel the emotion, rather than forcing yourself to feel happy before you’re ready.
4. Learn meditation to clear your mind. It's not exactly "clearing" thoughts, but learning how to focus your thoughts. You can start by focusing on your breath, or on listening. Acknowledge the worries that will inevitably pop up, and then consciously let them go.
Start by meditating 2 minutes per day.
Meditation is like exercise. You’ll probably suck at it at first, but just keep at it. Every time you do it, you strengthen that meditation muscle and get better at it.
5. Exercise. Exercise literally releases feel-good hormones in your body. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise, just get moving. Do the things you like or have always wanted to try. Movement is the perfect antidote for Stagnant Qi.
5. Situational depression is when you feel depressed because of your …. situation. For example, working at a job you hate with people you find infuriating. In that case, get a new job. Or a new perspective on your current job. Don't keep spinning your wheels. Your mental well-being is worth it. Figure out your higher purpose and let that guide your way. A good self-help book, friend, counselor, or heck, even a psychic may have answers that can help you see your way out of a puzzle. Rather than sitting around complaining, start looking for solutions.
IS DEPRESSION GENETIC?
I met with a prominent ENT doctor who is highly regarded in her field. Her patients gladly wait over an hour to see her. She asked me about what I do, and we chatted.
She asked me how NAET works. I explained that it re-boots your nervous system to not over-react to allergens.
Her view on allergies – one of her practice specialties – was new to me.
Based on research on the Human Genome Project (2003), scientists have discovered a gene mutation that is found in about 40-50% of the population. This gene, called MTHFR (short for "methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase"), is either malfunctioning or completely turned off in a large percentage of people.
What happens then is that your body lacks the ability to properly produce an enzyme that allows for the absorption of B9, or folate, also known as folic acid. This enzymatic process is called “methylation.” Your body can only use methylated B vitamins. If they are not methylated, they build up in your blood and can cause problems of toxicity.
You may already know that folic acid is important for holding pregnancy and preventing birth defects.
There's also a link to B-vitamin absorption and psychiatric issues such as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety.
Also, there is a link with chronic infections, allergies, and even cancer!
Even skin problems!
Of course, the allopathic treatment for it is a pill by a pharmaceutical company. It’s methylated B-vitamin. I’m sure they are all very well-meaning people, but I – as a rebel and a naturalist – am skeptical.
This made me laugh: at the bottom of the handout on how to mitigate effects of MTHFR. One is to eat berries, which are naturally high in methylated B vitamins!
Now I had another question: “Why not just tell your patients to eat berries every day?”
She had a good answer: “You may not be able to commit to doing that. Plus, if something traumatic happens – a death for example – and you become depressed, you may need something stronger to get over the hump.”
“But why not make a supplement made out of berries?”
She paused. “That would probably work.”
What woke me up in the middle of the night was this thought, “How can half of the population have a mutation? Is that really a mutation or is it more of an evolution? How come some people are really sick from this problem and other people – like me who may have the mutation but are now healthy and mostly symptom-free – not?”
Here's the thing - foods naturally high in B-vitamins don't need the extra methylation step. You only need to supplement methylated B-vitamins with synthetic B-vitamins. In other words, if you're using a food-based B-vitamin, or getting enough folate via foods, you don't need methylated B in supplement form.
We used to eat more fermented foods, more raw foods, more organ meats, more fats, and more salt-preserved foods. The modern diet is so different from the diet humans evolved eating. In fact, doctors and so-called experts have told us for years to avoid eating the very same foods that people have evolved for a billion years eating!!!
1. MILK and DAIRY: We used to drink raw milk, or none at all! Now it’s all tons of homogenized and pasteurized dairy with sugar added in for flavor. Raw milk is more complete with enzymes to aid digestion and protein absorption. Fermented dairy products made with raw milk are even more potent. Yogurt is great – but better if made at home with raw milk. The store-bought stuff with sugar and other shit added in, just don’t even bother. It’s the QUALITY of the food that counts.
2. MEAT: We used to eat more organ meats, now it’s mostly skeletal protein. And mostly poor-quality skeletal protein: riddled with antibiotics and artificial hormones and other shit you shouldn’t want to eat. Doctors tell their patients to avoid red meat. What they are failing to say is that grass-fed red meat (and butter) are really, really good for you! If you can’t muster the thought of eating Liver, you can get it in a pill form. It’s full of B-vitamins (pre-methylated by the animal!) and trace minerals (good for adrenal and hormone function).
3. SUGAR: We eat way too much of it.
4. FOOD CHEMICALS: So you’ve been eating too much sugar. Good news: now you can have a man-made sugar-like sweet-tasting chemical to consume on a regular basis! Just kidding. That’s not good news. It’s very, very bad news. Don’t eat this shit.
5. GLUTEN: The gluten we are eating today is not the same as we ate 200 years ago. In general, try to not eat processed grains, period. If it’s bleached pure white and tastes sweet, it’s probably bad for you. Try sprouted grain breads – or no bread at all – for a change and see if you feel different in your energy and digestion afterward.
6. FERMENTED FOODS: Almost every culture has a rich history of eating fermented foods. We are lacking this in the US. Try this experiment and see how you feel: instead of regular bread, try sprouted grain bread. Instead of sugary pickles, try making homemade pickles, or find a reliable – and truly fermented – brand of pickles at your health food store. Eat sauerkraut. Eat whole-fat yogurt without sugar added in.
7. SALT: Salt is not bad for you. IODIZED SALT IS BAD FOR YOU. Iodized salt is chemically processed with chemical iodine added back in for “health.” It’s not healthy. Just use regular old sea salt. For extra credit use pink or grey sea salts. The darker or richer the color of the salt, the more trace minerals it contains. Eat seaweed every day. There’s a reason why Japanese people live longer and look healthier than other populations! Seaweed is a perfect food for your thyroid, too. If you can’t eat it, take it in a pill.
8. Vegetables. Include veggies into every meal. Yes, every single one. Even breakfast. Raw and cooked. All different types. Learn how to make different types of salads and soups. Eat them regularly.
I think NAET can help people recover from B-vitamin deficiency symptoms. Stimulating the nervous system to wake things up? There’s something to be said at looking at the whole picture (billions of years of evolution) and not an overly myopic view (one teeny, tiny gene) to get a fair picture of what is going on and how to better our health.
MY OWN STORY OF DEPRESSION
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In high school my family moved to Texas. I lived the previous 9 years in a small town in Nebraska. If you never lived in a small town, it may be hard to imagine, but you become very set in your little social circle and ways of life. I was comfortable and the move was disruptive, which is an understatement.
Moving at that time tore my known reality away and I – quite literally – did not know what to think or do with myself.
I acted out in the ways that many teenagers do: I refused to go to my new school; I ran away; I smoked pot with strangers… I tried to overdose on some type of pill (Tylenol?)… Luckily, I only had the guts to take about 8 pills, so it wasn’t too bad.
When I woke up I was in the back of my parents’ car on my way to an “in-patient facility” called “Charter” for mental and behavioral health. It's no longer open, or it might be operating under a different name.
If you have never had an experience in a place like this, let me share some of the highlights:
(Me and my friend Donny, 22 years after meeting at Charter.)
Did I learn, what my psychiatrist referred to, “coping skills?” In my honest opinion, no.
What did I learn? How to manipulate a system to get what I want. I learned "obedience." Or rather, how to act obedient to get what I wanted (freedom).
Was I happier and calmer when I left? Only because I got to leave! At that point, just living at home, even if it was in Texas, sounded great.
My psychiatrist from the facility recommended that my parents keep me on at least one of the prescriptions, Xanax. I took it one day. I took it in the morning and went to school. I felt like my head was in a balloon the whole day. I felt detached from my emotions and even a little bit dizzy. I never took it again. If I wanted to feel stoned, I'd rather just smoke pot!
Eventually, I fully recovered, and I'm genuinely happy now. Looking back, it was an amazing learning experience. To practice in the field of healing, I think it is helpful to have real experience dealing with certain health problems, because I can understand better the feelings and reasons behind them.
COPING WITH EMOTIONAL UPSETS
HEART FIRE IS JOY
After Springtime, we have summer. Summer in TCM relates to Fire and the Heart (more like the "Mind" or emotional Heart). The emotion of the Heart is Joy.
You only get to Fire/Joy/Heart with a healthy and flexible Wood/Anger/Liver element.
Anger is (or should be) a temporary state. You pass through it, but don't linger. The Heart is known as the "King of the organs." We want to stay in Happy-town.
Now we can talk about the "controlling" aspects of the elements. Water (remember the Kidneys and Winter?) CONTROLS fire. This is natural. Only by having a healthy amount of Fear, can we experience true Happiness.
It's like playing. Yes, meet new people, dance, jump, and run. But without a deeper understanding of your environment, you can hurt yourself. For example, drinking wine with friends is fun, but without regard for, let's say side-effects of over-drinking, it's not much fun at all, turns out.
Also, too much Water/Fear can put out the Fire/Joy. And weaken your Kidney Qi in the process.
It's all about balance. Balance comes from life experience, learning, and sometimes, from the physiological changes you can experience with acupuncture and herbal medicine.
Download our free guidebook on Herbal Medicines That Help With Depression here.