New and Unusual Treatments for Depression

Depression is a serious mental condition, frequently requiring intense therapy and medical treatment (more than half of my clients suffer from some level of depression). However, recent research also shows that there are some unconventional treatments that can have a strong, positive (albeit, in most cases short-lived) effect on depression. Following are some of these new treatment techniques; however, you probably won’t want to try these at home.
#4. Ultrasounds
Ultrasound machines use high-frequency sound waves to show images of what’s inside the human body. They’re not exactly uncommon in the medical world, but most of us associate them purely with things like diagnostic tests and pregnancy
But ultrasounds can also change the behavior of animals when applied to their skulls. A scientist at the University of Arizona heard about this and decided to try the same thing on humans. The researcher used an ultrasound on his own brain. To his surprise, he experienced an “elevated mood” for an hour afterward. The results were so compelling that he received permission to test the method on others.
A double-blind study showed that patients who received the cranial ultrasounds reported being in a better mood for about 40 minutes after their treatment. The ultrasound waves seem to provide humans with the necessary brain stimulus to relieve depression…at least temporarily.
How Does That Work?
Ultrasounds operate on a similar frequency to that of the structures in the brain that affect mood, which means that putting a bunch of bat-waves into your skull is a bit like turning up a song that your brain really, really likes. Ultrasounds can also focus on really small areas, meaning that they can potentially be used to target particular parts of the brain structure.
#3. Nicotine
Nicotine, the stimulant drug that occurs naturally in tobacco products, is usually lumped in with the thing people usually do with tobacco products: smoking. Until relatively recently, hardly anyone cared what, if any, benefits nicotine might have, because consuming the stuff was probably going to kill you
But since nicotine patches were invented in the mid-’80s, nicotine has been gradually losing its highly negative reputation. More and more scientists have started asking, “Hey, why do people like to smoke so much?” The question gets relevant when you consider that people with depression are twice as likely to smoke as the non-depressed. A 2006 study of depressed non-smokers assigned people either a nicotine patch or a placebo/glorified Band-Aid. Patients who wore the nicotine patch for eight days or longer reported a “significant” decline in depressive symptoms.
How Does That Work?
Turns out nicotine stimulates the part of the brain that regulates mood and increases your levels of dopamine and serotonin. This isn’t to say that you should go out and start smoking. But strangely enough, once it’s been removed from its tobacco birthplace, nicotine really isn’t that addictive. In fact it’s almost impossible to get lab animals addicted to nicotine, no matter how much you push it on them.
Still, a lot of scientists recommend that people don’t rush out and self-medicate with nicotine patches, because the potential long-term health issues haven’t been studied enough. But maybe one day soon, a safe nicotine-derived drug will come on the market specifically for the treatment of depression.
#2. Walking
Another surprisingly effective depression remedy is to simply go for a walk around your neighborhood. People with mild to moderate depression who walked for half an hour six times a week reduced their depressive symptoms by almost 50 percent, making walking about as effective as taking an antidepressant.
How Does That Work?
Exercise, even non-strenuous exercise like walking, stimulates production of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that’s awesome for mood. It also increases blood flow to the brain and helps nerve cell growth
Of course, the issue here is that motivating yourself to exercise is hard enough even when you’re physically and psychologically healthy. We all know exercise is good for us, but most of us still don’t do enough of it and this reluctance gets a hundred times worse when you’re depressed and your motivation is at an all-time low. However, a little self-discipline and fresh air can do wonders for your mood.
#1. Anti-inflammatories
A recent Harvard study found that a diet full of foods that inhibit inflammation in the body (like vegetables, olive oil, wine, and coffee) can cut depression risk by 41 percent, compared to eating foods that tend to trigger it, such as refined grains and red meat. Certain anti-inflammatory drugs can also help in easing depressive symptoms.
How Does That Work?
Think back to the last time you had the flu. You were probably lethargic, unable to concentrate, and generally uninterested in anything. When you’re fighting an infection, stress, or anything else that the body thinks is bad for it, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which cause inflammation. The apathetic mood produced by these little cytokines is known as “sickness behavior,” and it’s no coincidence that it looks a lot like clinical depression — among other things, pro-inflammatory cytokines lower serotonin levels, and low serotonin does not exactly equal kittens and rainbows. But inflammation is a crucial part of fighting off infection and fixing damage to your body. The sickness behavior it brings with it can actually be an advantage; you’re more likely to get better from the flu if you stay in bed and stare at the wall rather than go out to compete in a roller derby. There’s a theory that a lot of what we call “depression” is actually sickness behavior caused by a source of inflammation that’s hiding out in your body.
You’d expect that if some forms of depression were in fact long-term inflammation in disguise, medical treatments that supercharge the immune system (and therefore cause inflammation) would also cause depression. And you’d be right. The hepatitis C virus is sometimes treated with injections of a type of cytokine called interferon, which pumps up the patient’s immune system. One in four previously non-depressed patients who undergo interferon therapy will develop a major episode of depression as a result of treatment, and some estimates are even higher than that. That’s right; in some cases depression is injectable.
Ok, some unusual, but potentially useful information regarding new treatments for depression; however, aside from a long walk, a healthy diet and perhaps some ibuprofen and chicken soup, I don’t recommend you try these methods at home. In fact, if you’re truly depressed, there’s no substitute for professional mental health and/or medical treatment.
By the way, clinical hypnotherapy has been shown to be a fast and highly effective treatment for depression…without drugs.
Here’s hoping you have an intentionally great and happy day.

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One Comment

  1. Joe Williams July 24, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    I remember reading long ago that the meditation chant of “om” produced a skull vibration that was part of its effectiveness. Obviously probably doesn’t produce the frequencies of ultrasound but I wonder if there’s an underlying connection. Thanks for the thought provoking posts!

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