Depression and herbal medicine
by Dr. Jagdev Singh  12-Aug-2014

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Robin Williams had been battling severe depression


Recently, shocking news spreads in the media about our favorite actor and comedian dies of suspected suicide due to asphyxia. According to his publicist Mara Buxbaum, he had been battling a severe depression. He was a person who gave us countless moments of laughter and joy, a man who gave hope, smiles and laughter, but dies in end with severe depression. What was the ground of depression in William's life is yet not revealed, the family asks for their privacy in this difficult period.




Depression is a mental state characterized by low mood, aversion to activity and a pessimistic sense of inadequacy. Depression affects thoughts, feeling and behaviors of a person that decreases the sense of well-being. People with depression feel anxious, sad, miserable, hopeless, helpless, restless and empty. Depression also affects sleep, thus causes insomnia. Depressed people can also experience loss of appetite and weight loss and in some cases, overeating and weight gain. In severe depression, people lose interest in daily activities that once were their favorite and pleasurable. They also face difficulties in making decisions, and attempt or commit suicide. They might feel excessive laziness and even excessive sleeping, but some of them feel loss of sleep due to continuous worrying and disturbing flow of thoughts in their mind. They may also feel fatigue and loss of energy.


Depression may also be associated with alcoholism. One third of people with severe depression also battle with alcoholism. Robin Williams had admitted using alcohol and cocaine during his popularity in the 1970s, but he was thought to have quit using drugs and alcohol after the birth of his first son in 1983. He was now sober, so this was not a case in Williams's life.


Can herbs help people with depression?


Herbs can alleviate the symptoms of depression and can be used more safely than conventional medicines. However, some people with severe depression may need help from modern medicine and counseling, but herbs can also be used to drive back the depressive symptoms. The following herbs alleviate the symptoms of depression:


St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)


St. John's Wort is a revered herb cultivated in America and Europe for centuries. In folk medicine, it had been used to fight off the depression, traditionally known as melancholia. Now, various research studies have evaluated the efficacy and safety of the herb in clinical depression and stress related disorders. It can be used alone in mild to moderate depression, but in severe depression, the patient may need help from conventional antidepressant drug therapy. It is much like modern antidepressant drugs, which block the re-uptake of neurotransmitter serotonin by neurons, so it avails more serotonin to the brain. It should not be prescribed with modern antidepressant medicines because a rare side effect may occur. It might result in an excess serotonin level in the brain.


Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi)


Spikenard is found in China, India and Europe. It is also known as nard root, muskroot and nardin. It is a source of aromatic amber colored essential oil, also called spikenard oil, which has been used in traditional medicines and aromatherapy. It is a perfect herbal medicine for depression ranging from mild to severe. It calms the mind and alters the thought process. According to some religious text, especially, Buddha and Zen scriptures, thoughts are responsible for everything that occurs all around us. In depression, some kinds of bad or negative thoughts are racing in the mind, which result in emotional disturbances and lack of interest in various routine activities. Jatamansi helps to calm the mind and let a person to feel fresh and energetic inside. It also reduces the bad impacts of depression on the body. It is also the drug of choice and first-line treatment for depression in herbal and Ayurvedic medicine in India and Sri Lanka.


Tagar (Valeriana wallichii)


Tagar is a rhizome used in depression and other mental disorders. It is an antidepressant, analeptic, sedative, carminative, antispasmodic and natural brain tonic. Its effects in the body are also similar to the Nardostachys jatamansi, but with a little difference. Jatamansi calms the mind first and then a person feels fresh, but Tagar stimulates the mind first and then sedates. Some herbal formulations for depression include tagar and jatamansi as main ingredients and other as supportive herbs. The supportive herbs include licorice and ginseng.


Bacopa monnieri


However, Bacopa monnieri is used for enhancing memory and fighting off concentration problems, but it is also prescribed in depression as a brain tonic and antidepressant. It strengthens the brain cells and calms the mind. It decreases the symptoms appear due to depression such as fatigue, lack of interest, sleepless, restless, hopeless, sadness and a feeling of emptiness.


Herbs can help with depression as modern antidepressants help, but these herbs have a few side effects that occur very rarely as compared to the modern medicines used in depression. General side effects of modern antidepressant are dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, Sleep disruption, Sedation, agitation, nausea and headache. More severe side effects can be inability to achieve an erection and loss of libido, which can again cause depression. These types of side effects are very rarely reported with herbal medicines used in depression.


Therapy: For anyone who has a loved one in the throws of depression urge them to seek professional guidance.


Robin Williams thank you for lifting our thoughts on so many occasions and giving us the ability to see the silver lining of life.  We loved you.  Robin Williams RIP.

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