Many of our patients want to reduce their use of medications, and move to a more natural regimen, utilizing herbal medicine, dietary supplements, and other traditional or less invasive methods of controlling mood swings and increasing stability.
However, we have to recognize that “natural” medicine is still a form of medical treatment, and requires patient participation and discipline just as “modern” medications do. If you have trouble remembering to take your prescribed pills, then remembering to take your supplements will likely be equally difficult, and they will do no good if taken irregularly, or at a lower than recommended level.
Although various herbs have been used by humans for millennia as health care, there is very little on most plants that modern people would recognize as robust evidence for their use. This is particularly true of the use of herbal remedies for mental illnesses, which are now understood very differently from how they were traditionally recognized and treated.
Some important considerations to keep in mind with supplements and herbal medications are:
- Sourcing. Production of dietary supplements is not regulated by the FDA, and there is essentially no oversight in the production and packing of these products. Random testing of commonly available brands has sometimes found no presence at all of the advertised ingredients, or else the supplement is found to be a much lower percentage of the contents than recommended. We recommend all users of supplements to subscribe to Consumer Labs for their rigorous testing of common supplements. In the case of herbal medications, try to use those that you can grow or harvest in your immediate environment.
- Dosage. Herbal medicines and supplements will not have the desired effect without attention being paid to amount and timing of use. Even a simple cup of chamomile tea will not have the expected health effect (calming and relaxing) unless at least a tablespoon of the herb is steeped for 10-15 minutes in one cup of freshly boiled water. Swishing a tea bag in your cup is not a medicinal use. Any “natural” treatment will have recommended dosages, and these may not be what the manufacturer prints on the package.
- Lifestyle. Just as when your doctor puts you on cholesterol-lowering drugs you still have to avoid eating bacon and cheeseburgers, so taking herbal medicine will not substitute for conscious and healthy lifestyle choices. Indeed, herbal medicine is, itself, a lifestyle change and choice, and intentionally using more herbs can be an important move towards a better diet and lower stress levels. Take time to savor your food. Take a walk and notice the scents and colors of the plants growing around you, both cultivated and “weeds”. Try gardening or growing herbs in pots indoors.
- Fads. There are no “miracle foods” and there is no value in trying out the latest fad food without finding out where it comes from, what it is supposed to do, and what dosage is needed for it to have an effect. It’s much better to become familiar with a few herbs or supplements and use them in a consistent manner over a longer period of time. In this way, you will be your own researcher, able to gather data on how your own body reacts and to establish dietary habits that work for you.
Finally, here are some earlier MoodSurfing posts that give further information on particular supplements:
Nutritional Supplements for Depression (this article includes latest info on fish oil)