Help at hand for depression and anxiety

Depression and Anxiety are not the taboo they used to be.  These days it is more common and socially acceptable to talk about these conditions with friends and family, and there are many places to go for help if you or someone you know is suffering from these illnesses. Your local GP is often the best place to go for help first, and organisations such as Beyond Blue ( and Life Line can provide much needed support as well. If you are currently thinking of suicide, please call Life Line on 13 11 14

As a naturopath, I do see people suffering from depression and anxiety quite frequently in my clinic. The first thing I usually do to help them is to make sure they are eating a healthy diet that is free from processed foods and low in refined carbohydrates. People who are feeling down, usually crave carbs as these offer a temporary pick up in mood, however it is not good to rely on these long term as they provide little nutrition, and often lead to weight gain. I also ensure they are not relying on stimulants such as caffeine (only 1-2 cups of coffee per day is the maximum I allow – preferably none though). Alcohol is also something I ensure they are not over indulging in. One glass of wine a few times a week is ok, but if it is a few glasses per night, that is when it becomes a problem.

One major treatment I recommend to my patients suffering from depression and anxiety is exercise.  Studies have shown that exercise is a very effective strategy to help with these conditions.  The act of getting out in the fresh air, and moving the body’s muscles creates endorphins, which in turn makes the person feel better (1). Sunshine on the skin also plays a part in this treatment strategy (2).

One very common treatment that most people have heard of is St Johns Wort, which is a herb that is very effective in treating mild to moderate depression (2). It inhibits the reuptake of neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline in the brain, so in effect it is similar to some antidepressant medications, particularly Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s).  It is thought that when levels of these neurotransmitters are low in the brain it leads to feelings of anxiety and depression.  In recent research St John’s Wort has been found to be just as effective as SSRI’s and tricyclic antidepressants, in treating mild to moderate depression, and is superior to placebo (3). However St John’s Wort is not a safe herb to take without naturopathic supervision.  This is because it speeds up the detoxification pathways in the liver, specifically the cytochrome P45 pathway, which also speeds up the metabolism of many other medications.  What this means is it increases the liver’s ability to break down medications in the body, such as anticoagulants (warfarin), the oral contraceptive pill, some anticonvulsives, immune modulators (cyclosporine), barbiturates, cholesterol lowering medication (lipex) and the list goes on (4). So if you are on any other medication, you should consult with your doctor or naturopath before taking St Johns Wort.

If depression or anxiety is a problem for you, then seeking the help of a psychologist is going to be very beneficial. Psychologists are now overed by medicare, so all you need is a referral from your GP to access some very inexpensive health care.  Psychologists are trained in mental health diagnosis and treatment and have very effective strategies that can help people overcome their illness. Cognitive behavioural therapy has been proven over many years to be a very effective treatment for depression and anxiety.

Depression and anxiety are complex illnesses that need expert advice, treatment and monitoring.  Whichever way you choose to go with your health assessment and treatment, it is important to seek advice from a professional, whether that is your GP, a psychologist, or naturopath.  Health practitioners are trained to ask you the right questions and assess which treatment is the best for you, so you can get better in the best of hands.


1) Mead GE, Morley W, Campbell P, Greig CA, McMurdo M, Lawlor DA. Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD004366.

2) Morgan AJ, Jorm AF.  Self-help interventions for depressive disorders and depressive symptoms: a systematic review. Annals of General Psychiatry. 2008 Aug 19;7:13

3) Melzer J, Brignoli R, Keck ME, Saller R. A hypericum extract in the treatment of depressive symptoms in outpatients: an open study. Forsch Komplementmed. 2010;17(1):7-14. Epub 2010 Feb 4

4) Borrelli F, Izzo AA. Herb-drug interactions with St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum): an update on clinical observations. AAPS J. 2009 Dec;11(4):710-27. Epub 2009 Oct 27


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