A prominent UK scientist has co-authored a new book promoting diet, lifestyle changes and other natural alternatives to anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac for the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders.
According to the authors for many people suffering from depression the answer may not lie in popping pills but rather making a concious effort to smile, eating a diet high in oily fish and avoiding dairy products, sending fewer emails, and spending less money.
These are just a few of the recommendations made in Beating Stress, Anxiety and Depression. Unlike many books of this ilk it has not been written by a self-styled wellness guru but rather one of the UK's top scientists and a qualified psychologist.
Professor Jane Plant is the UK Government's chief adviser on toxic chemicals and health and is a trustee of Prince Charles's Foundation for Integrated Medicine. Co-author Janet Stephenson is a psychologist working in the National Health Service (NHS).
The tone of the book is set early when they write: "We do not agree with the usual advice to 'keep taking your medication and eventually all will be well, because doctor knows best'."
While some of the recommendations in the book are unorthodox and even sound outlandish, Plant and Stephenson say all their tips are based on hard scientific evidence gathered from studies around the world.
"Smiling is a way of tricking your brain into thinking that everything's okay, even if it's not," said Plant.
"People who are mildly depressed should do their best to show the world a happy face as that will improve people's reaction to you and lift your mood."
The UK's National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), which recommends which treatments should be offered on the NHS, already says that psychological "talking therapies", are just as effective as drugs in most cases. Plant and Stephenson agree with this saying that human contact, either face-to-face or over the telephone, are important. They say the "people skills" to both talk and listen meaningfully are useful for maintaining positive mood. However, they advise against relying on email and text messaging for communication as these are impersonal and do nothing to provide the emotional comfort of human contact.
The book recommends depressed patients shun celebrity culture, advising activities such as sports, dancing, and reading novels rather than watching TV or reading glossy magazines. It explains that such activities makes people feel even worse when they don't match up to pop stars or TV presenters.
Another recommendation is to try to be less materialistic, as career and financial success is often achieved at the expense of personal relationships which are a better guarantee of happiness.
Interesting evidence for the success of such approaches comes from countries such as Bhutan where commercial advertising is banned or restricted. Bhutan is consistently found to be among the happiest nations in the world.
Perhaps slightly less unusual are the dietary recommendations in the book. Plant and Stephenson recommend eating plenty of oily fish, avoiding dairy products and eating porridge before bed. Substantial amounts of research support the fact that omega-3 fatty acids in fish improve brain function and mood by improving the efficiency with which brain cells communicate with each other and also by elevating mood enhancing chemical such as serotonin. There is some research suggesting that in certain people the protein casein found in dairy products may be converted to an opiate-like substance which could interfere with brain function. Porridge is recommended as oats are said to have a calming effect on the nervous system and thus help with mood and sleep.
The book has received praise from highly distinguished individuals. Neurologist Lord Walton of Detchant wrote in the latest issue of the journal Science in Parliament, that Beating Stress, Anxiety and Depression is an "admirable book, which would do much to alleviate the fear, helplessness and hopelessness which many feel when suffering from mental ill-health".
There's no doubt that the book will be welcomed by many and offer sufferers of mood disorders valuable and empowering tools with which they can begin to take control of their symptoms. It's publication is also timely after recent revelations that in most cases anti-depressant drugs are no more effective than placebo and that pharmaceutical have sought to hide less favorable trial results from doctors and the public.
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