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Top Ten Ways to Beat the Holiday Blues - Exercise, Herbs, Acupuncture and More!

 St. John's wort. St. John's wort is an herbal preparation from the Hypericum perforatum plant. It has long been used in folk medicine, and today it's widely prescribed in Europe to treat anxiety and depression.

1.     Exercise has long been touted as a way to maintain physical fitness and help prevent high blood pressure, diabetes and other diseases. A growing volume of research shows that exercise can also help improve symptoms of certain mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. Exercise may also help prevent a relapse after treatment for depression or anxiety.  Research suggests that it may take at least 30 minutes of exercise a day for at least three to five days a week to significantly improve depression symptoms. Some evidence suggests that exercise raises the levels of certain mood-enhancing neurotransmitters in the brain. Exercise may also boost feel-good endorphins, release muscle tension, help you sleep better, and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
2.     St. John's wort. St. John's wort is an herbal preparation from the Hypericum perforatum plant. It has long been used in folk medicine, and today it's widely prescribed in Europe to treat anxiety and depression. In the United States, it's sold in health food stores and pharmacies in the form of tablets or tea.  European studies suggest that St. John's wort may work as well as antidepressants in mild depression and with fewer side effects. However, some studies have found that St. John's wort isn't effective in treating major depression

3.     SAM-e. Pronounced "sammy," short for S-adenosyl-methionine, this chemical substance is available in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression. In the United States it's sold as an over-the-counter dietary supplement. SAM-e is a chemical substance found in all human cells and plays a role in many body functions. It's thought to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine. Some studies have found SAM-e to be more effective than a placebo, but no more effective than treatment with antidepressant medications.

4.     5-HTP. One of the raw materials that your body needs to make serotonin is a chemical called 5-HTP, which is short for 5-hydroxytryptophan. In theory, if you boost your body's level of 5-HTP, you should also elevate your levels of serotonin. But there's not enough evidence to determine if 5-HTP is effective and safe. Larger studies than have been conducted to date are needed.

5.     Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oil and certain plants. They're being studied as a possible mood stabilizer for people with bipolar depression and other psychiatric disorders. Fish oil capsules containing omega-3 fatty acids are sold in stores. The capsules are high in fat and calories and may produce gastrointestinal problems. Another way to get more omega-3 fatty acids is simply to eat more fish, tofu, soybeans, walnuts, or canola or flaxseed oil.

6.     Diets high in refined foods, sugars, and unhealthy fats can actually interfere with our natural brain chemistry, Modern eating habits are part of what makes many people depressed, says Michael Lesser, a psychiatrist in Berkeley, California, who also bases his treatment on an evaluation of a patient’s diet and lifestyle. “Ironically, though we live in a wealthy society, our diets are deficient in crucial nutrients,” says Lesser, author of The Brain Chemistry Plan.

7.     Vitamin B folate or folic acid—found in citrus fruits, legumes, leafy green vegetables—is now part of the psychiatrist's arsenal of antidepressants. Folate enhances response to antidepressant drugs: In patients previously unresponsive to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, folic acid boosted the response rate by 40 percent, according to Jonathan Alpert, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard.

8.     Reduce your carbohydrates.  The theory is that carbohydrates stimulate serotonin production and thus eating them is an attempt to self-medicate depression. Studies focused on this link do seem to back this up. High carbohydrate meals raise serotonin1 while fatty or protein rich meals tend to lower it. The type of carbohydrate chosen seems to be based upon it's glycemic index, or how high it causes blood sugar levels to peak. The higher glycemic index carbohydrates like sugar have a greater effect2 on serotonin than starchy, lower glycemic index foods like potatoes.

9.     Meditation. Despite the obvious metabolic differences between running and meditation, the researchers predicted that mood change after both of these activities would be similar if they could be associated with similar hormonal changes.

10.  Acupuncture. An NIH consensus panel of scientists, researchers, and practitioners in 1997 determined that acupuncture has been clinically proven to be effective against nausea from surgery and chemotherapy, addiction, headaches, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, asthma, and to assist in stroke rehabilitation. Since then, other studies have looked at pain, ADHD, pregnancy complications, and other diseases and conditions. 

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