Magnets Offer New Hope for Depression
When medication alone isn't enough, a noninvasive therapy called TMS can help you break away from depression. Take a look inside the latest research on this depression treatment—and other natural strategies.
A magnet-therapy system, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, shows promise for lifting depression in the 20 to 40 percent of people whose low moods don't respond to antidepressants alone. In new research, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) eased depression by at least 25 percent for 142 out of 265 people who received it. Six months later, 84 percent still felt at least somewhat better—though some needed a booster treatment.
How Magnetic Pulses Help
During a TMS session, your brain receives thousands of brief magnetic field pulses designed to stimulate neurons in the left prefrontal cortex—an area of the brain linked with depression. You don't need anesthesia or sedation. Each treatment lasts 37 minutes; most people receive 20 to 30 treatments in all, usually given once a day for four to six weeks. The procedure requires a prescription and is done under the supervision of a psychiatrist. The cost can be high—about $10,000 without insurance coverage—but experts say it may help people when medication alone, or even electroconvulsive therapy, fail.
In the new multicenter study, volunteers received maintenance doses of antidepressants after completing TMS treatment. Over the following six months, 38 percent saw symptoms grow worse; 84 percent improved again with booster sessions of TMS. The researchers say relapse rates were comparable to or better than those for people who receive antidepressants alone.
Lifting Depression Naturally
If you or someone you love seems depressed, it's worth talking with your family doctor or a specialist about treatment. Meanwhile, these mood-lifting steps may help raise minor low moods—and can be good add-on strategies if you're receiving medical care for major depression.
Dine on fish or take omega-3 fatty acid capsules. In one recent Canadian study, people who took capsules containing the good fats EPA and 150 milligrams of DHA saw depression improve significantly. Up to 60 percent of your brain tissue is made from fats, much of it omega-3s. Not getting enough in your diet may reduce levels of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine and make it more difficult for brain cells to absorb blood sugar (their preferred fuel). You may also have lower levels of BDNF, a protein that maintains brain cells and encourages the growth of new ones. In many, but not all, studies, people who took fish oil supplements or eat fish rich in these good fats (like salmon) saw an improvement in depression. In some studies, getting 1 to 2 grams of omega-3s per day was helpful.
Give yourself a nature break. Five minutes a day outdoors boosts mood and self-esteem significantly, report British scientists who reviewed 10 studies involving 1,252 people. Being in a blue-green setting, such as beside a river, lake, stream, or ocean, produced the biggest benefits.
Take a walk. In one recent review, researchers found that people who got about a half hour of exercise most days of the week reported less depression than sedentary people. Physical activity eases anxiety and has a positive effect on feel-good brain chemicals. Plus, you'll get an extra boost from knowing you've done something good for yourself.
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