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Less Well-Studied CAM Remedies For Depression - Ayurveda and Homeopathy

Scott Olson, ND


The traditional medicine of India, called Ayurveda, works with herbs, energetic balance, and yoga, a system of breathing exercises and postures that promote inner peace and unity with a supreme being. Although Ayurveda has its roots in Hinduism, it is not a religious form of treatment. Rather, the treatment is based on an ancient science and has a spiritual component. Some people with depression find that they are able to maintain well-being through the regular practice of yoga and meditation.

yoga classAlthough Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda may seem similar, they have some major differences: they originated in different parts of Asia, use different herbs that are grown natively in those countries, and the addition of yoga adds a physical aspect to the practice of Ayurveda. While yoga in the U.S. is thought to be a merely a program of exercise, in the Indian tradition, it is an entire philosophy. Therapeutic yoga incorporates poses (asanas), breathing ("pranayama") and meditation techniques to improve quality of life and manage symptoms of various diseases, chronic conditions and illnesses - including asthma, back pain, fibromyalgia, depression and cancer.

Yoga is difficult to study in a clinical setting because there are several different factors that can impact its effectiveness. For example, there are many different types of yoga (with varied levels of relaxation or activity), and individual levels of effort during classes may vary. In addition, only certain people are willing to try this form of exercise, so study results may not apply to every group of people who are depressed. There are a few studies that suggest that regular yoga sessions improve depressive symptoms, but their design makes it difficult to draw broad conclusions about the type of person who would benefit most from this therapy.

Yoga can be practiced at home, or you can find a class at a local community/recreation center, gym, or yoga studio. There are forms of yoga that incorporate slow and gentle stretching and others that are more active. If you are thinking of trying yoga, visit several different classes a few times each before committing to one so as to determine which teacher and style will best meet your needs.


Homeopathy is a variety of Western medicine that was created in the 19th century as an alternative to traditional Western medicine (called allopathic medicine) which, as you well know emphasizes the treatment of disease with medications. In contrast to allopathic medicine, homeopathic medicine involves the use of very small amounts of substances (sometimes an infinitesimal amount of the active ingredient) as a means of treating disease. Homeopathy is based on the principle of analogy; that "like-treats-like". With this principle in mind, a homeopathic practitioner might give a homeopathic medication that would normally cause a fever to someone who has a fever already. The thought is that the body seeks a "balance" with a disease and if it is pushed further, then the body will push back. If someone who has a fever is "given more fever", the body will react by reducing the fever.

Homeopathy is very difficult to study due to the varied treatments that practitioners use across different patients. Most homeopathic remedies are individualized to patients; therefore, 10 people with depression might get 10 different remedies! While a few studies have shown that homeopathy can be used to treat depression, these studies were not large or well-designed.

The mechanisms by which homeopathy achieves treatment effects is unclear. Many (allopathic) scientists suggest that when homeopathy works, its benefits are caused by the so-called placebo effect which occurs when treatment effects occur on the basis of patients' belief they will work (rather than on any intrinsic healing property of the treatment). This conclusion has not been established definitively, however. Some clinical trials have shown that homeopathy works better than placebo for treating depression, but other studies have not shown this result. In any event, most homeopathic preparations are so diluted that there is very little chance that an active ingredient (in the conventional sense) is present.

There are many self-help books on homeopathy. However, if you are interested in exploring this branch of medicine, it is best to go to a qualified practitioner and have them personalize a remedy for you. Because homeopathy uses such small amounts of substances, it can be said that homeopathy has no side effects or drug interactions.