Archive for Thursday, January 26, 2006

Depression therapy results cheered

Natural regimen gives participants new lease on life

January 26, 2006


For eight miserable years, John fought depression.

"It had gotten to the point where I was so short-fused with my family, I was headed for a divorce," he said.

He tried antidepressants for about a year. They helped some.

"They masked my symptoms, but I felt groggy all the time," he said. "I know fatigue is one of the symptoms of depression, but they amplified my fatigue."

Today, John, 45, is no longer on antidepressants.

"My marriage is better than ever," he said. "It's like my life - emotionally, mentally, physically - has been saved."

John, a Lawrence resident who asked not to be identified, recently completed Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC), a drug-free regimen designed by Kansas University psychology associate professor Steve Ilardi.

The experimental regimen stresses:

¢ Exercise.

¢ Sleep.

¢ Exposure to sunlight.

A depression study overseen by Steve Ilardi, associate professor of psychology at Kansas University, has shown that fish oil tablets along with a regimen of exercise, sunlight and socialization can help fight depression. Graduate student clinicians who have assisted Ilardi in the study are, from left, Andy Lehman, Tulsa, Okla.; Leslie Karwoski, Athens, Ga.; Dana Steidtmann, Laramie, Wyo.; Ilardi, displaying a jar of fish oil tablets; and Jenny Prohaska, Leawood.

A depression study overseen by Steve Ilardi, associate professor of psychology at Kansas University, has shown that fish oil tablets along with a regimen of exercise, sunlight and socialization can help fight depression. Graduate student clinicians who have assisted Ilardi in the study are, from left, Andy Lehman, Tulsa, Okla.; Leslie Karwoski, Athens, Ga.; Dana Steidtmann, Laramie, Wyo.; Ilardi, displaying a jar of fish oil tablets; and Jenny Prohaska, Leawood.

¢ Socialization.

¢ Omega 3 dietary supplement (fish oil).

¢ Not dwelling on negative thoughts.

Ilardi argues that depression is a consequence of the human brain being out of synch with 21st century lifestyles.

"For 99 percent of our history as a distinct species, humans have lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle," Ilardi said. "This lifestyle, it turns out, included several potent antidepressant elements: hours of physical activity, abundant exposure to natural light, extensive social support and ample amounts of omega 3 fatty acids."

As American lifestyles have become more sedentary and more socially isolated, he said, depression rates have skyrocketed.

"Since World War II, depression rates have gone up 10-fold," Ilardi said. "Today, nearly 25 percent of the American population will battle a depressive illness sometime in their lives. It's an epidemic."

Under the TLC regimen, participants are, in effect, reconnected with the lifestyles of their ancestors.

Encouraging results

So far, 26 people - all adults diagnosed with major depression - have been through TLC. The results have been encouraging.

"Eighty-one percent have achieved a favorable response," Ilardi said, noting that a recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that depression sufferers on Celexa, a popular antidepressant, reported a favorable response of 47 percent.

A favorable response is defined as at least a 50 percent reduction in symptoms.

Ilardi called TLC's successes remarkable but "highly preliminary." He plans to continue gathering data for another year, after which he'll expose the program to the scientific peer review process.

"We'll be applying for some federal grants later in the year," he said. "Ideally, we'd like to be able to randomly assign patients to be treated with TLC or with medication."

For research purposes, he said, being able to randomly assign subjects to groups is the "gold standard."

Dr. John Whipple, a Lawrence psychiatrist, welcomed news of TLC's early success.

"I think (Ilardi) is providing a wonderful service," he said.

Whipple said he's also looking forward to being able to sort through the different variables in TLC's success.

"I'm interested to see if TLC is effective when depression occurs with other emotional problems as well, such as social anxiety, attention deficit disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder."

He also wondered whether depression sufferers who struggle with motivation are somehow screened out of the groups.

Ilardi said motivation was not a criteria for group participation.

Additional volunteers sought

For more information or to apply for Steve Ilardi's depression study group, contact project coordinator Leslie Karwoski, 218-6336 or

Applicants must be: ¢ Between ages 18 and 65. ¢ Live within an hour's drive of Lawrence. ¢ Committed to attending 12 early-evening sessions in a 15-week period. ¢ Meet diagnosis criteria for clinical depression. Applicants must not be: ¢ Addicted to alcohol or drugs. ¢ Bipolar or psychotic. The deadline for applications is Feb. 1.

"We don't intentionally screen out anyone with low motivation, but it certainly is possible that some potential TLC participants lack the necessary motivation to contact us," he said. "However, our TLC participants so far have been highly representative of depressed patients in general. If anything, they've been more severely depressed than the average patient in treatment."

More groups planned

Ilardi and his graduate students plan on launching two more TLC groups in February.

Limited to between five and eight members, the groups meet about once a week for 15 weeks. The meetings last about two hours.

Applications are being taken until Feb. 1.

"I highly recommend it," said Mary, a recent TLC graduate. "I won't say that I'm totally free of depression, but I feel much more alive than I have in the last 13 years - I was first diagnosed in 1993."

Mary, 62, said she, too, tried antidepressants.

"I quit taking them because all they did was treat the symptoms. I wanted to get at the cause," she said. "Medications don't do that. They wear off, and then you're back to square one."

Mary, who asked not to be identified, said she has always been an "exercise nut" and had little trouble adjusting to that part of the regimen.

"Where I kept falling down was on socialization," she said.

Now that she's "95-percent symptom-free," Mary says she has a new lease on life.

"I'd fought depression for so long," she said. "TLC just proved to me that I had been on the right path all along; all I needed was a little extra knowledge.

"Believe me, I've read volumes on depression," she said. "But I never found anything that works. This works."


Ragingbear 12 years, 3 months ago

As a chronic sufferer of clinical depression, I have looked at a variety of different therapies that had the potential of letting me return to a somewhat normal lifestyle. I am in a program that has similer features to the one listed above, and it helps. I may not agree with all of the aspects of the program (There is little evidence that the Omega-3 thing does anything for depression, but it is still something proven to be healthy), there have been a number of accounts of decent results.

However, when I was interested in this program, I was on a streak of my depression being under excellent control. So I did not qualify to participate in that study at the time.

Ragingbear 12 years, 3 months ago

That is true Bob. The best thing for depression is to do the exact opposite of what you want to do. Only thing is, even though you know it, you have no motivation during a depressive episode to do so. So you cover your windows, turn off your phone, and eat the worst food for you, or don't eat at all. So you get ill, making it worse. And all you can do at this time is sit alone, and ruminate over your own depressing thoughts, making them worse.

The sunlight helps counteract the symptoms of SAD, which a majority of those suffering depression have. This can be experienced in the summer if you block all the light coming into your house, which is common for those with depression. Excersize and diet all have proven ties with lessening depression. A balanced breakfast alone has proven to be beneficial towards it.

And many people that I know who suffer depression find benefits in Fish oil, and in a vitamin that is rich in the B spectrum. I myself take a good multivitamin, and it helps a little. Haven't tried the fish oil. But I have recently started melatonin, which my doctor said that some of her patients have benefited from. But she could not actually advocate the use of it, as it is not considered true medicine. To advocate the use of it would be grounds for censure, and even get his license revoked.

badger 12 years, 3 months ago

Omega-3 improves cognitive function in a lot of ways. Perhaps the hypothesis is that if your brain is sharper, you are more able to avoid negative thinking? I'm not sure what their rationale is.

I eat fish once or twice a week and take a daily Omega supplement - though I admit the Omega is a vanity thing, because if I don't take it and my vitamins, my skin breaks out badly.

I'm outside getting a lot more sunshine than I was a year ago. I've started a regimen of walking 7-10 miles a week, and am spending two or three nights a week hanging out with others (sometimes while I walk on my treadmill). Offset this with the fact that I'm not getting enough sleep (schedule issues), and I'd still say I'm having fewer 'winter blah' days than I have in any winter in the last ten years. I wasn't 'depressed' but I still had dreary winter grumpy days.

All the things listed in this regimen are good healthy things most people should have more of in their lives whether they are suffering from depression or not, really. Most people could stand to get a little more active, spend a little more time outside, sleep more regularly, and eat more fish.

I wonder how many people besides those dealing with depression could improve their lives by adding some of these habits to their daily actions.

Ragingbear 12 years, 3 months ago

There is signifigant evidence that fish and shellfish was one of the main sources of food, and protien in the diet of very early man. Not sure if this predates that racial branch offs or not, but the fact remains that mankind should eat more fish, and less things like pork and beef. Results in lower cholesterol, and other garbage.

Not really sure what is going on with the entire omega-3 thing. I know it hasn't been completely evaluated by the FDA and everything.But then again, they tend to refuse to evaluate a lot of "alternative" treatments.

glockenspiel 12 years, 3 months ago

Nice article. I have many freinds that rave about Dr. Ilardi.

bearded_gnome 12 years, 3 months ago

Raging, I have read the depression research with just the fish oil, and it is good research. / and, by itself does make a big difference for most people with depression. other mood disorders less clear effects.
I use Melatonin, will write you privately RE that one. Melatonin is a natural substance, your brain makes it, or is supposed to make it, in the Pineal gland, timed by your visual light perception to set your sleep/awake clock.

this study is what I'd call profound! and I hope that millions of folks will benefit from it, it is much better for depressed persons to be on this treatment than just pills, or even pills plus talking therapy.
and, yes, the getting out, socializing, exercise, is hard to start but to some one reading this who is depressed, I'd tell you that it gets easier after you do it a few times and you will notice mood improvement probably quite soon.
its hard to start but the rewards will likely be very noticeable in a week or two.

what I read, you might need to be on the fish oil for two to four weeks at the right dose. if you just take one 1000 capsule a day, probably not enough...more like four or five for results.
fish oil has other interesting benefits too.

kudos to the prof and the student clinicians! good job and you're certainly making a real difference!

Confrontation 12 years, 3 months ago

I've known many people who have claimed depression. They tend to be children from rich families who can afford the medication. They don't suffer from anything other than laziness, over-eating, and usually computer addiction. I'm sure many on this site will say those are symptoms of depression, although they had these habits long before being "diagnosed." This study makes absolute sense. Since most people create their own little "depressing worlds," these steps should get them off their butts and focusing on something other than their own laziness and computer friends. I can totally understand depression following traumatic events, including the death of an extremely close loved one. I've known too many people who claim depression after they were handed everything on a silver platter.

badger 12 years, 3 months ago

With the socializing, one of the things that really seems to help is having a friend who will physically drag you, kicking and screaming, out of your house in necessary.

If you're reading this and you think you may have a friend dealing with depression, one of the best things you can do is call them up and say, "Hey, I was going to go for a walk/take a drive/see a movie/get some coffee. Wanna join me, my treat? I could really use the company." Make it about wanting to spend time with your friend, not about being worried that your friend is not OK.

If you ask them a few times and they always have an excuse, drop by with some cheery flowers, or a little 'hey how are you' card, or (when applicable) some fresh fruit or veggies you just happened to get a little extra of when you went to the Farmers Market.

It can be really hard to be around people who are depressed. Try to just let them talk, or not talk, whichever they feel like. Sometimes just the experience of being with another person without feeling like they have to put on the 'normal' face can be an enormous relief to them.

Just knowing that there's someone who cares and who wants them around can make it lots easier for someone to take that 'get up off the couch' step and start being the one who makes the calls or plans something to do.

Ragingbear 12 years, 3 months ago

I suffered from depression that is so bad that it has hospitalized me several times, and caused several minor, and at least one major psychotic episode where I should have been hospitalized. It landed me on the streets for over a year, and even with two medications, several types of therapy, regular meditation and several other alternative therapies that may or may not help, I still have depressing and suicidal thoughts. Am I faking it?

While true that some people get the blues, or stress, or whatever and think that by taking prozac that it will make them happy. Antidepressants are NOT mood elevators. They will not make you happy. They don't work that way. All they do is make it so that the chemicals in your brain that are making you depressed without any reason will function more properly. And there are a wide variety of side effects that come along with them.

I had one that had me starting to think like a schizophrenic, another that had me so out of it all the time that one day I forgot that you don't lick a wooden spoon when you are stirring hot oil, and that you don't touch a stove when it's on. Many have sexual side effects that would get me censered if I were to talk about them on this board. Yet I take them, accepting these side effects as par for the course, and better than the alternative.

bearded_gnome 12 years, 3 months ago

confrontation, despite your experience with spoiled rich kids...toss that out okay.
depression is real, and many causes,known and unidentified are real. once depression kicks in, perceptions change, mallaise often happens, lethargy...etc. it becomes a spiral downward.
please do not trivialize depression. it is quite real.

bearded_gnome 12 years, 3 months ago

Nice Post Badger! I hope that some reading it will follow your advice, you described the social issues nicely.
mental disorders are still the most belittled, doubted, and diminished ailments in our society with the most shame attached to them. this must change! with my congestive heart failure, nobody ever says, "oh, I guess you're faking it." but it doesn't mess with my perceptions and my life and identity the way severe depression does!

Confrontation 12 years, 3 months ago

I still believe that most people who claim to be depressed just want attention. In my line of work, I've worked with a ton of rich kids who just want the pills and some extra attention from their parents. The only people I've seen who should be depressed are the elderly and those who've just lost someone close to them. Other people tend to get depressed because they gain weight, can't find a partner, want to be on pills like all their buddies, get teased at school, etc. Too many people are taking pills today. Tom Cruise is absolutely right. Well, maybe not in his choice to join the War of the Worlds cast.

bearded_gnome 12 years, 3 months ago

confrontation, did you even read the article?

this study involves treatment of depression without the use of antidepressants!

helping to get people treated for depression without the pills you deride.

and, I suspect you have zero training for your clinical assessments of those around you, so shut up and quit adding to the difficulty and shame people experience with mental disorders!

Confrontation 12 years, 3 months ago

bearded_gnome-you couldn't be further from the truth. I do have a background that involved clinical assessments. I totally agree with the treatment of depression in this article, since it helps people with made-up depression get off their butts and stop acting like they're sad. Stop handing out drugs and tell these "depressed" people to grow up.

wonderhorse 12 years, 3 months ago

"...people with made-up depression...."

I didn't see that in the article. Can you give me some kind of citation?

bearded_gnome 12 years, 3 months ago

confrontation demonstrates that there can exist an inverse proportion between IQ and number of words...

made up depression. he obviously knows nothing about real depression, psychotic depression, and all the variants of depression.
in fact, judging by his message tone and volume, makes you think he's got a reaction formation against some of his own mental disturbance and this article's content pushed his button a little too hard...?

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