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Are there alternative treatments for depression?

It would be nice to report that self-help works! Unfortunately, serious depression is a very disillusioning affair. The most intelligent, educated, cultivated people are equally laid low. They include those with the best plans for better living; the most prudent and health-conscious; college professors and Olympic athletes; Mets pitchers and famous novelists.

A variety of activities can help people maintain their morale while getting through depression, but no great hopes can be placed in special diet or exercise regimens. Certain activities act as placebos -- meaning, it is the patient's positive regard for the therapy rather than the specific therapy which is helpful.

An exception might be the use of the amino acid L-Tryptophan, which is a precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin. L-Tryptophan has been used as a hypnotic (sleeping pill) and in conjunction with antidepressants in people who normally don't respond to antidepressants. There has been recent interest in the naturally-occurring St. John's Wort. We await further developments.

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