ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Herbal Remedy Could Halt Peanut Allergy
Obesity May Raise Kids' Allergy Risk
Overweight Moms More Likely to Have Asthmatic Kids
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Meditation, Yoga Might Switch Off Stress Genes
When Healing Becomes a Commodity
Should Your Child Be Seeing a Chiropractor?
ANIMAL CARE
Beware of Dog Bites
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
BONES & JOINTS
Vitamin D Plus Calcium Guards Against Fractures
Fruits and Veggies May Strengthen Bones
B Cells Can Act Alone in Autoimmune Diseases
CANCER
Poor Women Seem to Be Skipping Breast Cancer Drugs
Smokeout '08: The Perfect Time to Quit
Women Smokers Lose 14.5 Years Off Life Span
CAREGIVING
Moms Who Breast-Feed Less Likely to Neglect Child
Critically Ill Patients Lack Vitamin D
Hospital Practices Influence Which Moms Will Breast-Feed
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Smog Tougher on the Obese
Potassium-Rich Foods May Cut Stroke, Heart Disease Risk
Night Shift Work Hard on the Heart
COSMETIC
Science May Banish Bad Hair Days
Health Tip: After Liposuction
Wrinkle Fillers Need Better Label Warnings: FDA Panel
DENTAL, ORAL
Health Tip: At Risk for Gingivitis
Periodontal Disease Impacts Whole Health
Study Links Osteoporosis Drugs to Jaw Trouble
DIABETES
Strict Blood Sugar Lowering Won't Ease Diabetes Heart Risk
Boosting Vitamin D Can Do a Heart Good
Insulin Resistance Tied to Peripheral Artery Disease
DIET, NUTRITION
Coffee Drinking Lowers Women's Stroke Risk
Eating Well And Keeping Active As You Grow Old Will Help You Stay Sharp
Even in 'Last Supper,' Portion Sizes Have Grown
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Seasons Arriving 2 Days Earlier, Study Says
Skin Woes Take Toll on U.S. Combat Troops
Arsenic in Drinking Water Raises Diabetes Risk
EYE CARE, VISION
Diabetic Hispanics Missing Out on Eye Exams
'Blind' Man Navigates Obstacle Course Without Error
Protein Might One Day Prevent Blindness
FITNESS
Exercise in Adolescence May Cut Risk of Deadly Brain Tumor
You Can Get Great Exercise In The Garden
Yoga Can Ease Lower Back Pain
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Olive Oil May Protect Against Bowel Disease
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Intestinal Bacteria Trigger Immune Response
GENERAL HEALTH
Olde Time Medicine Therapy May Prevent Alcoholic Relapse
Music Therapy For Prehistoric Man?
Laughter Can Boost Heart Health
HEAD & NECK
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Imaging Sheds Light on How Acupuncture Works
Save Your Aging Brain, Try Surfing The Web
Subway Defibrillators Save Lives
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Omega-3, Some Omega-6 Fatty Acids Boost Cardiovascular Health
Walk Long, Slow and Often to Help the Heart
Western Diet Linked To Heart Disease, Metabolic Syndrome
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Hand Washing 10 Times a Day May Help Keep Flu Away
Bacterial Infections May Succumb to Honey
Dry Weather Boosts Odds of Flu Outbreaks
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Heart Defects in Newborns Linked to Antidepressants
Eating Fish, Breast-Feeding Boost Infant Development
Dangerous Toys Still on Store Shelves, Report Finds
MEN'S HEALTH
Exercise May Prevent Prostate Cancer: Study Shows
Countdown to Hair Loss
Eating Fast Until Full Triples Overweight Risk
MENTAL HEALTH
Fear Response May Stem From Protein in Brain
Meaningful Conversations Boost Kids' Language Skills
Drink Away Dementia?
PAIN
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Woman in America Are Delaying Motherhood, Study Says
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
Music of Mozart Soothes the Preemie Baby
SENIORS
Tai Chi and Qigong Offer Many Health Benefits: Review
Protein Deposits May Show Up Before Memory Problems Occur, Study Says
Eating Well And Keeping Active As You Grow Old Will Help You Stay Sharp
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
Exercising Throat Muscles May Relieve Sleep Apnea
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Iodine in Prenatal Vitamins Varies Widely
How Much Fish to Eat While Pregnant?
Health Tip: Be More Comfortable During Childbirth
Add your Article

The Unmedicated Mind

From lobotomies with ice picks to early antidepressants that caused brain hemorrhaging, Americans have a complicated and ever-changing approach to treating mental illness. Now, spurred by the growing disenchantment with antidepressants, an increasing number of people are seeking treatment for depression, anxiety and eating disorders from naturopaths, acupuncturists and even chiropractors. At the same time, more traditional psychiatrists are incorporating massage and meditation in their practices.

The treatments go beyond needles and spinal manipulation. They include Emotional Freedom Techniques -- tapping on the body's "energy meridians" as the patient thinks about upsetting incidents -- and craniosacral therapy, which involves a gentle rocking of the head, neck, spine and pelvis. In cranial electrotherapy stimulation, a AA-battery-powered device sends mild electrical currents to the brain. (The procedure has its roots in ancient Greek medicine, when electric eels were used.) Clinicians are also prescribing supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, or amino acids like L-theanine, found in green tea.

Sarah Spring had been in therapy with a psychiatrist and on the antidepressant Wellbutrin for four years to work through a childhood trauma, but felt she wasn't making any progress. So she went to a naturopath -- a practitioner trained in holistic therapy and alternative treatments like herbal medicine and nutrition. (They attend a four-year naturopathic school -- a bachelor's degree is a prerequisite -- but only 15 states license naturopaths.) After two sessions of Emotional Freedom Techniques, the tapping treatment that is meant to clear emotions and restore balance, Ms. Spring says she doesn't get the same shortness of breath and accelerated heart rate she used to. "It's remarkable," says the Portland, Ore., marketing manager, who just started to decrease her dose of Wellbutrin.

To address the growing interest from professionals, Harvard Medical School's Department of Continuing Education will have three classes on complementary and alternative medicine in psychiatry over the next year, up from one a year since the class was introduced in 2003. David Mischoulon, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard, says doctors who have attended the class report that more patients are asking for alternative treatments -- due to the side effects of antidepressants, as well as a lack of response to the medication. Only about half of patients who take antidepressants respond, he says. "It is time to broaden the horizons," he says.

But there is no proof that many of these methods work for treating mental illness. One large study found Emotional Freedom Techniques were no more effective than a placebo, while evidence is limited for acupuncture and fish oil (thought to reduce some types of depression) in the treatment of mental health problems. Using herbal supplements with conventional medicine can be dangerous, psychiatrists say. "There are always snake oil salesmen," says Carolyn Rabinowitz, president of the American Psychiatric Association.

Traditional therapists worry that alternative treatments might sway patients to give up conventional treatments too quickly. "People with very little data often say, 'This works,' " says Philip Muskin, Chief of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. A psychiatrist and trained hypnotist, Dr. Muskin believes that wellness techniques like yoga, herbs and acupuncture can make people feel better psychologically. But he says alternative providers don't have adequate training to diagnose or treat severe mental-health disorders. "Many think if you get your liver and spleen into the right balance that will help," he says.
Safety Concerns

In any one-year period, 9.5% of the population, or about 20.9 million American adults, suffer from a mood disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A study by the World Health Organization, Harvard University School of Public Health and the World Bank found that by the year 2030, depression will be second only to HIV/AIDS in terms of disability caused world-wide.

A backlash against antidepressants sparked by concerns about their safety, efficacy and side effects is helping drive patients to alternative methods. Some 80% of antidepressants are currently prescribed by primary doctors who often diagnose depression in a 20-minute visit and don't provide accompanying therapy or help manage side effects.

Sales of all classes of antidepressants were $13.5 billion in 2006, down from a peak of $13.8 billion in 2004, according to IMS Health, a health-care information company. Usage of selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) dropped in 2005 after warnings about side effects -- particularly the risk of suicidal behavior in people aged 25 and under, which prompted the Food and Drug Administration to order drug makers to add warnings to their packaging in 2004. The introduction of generics onto the market (most recently, for Zoloft) also contributed to lower sales.

A spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America says pharmaceuticals like antidepressants undergo a rigorous assessment of benefits and risks by the FDA. Other methods have been used to treat depression historically, he says, but pharmaceuticals do and will continue to play a large role in therapy.

At the same time, the rise of managed care and changes in Medicaid and Medicare have resulted in companies paying far less for mental health coverage. Employer spending on mental health care dropped to 1.3% of an employee's medical care costs in 2006, from 10.9% in 1988, according to employee-benefits firm Towers Perrin. While most employees with health insurance have some mental-health coverage, only 13% have coverage for an unlimited number of outpatient visits to providers such as psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, says a 2006 survey of employers by the Kaiser Family Foundation. That's down from 19% in 2004. Most insurance policies pay for a limited number of visits, often 20 or 30 per year, and some put a cap on the dollars they'll pay.

Over the past decade, insurers have started covering more alternative procedures. Plans vary, from unlimited visits to 12 or 20 visits per year, according to Doug Metz, Chief Health Services Officer at American Specialty Health, which runs complementary medicine benefits plans for insurance companies. Co-payments typically run $10 to $20, and plans limit the reasons for visits to scientifically proven techniques -- which generally does not include treatments for mental health. While coverage for visits to naturopaths is mandated by law in Connecticut, Vermont and Washington, employers can still limit the number of visits and restrict it to a network.

Aetna, for one, will cover acupuncture used to treat migraine headaches or chronic lower back pain, but not for depression; it will cover biofeedback for migraines, but not stress. The options are growing: Starting this month, members can get at least 25% off standard fees for visits to an approved list of 19,000 credentialed "natural therapy professionals," including massage therapists and dietetic counselors, for any condition. (Standard fees for a first-time acupuncturist visit can be $90 to $120.)

The shift comes as scientific research sheds new light on the causes of depression. The use of SSRIs, introduced in the 1980s, aim to increase levels of serotonin in the brain. More recent research suggests that a range of factors -- including genetic predisposition and hormones linked to stress -- can play a role.

Proponents of alternative medicine say the wide range of treatments used address broader causes like hormonal imbalances and stress. Treatment can mean spending time talking to patients about their physical and emotional problems, examining their diet and exercise habits, and doing blood tests to look for medical or environmental causes for depression, such as Lyme disease, toxic chemicals or mold.

In Los Angeles, naturopath Holly Lucille has seen 30% more patients in the past two years whose chief complaint is mental-health-related, while Sara Thyr, a naturopath in Manchester and Concord, N.H., has seen a 20% rise. Margot Longenecker's naturopathy practice in Branford and Wallingford, Conn., now has half of its patients come for anxiety and depression, compared with 25% three years ago.

"Half the time you feel like you have a psychiatric degree more than a chiropractic degree," says Basking Ridge, N.J., chiropractor Jerry Szych, who's seen a 25% rise in patients seeking counseling services over the same period. Columbus, Ohio, chiropractor Ronald Farabaugh says he has seen an increase of 20% over the past three years in those cases.

Melissa Mannon, a 36-year-old photographer in Bedford, N.H., saw psychologists for years about her depression and anxiety. Then she visited a naturopath for help with infertility, and was diagnosed with an intolerance to 90 different foods, including gluten. She changed her diet and within seven months, she got pregnant and most of her anxiety and depression went away, she says. She still sees her naturopath if she's feeling down and to discuss what's happening in her life. "She understands me," says Ms. Mannon.

Some say the extra time and intimacy of the treatments can encourage patients to open up. Naturopath Mark Sanders, who has seen the number of patients coming for mental health rise threefold to about 60% since he started his practice five years ago, says patients tend to open up when he performs craniosacral therapy. (It is meant to ease stress and improve physical movement.) "I've had people tell me stuff they don't tell their therapist," he says.

Stanford University Medical School clinical professor of medicine Kenneth Pelletier says chiropractors and naturopaths aren't adequately trained to recognize true psychopathology. But Dr. Pelletier believes most of these practitioners are ethical about remaining within the scope of their practice and refer patients to licensed mental-health-care practitioners when they think the diagnoses are severe.

That's what Portland, Ore., naturopath Samantha Brody has been doing as she increasingly sees patients with eating disorders, anxiety and depression. While the stigma of seeing a shrink may have declined in cities like New York and Los Angeles, it is alive and well in Portland, and some patients won't follow up on her referrals. Still, Ms. Brody steers away from serious counseling. "I don't dig into childhood stuff," she says.

Cheryl Higgins started seeing Ms. Brody three years ago for acupuncture because her back hurt. She was also driving her friends crazy by trying to use them as therapists and needed an outlet for her anxiety and depression. "I spilled my guts to her at the first session," says the 26-year-old office manager. Her treatment: chemical and amino-acid supplements, plus acupuncture three times a week.

Ms. Higgins hesitated to follow Ms. Brody's referral to a psychologist, but eventually she did see one who recommended that her primary care doctor put her on an antidepressant. She went on Lexapro for nine months, then went back to the naturopath to help her get off of it. "It made me yawn all the time," she says.

While the research is limited, some studies have shown promise in using alternative methods to treat mental illness. A recent study at Boston University School of Medicine and McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., showed a neurochemical response to the practice of yoga that's similar to neurochemical responses seen when people are treated with antidepressants.

Even pharmaceutical companies are starting to look at ingredients that have traditionally been part of natural medicine. Last year, Novartis bought the U.S. rights to a drug called agomelatine -- a melatonin-related agonist that is thought to influence mood in part through the sleep-wake cycle.

Of course, alternative medicine has been used for mental health issues for years. A 2001 study by Ron Kessler and David Eisenberg at Harvard Medical School found that among those with anxiety and or depression, more than half used alternative medicine therapies; among those who sought the treatment of a licensed conventional provider, two-thirds also used alternative medicine during the prior year. The perceived helpfulness of the alternative therapies was similar to the perceived helpfulness of conventional therapies.

Some critics say the growing interest is, in a sense, a step backwards. As people become frustrated with the shortcomings of new treatments, they become more inclined to try age-old therapies, regardless of whether they've been rigorously tested. The treatment of depression is "a constant succession of hyped theories and overall pathetically little progress," says John Horgan, director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.
Serious Applications

Now, community clinics are using the approach. The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, N.H. -- which combines traditional psychiatry with naturopathic treatments for seriously mentally ill patients -- received a two-year grant last summer from the New York-based Ittleson Foundation to promote the intermingling of naturopathy and psychiatry. "It's just a better way to approach the problem," says Ronald Parks, an internist and psychiatrist in Asheville, N.C., who uses alternative methods and was just approached to create a community-based model near his practice.

Aliza Sherman Risdahl agrees. She began experiencing uncontrollable rage, irritation and anxiety after the birth of her daughter. Though the 42-year-old Anchorage, Alaska, consultant was already seeing a therapist, she didn't want to go on antidepressants. She turned to a naturopath, who diagnosed her with overactive adrenal glands and suggested an amino acid to spray under her tongue.

Now she's no longer throwing dirty plates from the dinner table up in the air, screaming at her husband to "give me the baby, you can't keep her from me!" and running through the house slamming doors and cursing at him. "I am so grateful," she says.

-Nancy Keates