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50 Signs of Mental IllnessA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Bright Red ScreamA Casebook of Ethical Challenges in NeuropsychologyA Corner Of The UniverseA Lethal InheritanceA Mood ApartA Research Agenda for DSM-VA Slant of SunA War of NervesAbnormal Psychology in ContextADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LifeAddiction Recovery ToolsAdvance Directives in Mental HealthAggression and Antisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAl-JununAlmost a PsychopathAlterations of ConsciousnessAm I Okay?American ManiaAmerican Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical NeurosciencesAn American ObsessionAngelheadAnger, Madness, and the DaimonicAnthology of a Crazy LadyApproaching NeverlandAs Nature Made HimAsylumAttention-Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderAttention-Deficit/Hyperactivity DisorderBeing Mentally Ill: A Sociological Theory Betrayal TraumaBetrayed as BoysBetter Than ProzacBetter Than WellBeyond AppearanceBeyond ReasonBinge No MoreBiological UnhappinessBipolar 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ChildrenEmotions and LifeEmpowering People with Severe Mental IllnessEssential PsychopharmacologyEssentials of Cas AssessmentEssentials of Wais-III AssessmentEthics and Values in PsychotherapyEthics in Mental Health ResearchEthics in Psychiatric ResearchEthics, Culture, and PsychiatryEverything In Its PlaceFamily Experiences With Mental IllnessFatigue as a Window to the BrainFear of IntimacyFinding Iris ChangFinding Meaning in the Experience of DementiaFlorid StatesFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItForensic Nursing and Multidisciplinary Care of the Mentally Disordered OffenderFountain HouseFrom Madness to Mental HealthFrom Trauma to TransformationGandhi's WayGender and Its Effects on PsychopathologyGender and Mental HealthGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGetting Your Life BackGracefully InsaneGrieving Mental IllnessHandbook of AttachmentHandbook of DepressionHandbook of Self and IdentityHealing the SplitHerbs for the MindHidden SelvesHigh RiskHope and DespairHow Clients Make Therapy WorkHow People ChangeHow to Become a SchizophrenicHow We Think About DementiaHughes' Outline of Modern PsychiatryHumanizing MadnessHysterical MenHystoriesI Hate You-Don't Leave MeI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Thought I Could FlyI'm CrazyImagining RobertImpulse Control DisordersIn Others' EyesIn Two MindsInsanityIntegrated Behavioral Health CareIntegrative MedicineIntegrative Mental Health CareIntuitionJust CheckingKarl JaspersKissing DoorknobsKundalini Yoga Meditation for Complex Psychiatric DisordersLaw and the BrainLaw, Liberty, and PsychiatryLegal and Ethical Aspects of HealthcareLiberatory PsychiatryLife at the BottomLife at the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, 1857-1997Life Is Not a Game of PerfectLithium for MedeaLiving Outside Mental IllnessLiving with AnxietyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLiving Without Depression and Manic DepressionLost in the MirrorLove's ExecutionerLoving Someone With Bipolar DisorderMad in AmericaMad TravelersMad, Bad and 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Related Topics
Depression-Free for LifeReview - Depression-Free for Life
A Physician's All-Natural, 5-Step Plan
by Gabriel Cousens
Quill, 2001
Review by Anika Scott
May 3rd 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 18)

There’s something amiss in drug-centered treatments for depression, and holistic psychiatrist Gabriel Cousens claims he has the solution in his Depression-Free for Life. In short, his plan calls for patients to replace antidepressants with amino acid and other supplements, increase fatty acids, eat better, exercise and live a fuller, more creative life with family and friends.

The key theme in the book is “natural.” Cousens sculpted his system according to a belief that the body can heal itself of mild- to moderate depression without taking antidepressant drugs. Eating and lifestyle changes with supplements, he says, can “adjust and correct your personal biochemistry” (xii). A portion of the first section of Cousens’ book replays the now familiar arguments against antidepressants, especially the possible side effects: loss of sex drive, weight gain or loss, fatigue and fuzzy thinking and so on. The patients at Cousens’ Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Arizona, by contrast, apparently experienced a different set of side effects when they followed his plan: increased libido, better sleep, boosts of energy and clearer thinking. 

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of Cousens’ book is rejection of the quick-fix mentality of doctors and patients who are only interested in “finding the right drug, or combination of drugs, to fine-tune the brain.” (p.21) Treatments that focus only on the neurotransmitter serotonin, an active player in the brain’s pleasure centers and the target of drugs like Prozac, neglect to look at the diverse possible origins of a patient’s depression. Cousens’ book, like many other recent “post-Prozac” books, argues that the origins of depression are more complex than drug treatments lead us to believe.

If depression isn’t just a matter of one brain chemical gone awry, than treatment for depression, in Cousens’ view, shouldn’t be either. Cousens doesn’t mention therapy as an aid to treatment along side of his system. Instead, he goes straight to body chemistry, beginning with step one of his plan: Increase amino acids such as tryptophan (banned as an over-the-counter supplement in a contamination episode in 1989), which eventually break down into the mood-altering neurotransmitters. In step two, Cousens walks through the main vitamins, minerals and herbs readers may use to combat mild depression. 

In step three, Cousens tells readers to trade low-fat foods for foods or supplements that contain essential fatty acids such as omega-3, which may affect mood. Step four has advice on depression-fighting diets. Cousens is a well-known advocate for vegetarianism, and the recipes in his book are meatless dishes such as almond hummus and yam burgers. The last step in Cousens’ five-step plan is the common sense element -- spend more time with friends and family, keep a sense of humor, exercise and express your creativity to help fight depression. 

The book is clear, well-written and informative, but does this All-Natural, 5-Step Plan work?

Cousens makes the extraordinary claim that his 5-step system has a 90 percent success rate. The assumption is that Cousens’ plan has been tested in clinical trials and repeated at several treatment centers until enough independent data has been gathered to draw such a conclusion. In reality, Cousens shores up his claims that his system works by using only anecdotal evidence based on the experiences of his patients at the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center. Until Cousens’ plan – in its entirety -- is tested as rigorously as other medical treatments, the 90 percent success claim is merely a marketing red herring.

Cousens also paints with a broad brush the target audience for his program. The 50 million Americans with mild or moderate depression and anxiety are joined by alcoholics, bulimics, chronic pain sufferers, insomniacs, hypoglycemics and drug addicts. Again, no real data exist to prove that Cousens’ plan would help such a range of patients.

The All-Natural, 5-Step Plan in Cousens’ book is not necessarily cheaper for the average person than an antidepressant, and it’s certainly not easier than taking a pill. It is no replacement for therapy and possible medication for people with severe depression and other illnesses. People with mild depression may have the energy and determination to pursue an ambitious plan like Cousens’. But life changes such as eating better and exercising may beat a mild or seasonal depression without the use of amino and fatty acids or vitamin and mineral supplements. In the end, until Cousens’ plan is thoroughly tested, the only proof that it works (or not) lies with each person who tries it.

 

© 2002 Anika Scott

 

Anika Scott is a U.S. journalist and author living in Germany. A former Chicago Tribune staff writer, she now freelances travel and lifestyle articles for publications and web sites in the U.S. and Europe. She is also working on a nonfiction book about a famous music manuscript that disappeared during World War II. 


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