Naturopathic treatments can help depression

In 1992, two years after graduating college, naturopathic doctor Peter Bongiorno was preparing himself for future study in conventional medicine. He began with pre-doctoral research in the field of Affective Disorders at the Yale University School of Medicine. In 1994, the research group was moved to the National Institute of Mental Health where among their many projects was the effects of anti-depressants in animal models.

Despite not having the framework of a medical education, the findings of the work and research he was conducting had definitely struck a chord with Bongiorno. The path to his future study would take a drastic change after his girlfriend at the time was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. When conventional medicine provided no answers, a friend recommended she try naturopathic medicine.

Bongiorno watched as her health improved dramatically by changing her diet, taking nutrients, getting acupuncture treatments and dealing with stress. After becoming familiar with the philosophy and application of naturopathic medicine, Bongiorno decided to attendBastyrUniversityinSeattle. He graduated in 2003.

“It was at Bastyr that I was able to build the framework on which to hang all the information I had amassed while researching,” says Bongiorno. “I connected with the ideas of diet, stress, body movement, as well as nutrient and botanical therapeutics in regards to the psychiatry field and to medicine in general.”

It was in his private practice that Bongiorno took notice of the fact that one out every four patients was on anti-depressants and how many others came to him to avoid taking them all together. With each new patient case, he researched the literature on natural therapies for depression. Unfortunately, outside ofSt. John’swort and a few supplements, there wasn’t much else available on the topic.

“There was scattered information about lifestyle, diet, and lab test correlations to depression but nothing that connected the dots cohesively. The more I practiced though, the more I learned that lifestyle modification and improvement clearly helped this condition.”

In 2005, Bongiorno utilized his collected research on depression to write the complementary and alternative medicine chapter in the book, The Biology of Depression.  A chance meeting with the publisher of CCNM Press in 2008 led to Bongiorno writing Healing Depression which was published in 2010.

While Bongiorno’s Healing Depression proves that naturopathic modalities are effective in treating depression, he says there is a time and place for conventional therapies as well.

“It has been shown that anti-depressants do not work in mild or moderate cases of depression – the most common prescriptive use – and only work in the severest cases. So for the severe cases, when beginning treatment, I would definitely want the conventional pharmaceuticals handy to use along with the natural therapies as adjunctive care. In other cases, I would strongly consider avoiding the pharmaceuticals, which pose a greater risk than benefit, and use the naturopathic approach as a first line of therapy.”

Bongiorno also cautions against the common recommendation ofSt. John’swort as a complete replacement for pharmaceuticals.

“AlthoughSt. John’swort is a very well-studied herbal medicine, it is not likely going to heal depression on its own in many cases. Any strong naturopathic protocol will take into account lifestyle, diet, digestive health, spiritual issues, psychology, toxicities, nutrient deficiencies, and many other factors. Working with multiple factors in synergy creates healing,” he says.

Bongiorno’s research and book also touches on depression during and after pregnancy as well as in kids and adolescents – an area where Bongiorno says naturopathic doctors can flourish mainly because of how receptive kids are to naturopathic care.

“Oftentimes with kids and adolescents, it is the parents that are often unwilling to make the diet, lifestyle, and household environmental changes that can be major factors in mood disorder in kids. Kids are smart though, they know the drugs are not good for them and in most cases they would rather not take them,” he says.

“Conventional doctors are becoming more weary when prescribing drugs since it’s been shown that SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) actually increase suicide rates in young adults and adolescents.  This is a wonderful opportunity for the naturopathic community to show what we have to offer.”

In addition to being a naturopathic doctor, Peter Bongiorno is also a licensed acupuncturist.  He is based in New Yorkwhere he practices naturopathic medicine in Manhattanand Long Island.  He co-directs Inner Source Health ( with his wife and fellow naturopathic doctor Pina LoGiudice.  He is the vice-president of the New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians and a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

For more information on naturopathic medicine in healing depression, visit the CanadianCollegeof Naturopathic Medicine at or contact CCNM Press at to find out where you can purchase Healing Depression.