Research Matters

Research Matters

Depression Cure

He doesn't care for the term "caveman therapy." But Stephen Ilardi, associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, has turned to our hunter-gatherer ancestors for clues about how to best combat major depressive disorder.

Aired June 7, 2009

2 minutes 3.7 MB) | Download mp3


A new book shows that cues from our ancestors can guard against depression. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

Depression, according to researcher Stephen Ilardi, is a disease of modernity.

Ilardi: A century ago, the rate of depressive illness in the U.S. was about one percent. The rate is now 23 percent lifetime, and about 8-to-10 percent at any given point in time. So we've had roughly a 20-fold increase over the course of a century. Since World War Two, it's roughly a 10-fold increase.

In his book ... The Depression Cure ... Ilardi shows that some aspects of a primitive existence reduce depression better than therapy or drugs. The KU professor of psychology heads a study, dubbed Therapeutic Lifestyle Change ... or T-L-C for short. He tells patients to eat omega-3s; engage in activity to stop negative thinking; to get more sunlight; boost exercise; connect socially; and get more sleep.

Ilardi: We've now recruited over 80 depressed individuals. The majority had tried medications or traditional therapy and hadn't gotten well. We randomly assigned them either to get the TLC protocol medication and psychotherapy. The folks who underwent treatment-as-usual had a clinically significant reduction in symptoms of 18 percent. Folks in our TLC have had a positive response rate of 75 percent.

Ilardi points to low rates of depression among people whose lives are akin to our remote ancestors such as the Kaluli people of New Guinea or the American Amish, both of whom experience little to no depression.

Ilardi: We as a species were never designed for modern life. We are designed for a different time and place when people were physically active, when they were outside in the sun, where they spent face-time with their friends and loved ones, when they had a much different diet, when the got much more sleep, and less in the way of a relentless, stress-filled existence. Let's reclaim these protective features from the past.

For more about Therapeutic Lifestyle Change, log on to Research Matters dot K-U dot E-D-U. For the University of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

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