James Gordon is a professor in the departments of psychiatry and family medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center. Since graduating from Harvard University Medical School, he has spent much of his career focusing on mind-body medicine and is the founder and director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine located in Washington, D.C.

Gordon has recently held the position of chairman for the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy and was the first chairman of the Program Advisory Council of the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Alternative Medicine. Gordon has established numerous programs that utilize mind-body healing to combat chronic illnesses such as cancer and depression, and he now discusses his accomplishments with THE HOYA.

Why should we use non-drug approaches to treat depression?

The most important reason is the oldest reason – first, do no harm. Going back to Hippocrates we see that the duty of the physician is to take the path with the least harmful side effects to the patient. Drugs do not work very well because doctors are often using incomplete evidence to support their decision.

Can you give an example?

When you compare all the studies together, you will find drugs by any measure are only slightly better than a placebo.

What non-drug approaches do you recommend?

Well there are many ways to approach depression, specifically making people feel better subjectively, without side effects. These include meditation, exercise, the use of food or herbs, and Chinese acupuncture.

What about people who follow the dietary regiment yet continually feel depressed only to find relief through medication? These individuals strongly defend the use of drugs as the means to treat their own depression.

edication does work for some people – there is no question a physical effect exists – but drugs should be used as a last resort, not as the first choice. When you give a drug you are telling them, “you have a disease,” which is wrong; there is not enough evidence to suggest that it is a disease.

But what about those cases when you do have to prescribe a drug?

As a doctor, my responsibility is to do what will treat you in the long run. I would prescribe a drug only after trying all other methods. It is like how I won’t give antibiotics until I know you have a bacterial disease.

Some people say that they can eat anything and that they even seem upbeat while others hardly touch candy. Why?

Some people can eat anything and it won’t bother them, but a number of people are sensitive to large number of sugars or simple carbohydrates which are only short-term mood lifters. You also have to look at the entire diet. Those who can eat anything may have an overall balanced diet while the others do not. In fact, 80 percent of Americans are deficient in one or more essential nutrients, according to the Department of Agriculture.

What would you say is one recent example of a food group or type that counters depression?

Studies have found that people with large amount of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet tend to be less depressed. The key is looking at carbohydrates that break down slowly instead of those that burn off quickly.

An average Georgetown meal plan covers only about two meals per day. What are the best options for this lifestyle and what should we avoid?

First of all, you should always try to eat three meals a day, but one particular thing to leave out the diet is monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Some people tend to get a weird feeling from eating it. Another thing to avoid is NutraSweet. We do not know for sure how these additives hurt us but they cannot be good seeing how they tax the nervous system. But if you are young and physically fit, you can commit culinary sins and make it up with exercise. You should also enjoy your food.

We have something called Grab `n’ Go at Georgetown, and often students find it difficult to sit down and eat for an extended time period. What are your thoughts on that?

An important thing to remember is that people should enjoy eating meals over very long periods of time. Eating slowly and mindfully helps the digestion. People tend to eat too much when they are eating fast.

Assuming Georgetown students are like most college students, what is one change you would recommend?

Getting rid of coffee from the diet. Studies show people who stop coffee feel better than they did before.

Do you have any closing advice you would like to give Georgetown students?

Understand that there is time – do what you feel like doing. . In many cases people do not hold their choices accountable; do the work you love and live the life the way you want to live it. It is a question of waiting a bit to see what you love. I took a year off from medical school and returned with the passion that brought me to where I am today. Even in these economic times, do something that you love. Serve your community and it will very often improve your mood. With Obama becoming president there is opportunity for opening the unexpected possibilities.

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