Natural remedies are widely used to help ease the symptoms of ailments from digestive problems to the common cold and flu. While herbal medicine is useful for minor ailments, it’s not a complete replacement for modern medicine. When it comes to depression, many people look to natural remedies instead of prescription medications that may come with severe side effects.
It’s important to note that these alternative treatments are not meant to be a replacement for the treatment of depression, especially for people who suffer from mental illness or major depressive disorders. Instead, alternative medicine can play a complementary role in a more complete treatment for mild to moderate depression.
Here, we’ll review some of the most common natural remedies for depression and discuss how they may help to improve mood disorders and ease depressive symptoms when combined with modern care like cognitive behavioral therapy.
Natural Remedies for Depression
Folate, also known as folic acid in its synthetic form, is a B vitamin that plays a key role in growth and metabolism. Some research also shows a link between folate deficiency and depression (1). Folate helps to break down amino acids that have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease and depressive disorders when they are found in large concentrations.
In addition, some research shows that individuals may have a variant gene that prevents the body from using folate. These individuals are also at higher risk of developing schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder though a cause-and-effect relationship hasn’t been firmly identified (2).
Folate is found in leafy greens such as spinach as well as in lentils, oranges, broccoli, eggs, and avocados. Increase your intake of these healthy foods to boost your folate intake. While research is still ongoing, getting more folate may help to improve mood symptoms in certain individuals with minor depression.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort — also known as Hypericum perforatum or SJW— is a popular natural remedy for treating mild depression in Europe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve the dietary supplement for use in the treatment of depression in the United States. Some research indicates that this supplement may help to trigger the release of serotonin in the brain. This brain chemical is made from the essential amino acid tryptophan and has been associated with improving feelings of mood and well-being (5).
A scientific review of 29 different studies published in Cochrane found evidence to support the use of St. John’s wort in mild depression treatment (6). However, multiple studies sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found opposite results — that St. John’s wort was not consistently effective in treating depression (7).
More research is needed to confirm the efficacy of St John’s wort in treating mild to moderate depression. Neurology is a complex subject and scientists are only beginning to understand how the nervous system works and how outside influences may impact mood and cognition.
If you decide to take St. John’s wort, it is important to discuss that decision with your doctor. This dietary supplement is known to interact with many other medications including birth control pills, blood pressure medications, antidepressant medications, and blood thinners.
5HTP is an amino acid that helps to biosynthesize neurotransmitters including serotonin. Many research studies and clinical trials have pointed to problems in serotonin levels as one of the markers of depression (6).
Some research shows that taking 5HTP along with controlled amounts of antidepressants may help to improve depressive symptoms (7). However, the amino acid may also increase the risk of side effects when taken with certain antidepressives. Always talk to your doctor before taking 5HTP if you are already taking antidepressant medications.
The only way to get 5HTP is to take a dietary supplement as the amino acid isn’t found naturally in foods. The body takes tryptophan and turns it into 5HTP so you can try to increase your intake of tryptophan-containing foods such as collard greens, pumpkin, turkey, chicken, and seaweed.
Known as s-adenosyl-l-methionine, SAM-e is a molecule that helps to breakdown chemicals including hormones and proteins. SAM-e is available as an over-the-counter dietary supplement and may play a role in depression treatment. Research shows that SAM-e may be particularly useful in individuals who have deficiencies in vitamin B12 or folate and suffer from depression (8). This molecule works similarly to 5HTP in boosting serotonin levels.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Recent research has honed in on the use of omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of bipolar disorder and depressive symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, some individuals may suffer from low levels of brain chemicals known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (9). Both of these chemicals can be found in fish oil supplements and foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
A review of three small studies conducted t the Beer Sheva Mental Health Center found that omega-3 fatty acids were more effective than placebo in improving bipolar depression symptoms in controlled trials (10). Participants showed improvement in mood swings and overall general wellbeing when taking omega-3 fatty acids.
To increase your consumption of healthy fats, try taking a fish oil supplement or eat foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Stick to healthy fish that is free from mercury such as sardines, salmon, oysters, and organic canned tuna.
Vitamin D may improve depressive symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) also known as winter depression. This disorder occurs frequently in populations in the far north or south where winters often consist of many dark hours and little sunlight. Symptoms of SAD include trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, anxiety, tiredness, and low energy.
Most researchers attribute this type of depression to a deficiency of vitamin D, serotonin, and melatonin. Depression symptoms that come with this disorder may be treated by taking a vitamin D supplement, light therapy, psychotherapy, and medication. The most common medications for this condition are known as SSRIs _ Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (11).
Light therapy involves the use of powerful cool-white fluorescent lights. Patients site in front of a lightbox for 30 to 60 minutes each day. The idea is that the light replaces some of the light lost in the winter, particularly in populations that live far from the equator.
Taking vitamin D may help to replace vital nutrients that are lost when the sun disappears during the dark winter months. Small studies have shown promise for the use of vitamin D in conjunction with other therapies to reduce the symptoms of SAD (12).
Boost Mood With These Natural Remedies for Depression
If you are suffering from symptoms of depression or a mental health condition, it’s important to speak with a qualified healthcare professional. They can help you understand treatment methods, including natural remedies for depression, and explain the potential side effects of any interventions. Major depression is quite different from just feeling blue or suffering from moderate depression. Treatments should be tailored to your specific situation in order to be as effective as possible.
If you suffer from mild depression or seasonal affective disorder, herbal remedies may help you feel better. Severe depression should be treated by a qualified doctor. In conjunction with natural treatments, your doctor can help to identify any issues including mental disorders, vitamin deficiencies, and endorphin issues that may be contributing to your depression.
If you’re feeling severely depressed or thinking about suicide, get help today and contact the Suicide Prevention Line today. Just call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or visit this site to get access to more hotline numbers and help services to help you navigate depression.