Depression Natural Remedies
Depression — Herbal Medicines & Other Natural Remedies
Natural remedies, such as herbal medicines and nutritional supplements, are beginning to gain widespread use as both primary and complementary treatments for depression. The raw materials for the synthesis of brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) are nutrients, such as amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Deficiencies in these essential nutrient building blocks cause problems with neurotransmitters and hormones.
Some natural remedies can be taken in conjunction with pharmaceutical antidepressants, or can, in some cases, even replace them, especially for those with mild to moderate depression. While herbal medicines tend to have extremely low risk of side effects, they should be thought of as medicine, which means there is always some risk of an adverse reaction with your particular body chemistry. Before taking natural medicines, it’s a good idea to consult with a naturopath or mental health professional, especially if you’re currently on other medication.
Herbal remedies commonly used to treat depression include: St. John’s Wort, Omega-3, Rhodiola Rosea, Zinc, 5-HTP, and SAM-e…
St. John’s Wort
St. Johns wort is the most widely used herbal antidepressant. St. Johns Wort regulates mood by helping to maintain balance among key neurotransmitters, including serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and GABA. Several clinical studies have found St. John’s wort to be more effective than placebo and equally as effective as tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in the short-term management of mild-to-moderate depression (1-3 months) (Hammerness P., et al, 2003; van der Watt, G., et al, 2008). Overall, the evidence supporting the efficacy of St. John’s wort in mild-to-moderate Major Depression is compelling, but the evidence for its efficacy in treating severe Major Depression and other depressive disorders (e.g., seasonal affective disorder) is equivocal.
The effect of St. John’s wort can be quite powerful, especially when it’s taken for long periods. For some, it can cause adverse reactions when taken with other medications and can reduce the effectiveness of certain medications (e.g., antidepressants and medications for HIV, heart conditions, seizures, certain cancers, oral contraceptives). Thus, St. John’s wort should be taken under a doctor’s care.
Omega-3 supplements can be effective in many combination therapies. Studies have shown that Omega-3 fatty acids offer positive mental and physical health benefits, with no adverse side effects. One 2003 Chinese study of people with Major Depression found that 9.6 grams/day of omega-3 significantly reduced depression symptoms after 8 weeks. Eating fish regularly, of course, is a great natural source of Omega-3. In fact, one NIH study that tracked 14,541 women from their eighth week of pregnancy to eight months after giving birth discovered that women who ate no seafood during that period had nearly twice the rate of depression as those who ate 10 ounces of fish daily.
SAM-e, which is hugely popular in Europe, has been found to be effective for many with mild to moderate depression. SAM-e functions similarly to SSRI antidepressant medications. SAM-e crosses through the blood-brain barrier and inhibits the reuptake of serotonin, which increases the amount of serotonin available to the central nervous system.
Clinical studies show that SAM-e may take effect in as little as 7 days. 400 mgs daily (2 x 200 mgs) is the typical starting dose, which is often increased to 1600 mgs daily. Like pharmaceutical antidepressants, SAM-e is considered to be a long-term treatment, typically lasting at least four months, which means you shouldn’t abruptly stop taking it after your depression has lifted.
SAM-e is often taken in conjunction with other antidepressant medications. SAM-e is not for everyone. People who are severely depressed or suicidal should only take Sam-e under a doctor’s supervision.
5-HTP is a natural amino acid that acts as an intermediary to serotonin. Several studies show significant improvement in around 69 percent of people with both unipolar and bipolar depression who take daily oral dosages of 5-HTP (50 mg to 300 mg). Most people who do respond to 5-HTP do so in less than two weeks, which can make 5-HTP a good first treatment option for people with mild to moderate depression. 5-HTP has no significant side effects.
5-HTP may show promise as a complement to the antidepressant medication Prozac. One Eli Lilly study found that combining 5-HTP with Prozac significantly increased 5-HTP in rats’ brains, compared to Prozac alone.
Rhodiola rosea is known to be highly adaptogenic; that is, it helps balance the body by either stimulating or relaxing it, particularly in times of stress. Viewed another way, rhodioloa helps prevent imbalances that can result from stress, thus preventing or mitigating disease. Rhodiola rosea is known to increase the body’s resistance to stress, trauma, anxiety and fatigue. It’s also believed to help regulate serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and GABA, which can help reduce anxiety, mental fatigue and low mood for those who take this herb regularly. Rhodiola rosea is sometimes used to help boost cognitive functions such as memory and attention.
Numerous clinical studies have linked low blood-zinc levels with depression. Zinc supplementation studies suggest that zinc’s antidepressant effect may make zinc a beneficial supplement for depressed people who are taking antidepressant medications or herbal medicines.
Chromium is a mineral found in whole grains, mushrooms, liver, and brewer’s yeast. Some studies have found that chromium, both alone and when taken in conjunction with antidepressants, can effectively treat mild to severe depression. A recent Duke University study, for example, found that 600 mcg of chromium picolinate reduced symptoms of depression, including a tendency to overeat. Chromium may act on insulin, which controls blood sugar and has been linked to depression and diabetes.
The B-complex of vitamins is essential for proper mental functioning and overall health. For some people, B-vitamin supplementation helps reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, including: fatigue, sleep difficulty, stress, nervousness.
Vitamin B6 supplementation can be especially important for depressives who have a genetic metabolic condition known as pyrrole disorder, which causes severe deficiencies in zinc and pyridoxine (vitamin B6) throughout the body. People with pyrrole disorder exhibit symptoms of anxiety, mood swings, irritability, poor immune function and poor short-term memory. People with this disorder have trouble creating the mood neurotransmitter serotonin efficiently, since B6 is an important factor in the last step of serotonin synthesis. B6 supplementation can increase the amount of serotonin available to the brain.
Finnish studies have shown that depressed people on antidepressants who responded fully had higher levels of vitamin B12 in their blood at the beginning of treatment and six months later. One explanation may be that B12 is necessary for manufacturing mood-relevant neurotransmitters. Another theory is that vitamin B12 deficiency leads to the accumulation of the amino acid homocysteine, which has been linked to depression.
Higher levels of B12 and folate (vitamin B9 found in leafy, green vegetables) have been linked to better depression treatment outcomes. A 1997 Harvard study, corroborated earlier findings linking folate deficiency to depressive symptoms and found that folate deficiency can even interfere with the activity of SSRI antidepressant medications. A 2002 Oxford review of three studies (247 people with depression) found that supplementing other treatments with folate further mitigated depressive symptoms in two of the three studies.
For a better understanding of Natural, Complementary and Alternative Treatments, as well tips and strategies for finding product sources, see Understanding Natural, Complementary and Alternative Treatments.
Hammerness P, Basch E, Ulbricht C, Barrette EP, Foppa I, Basch S, Bent S, Boon H, Ernst E. Psychosomatics. St John’s wort: a systematic review of adverse effects and drug interactions for the consultation psychiatrist. 2003 Jul-Aug;44(4):271-82.
van der Watt G, Laugharne J, Janca A.. Complementary and alternative medicine in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2008 Jan;21(1):37-42.