8 Natural Remedies for Depression

1.    St. John’s Wort

This herb has long been used to help with sadness, worry, nervousness, and poor sleep. Numerous clinical trials suggest it may be effective for mild to moderate depression. It may not be effective for major depression and may take 4-6 weeks to take full effect. 

  • Side effects may include dizziness, dry mouth, indigestion, and fatigue
  • Increases photosensitivity – take caution to protect skin and eyes from sunlight
  • Can interfere with effectiveness of prescription and over the counter drugs like antidepressants, HIV and AIDS meds, oral contraceptives, or drugs to prevent organ rejection for transplant patients
  • Not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, children, or people with bipolar disorder, liver or kidney disease

2.    Omega-3 fatty acids

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Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat needed for normal brain function. Our bodies cannot make omega-3 fatty acids so they must be obtained through diet. Studies have linked depression with low dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids and have also found that countries with higher fish consumption (ex. Japan) have a lower rate of depression. Preliminary studies suggest that omega-3s (DHA and EPA) together with antidepressants may be more effective than antidepressants alone

  • Richest food sources of omega-3 fatty acids:
    • Salmon
    • Sardines
    • Anchovies
  • Also available as supplement in fish oil or cod liver oil
  • Fish oil capsules may interact with blood thinners such as warfarin and aspirin
    • Side effects may include indigestion and bleeding
    • Fish oil should not be taken 2 weeks before or after surgery

3.    SAM-E

SAM-e, or S-adenosyl-L-methionine, is a compound found naturally in the human body that may increase levels of neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine.

  • Several studies have found SAM-e to be effective for depression
  • In North America, SAM-e is available in supplement form in health food stores, drug stores, and online
  • It’s recommended to take the enteric-coated form for maximum absorption

4.    Folic Acid

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  • Folate is a B vitamin found in green leafy vegetables, fruit, beans, and fortified grains
  • It is one of the more prevalent vitamin deficiencies due to poor diet and due to medication use (such as aspirin and oral contraceptives)
  • Preliminary research suggests that people with depression who also have low folate levels may not respond as well to antidepressants
  • Taking folic acid in supplement form may improve effectiveness of antidepressants

5.    5-HTP

  • 5-HTP, or 5-hydroxytryptophan, is produced naturally in the body and is used in the formation of the neurotransmitter, serotonin
  • Although taking 5-HTP in supplement form may theoretically boost the body’s serotonin levels, many experts feel there is not enough evidence to determine the safety of 5-HTP
  • 5-HTP should not be combined with antidepressants

6.    Diet

  • Reduce your intake of sweets
    • Sweets temporarily make you feel good as blood sugar rises
    • May worsen mood later when blood sugar falls
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol
    • Caffeine and alcohol both dampen mood
    • Alcohol temporarily relaxes us and caffeine boosts energy, but side effects are short-lived
    • Both can worsen mood swings, anxiety, depression and insomnia
  • Vitamin B6
    • Vitamin B6 is needed to produce the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine
    • Although vitamin B6 deficiency is rare, people taking oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, and drugs for TB may be at greater risk for a deficiency
  • Magnesium
    • Most people do not get enough magnesium in their diets
    • Good sources of magnesium include legumes, nuts, whole grains, and green vegetables
    • Like vitamin B6, magnesium is needed for serotonin production

7.    Exercise

  • Regular exercise is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to improve mood and is something that can be integrated into a treatment plan
  • Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, releases mood-elevating chemicals in the brain and can decrease stress hormone
  • Choose something you enjoy and will stick with
  • Aim for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week

8.    Light therapy

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  • Getting enough sunlight may be effective for seasonal mood changes that occur in the darker winter month
  • Exposure to light in the morning may help the body's sleep/wake cycle function properly
  • Production of serotonin, a brain chemical that key in influencing our mood, is turned on in the morning upon exposure to light
  • During the winter when there is less sunlight, serotonin levels can drop, making us feel tired and prone to seasonal effective disorder