8 Natural Depression Remedies to Consider

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In a given year, an estimated 21 million adults in the United States will have at least one major depressive episode. Many people with depression do not seek treatment, although the majority can benefit from treatment. If you're experiencing symptoms of depression (such as difficulty concentrating, persistent feelings of sadness, and decreased energy), consult your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

A number of preliminary studies suggest that certain natural remedies may offer health benefits. If you're considering the use of any supplement or remedy, talk to your healthcare provider first. Keep in mind that self-treating depression and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious health consequences. Here are eight natural and herbal remedies to consider.

depression remedies and treatments
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St. John's Wort

The herb St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) has long been used in folk medicine for treating depression, worry, nervousness, and poor sleep.

Numerous clinical trials suggest that St. John's wort may be effective for treating mild to moderate depression. However, it may not be effective for more severe depression.

It may take 3 to 6 weeks of taking St. John's wort to notice the full effect.

Side effects may include dizziness, dry mouth, indigestion, and fatigue. St. John's wort increases photosensitivity, so caution should be taken to protect skin and eyes from sunlight.

St. John's wort can interfere with the effectiveness of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, such as drugs to treat HIV infections and AIDS, drugs to prevent organ rejection for transplant patients, and oral contraceptives. It can also cause potentially dangerous interactions with certain antidepressants and other drugs that increase serotonin.

St. John's wort is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, children, or people with bipolar disorder, liver disease, or kidney disease.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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, such as Japan, have a lower rate of depression.

Some studies suggest that omega-3s (DHA and EPA) together with antidepressants may be more effective than antidepressants alone.

Cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, and anchovies are the richest food source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Fish oil and cod liver oil are also available. Although fish may contain pollutants such as PCBs, many companies filter the oil so that these chemicals are removed.

Fish oil capsules may increase bleeding risk, particularly if combined with blood thinners such as warfarin and aspirin. Other side effects may include indigestion and other gastrointestinal issues.

SAM-e

S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM-e) is a compound found naturally in the human body that may increase levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Several studies have found SAM-e to be more effective than placebo for the treatment of depression, but more research is needed.

In North America, SAM-e is available in supplement form in health food stores, drug stores, and online. Proponents typically recommend the enteric-coated form for maximum absorption.

Folic Acid

Folate is a B vitamin found in green leafy vegetables, fruit, beans, and fortified grains. It’s possible to become deficient in the vitamin due to a deficiency in the diet or as a side effect of certain medications, such as anti-seizure medications or antacids. 

Preliminary research suggests that a low folate level may make antidepressants less effective for some people, and taking folic acid in supplement form may improve the effectiveness of antidepressants for some individuals.

5-HTP

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), 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 report that there is not enough evidence to determine the safety and efficacy of 5-HTP. It should not be combined with certain antidepressants.

Diet

Reduce your intake of sweets. Sweets temporarily make you feel good as blood sugar rises, but may worsen your mood later when blood glucose levels plummet.

Avoid alcohol. Even though alcohol can temporarily relax some people, the effects are short-lived. It can potentially worsen mood swings, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is needed to produce the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Although deficiency of vitamin B6 is rare, people taking oral contraceptives or drugs for tuberculosis may be at higher 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.

Exercise

Regular exercise is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to improve mood and can be integrated into any medical treatment plan. Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, releases mood-elevating chemicals in the brain and can decrease stress hormones.

Choose something you enjoy and will stick with, whether it's going to the gym, signing up for dance classes, playing tennis, gardening, or taking a brisk walk outside each morning for at least 30 minutes, five days a week.

Light Therapy

Getting enough sunlight may be effective for helping reduce the seasonal mood changes that occur in the darker winter months.

Exposure to light in the morning (e.g., by taking a walk outside) may help the body's sleep/wake cycle function properly. The production of serotonin, a brain chemical that is key in influencing mood, is turned on in the morning upon exposure to light. During the winter when there is less sunlight, serotonin levels can drop, sometimes leading to fatigue or symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Another option is bright light therapy (10,000 lux). There are different types available, from lightboxes to visors, that are typically used for about 30 minutes a day. 

Although they are rather expensive, ranging from $150 to $500, the cost may be covered by insurance.

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