The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has
approved medications for the treatment of depression, but you may not like the
idea of taking a synthetic or manufactured pill. Another option that some
people try to help feel better are herbs and natural remedies. Many of these
have been used medicinally for centuries as folk and alternative treatments. Today,
many herbs are marketed as mood boosters for people who experience chronic
feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
Studies have attempted to track the benefits of
herbs for treating depression. Here are several herbs that may help lift your mood
when you experience mild to moderate depression.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort
is a plant that’s native to Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. Europeans
commonly take St. John’s wort as a way to treat depression, but the FDA hasn’t
approved the herb to treat the condition. Taking the herb has been linked with
increasing the amount of serotonin. Serotonin is a feel-good chemical in the
brain that’s often low in people who have depression. Several antidepressants
work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain.
According to the National
Institutes of Health (NIH), St. John’s wort may help milder forms of depression,
although its effects haven’t been conclusively proven either way. A 2008 review of 29 studies on
St. John’s wort found that the plant was just as effective for treating mild to
moderate depression as antidepressants yet resulted in fewer side effects. On
the other hand, the NIH’s National Center
for Complementary and Integrative Health sponsored two separate studies that
found it wasn’t better than a placebo for treating depression.
It’s important to
note that St. John’s wort is known for interacting with lots of medications.
This especially goes for blood thinners, birth control pills, and chemotherapy
medications. Always check with your doctor before taking this herb.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
acids are a healthy form of fats found in fish such as salmon, trout, and sardines
(among others). They are available in supplement form and are sometimes also
called fish oil capsules. According to the Mayo Clinic, researchers have found that people
who have low levels of two brain chemicals found in fish oil supplements may be
at an increased risk for depression. It is ideal to get a higher ratio of DHA
to EPA, which are both types of omega-3 fatty acids.
In addition to
taking fish oil supplements to get omega-3 fatty acids, you can also increase the
amount of fish you eat. Eating fish three times a week can increase your omega-3
fatty acids without having to take supplements.
Keep in mind
that some fish can have high levels of mercury. These include swordfish,
tilefish, king mackerel, and shark. Avoid these in favor of lower mercury fish
like light canned tuna, salmon, freshwater trout, and sardines.
Saffron is a
spice derived from a dried portion of a crocus, a flower in the iris family.
According to a study in Alternative
Medicine Review, taking saffron stigma (the end
of the carpel, or rod-like stem, in the flower) has been shown to be effective in
treating mild to moderate depression.
SAM-e is short
for S-adenosylmethionine. This supplement is designed to act like a synthetic
form of the body’s natural mood-boosting chemicals. According to the Mayo Clinic, SAM-e is regarded as a
supplement in the United States — the FDA doesn’t consider it a medication. You
shouldn’t take SAM-e along with antidepressants. You should also be aware that
SAM-e can cause health effects like upset stomach and constipation if you take
There may be a link between low levels of folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) and people
with depression. Taking 500 mcg of folic acid has been linked with improving the
effectiveness of other antidepressants medications. Focus on consuming
folate-rich foods daily. These include beans, lentils, fortified cereals, dark
leafy greens, sunflower seeds, and avocado.
Zinc is a nutrient linked with mental
functions like learning and behavior. Low levels of blood zinc are more
associated with depression, according to Biological
Psychiatry. According to Nutrition Neuroscience, taking a 25 mg zinc supplement daily for 12 weeks can help reduce depression
symptoms. Taking zinc supplements can also increase the amount of available
omega-3 fatty acids in the body.
Myths and Misconceptions About Herbs and Depression
food stores may market herbs and supplements as being able to treat depression.
However, according to a review published in BJPsych
Advances, there are several that haven’t been
proven as effective in treating depression. These include the following herbs:
- Crataegus oxyacantha (hawthorn)
- Eschscholzia californica (California poppy)
- Ginkgo biloba
- Lavandula angustifolia (lavender)
- Matricaria recutita (chamomile)
- Melissa officinalis (lemon balm)
- Passiflora incarnate (maypop, or purple passionflower)
- Piper methysticum (kava)
- Valeriana officinalis (valerian)
If you do
choose to use these or other herbs, always check with your doctor first to make
sure they won’t interact with any medicines you might be taking.
to Your Doctor
Although some herbs and supplements show promise
in treating depression, they aren’t a consistent or reliable substitute for
treatments when you experience severe depression. You should call a doctor
right away if you have severe depression or thoughts of hurting yourself. Don’t
try to rely on supplements as a way to pull you through these severe symptoms. Depression
can be a serious disease. You should work with your doctor to find a treatment
plan that fits for you.