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Herbs, Vitamins, and Supplements for Depression

Understanding depression

Depression is a mood disorder in which people experience feelings of
sadness, loneliness, and loss of interest for long periods of time. It is a
fairly common condition in the United States. As many as one in 20 Americans from
the age 12 and older report symptoms of depression, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Depression can lead to many symptoms, some of which are:

  • loss of interest in normal activities
  • feeling sad, unhappy, or empty
  • changes in appetite
  • feeling worthless or guilty
  • anxiety or restlessness
  • difficulty sleeping, insomnia, or sleeping too much
  • irrational reactions or angry outbursts
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • thoughts of suicide or death
  • unexplained pain

Doctors don’t yet entirely understand what causes depression. Several
factors may contribute, including:

  • physical brain
    differences:

    People with depression may have physical changes in their brains.
  • chemical imbalances: Your brain’s functions
    are carefully controlled by a delicate balance of chemicals and
    neurotransmitters. If these chemicals change, you may develop symptoms of
    depression.
  • hormone changes: Changes in hormones may
    cause symptoms of depression. Hormones may change because of thyroid
    problems, menopause, or another condition.
  • life changes: The loss of a loved one,
    the end of a job or a relationship, financial stress, or trauma may
    trigger depression.
  • genes: If a close relative has
    been diagnosed with depression, you may have a genetic predisposition to
    developing depression as well.

Possibilities
for natural relief

Traditional depression treatment uses a combination of prescription medicines
and counseling or therapy. Antidepressant medicines can help resolve underlying
physical problems, such as a chemical imbalance. Counseling can help you
address issues and situations that might be contributing to depression, such as
life changes.

Though traditional treatments can be effective, you may also be interested
in alternative options. Natural remedies for depression are the focus of
ongoing research. Researchers have studied numerous herbs, supplements, and
vitamins to determine if they can benefit people with depression. The results
are mixed. Some alternative treatments hold a lot of promise. However, not
every alternative treatment passes the rigorous tests of clinical trials. For
that reason, many medical professionals may hesitate in their recommendation or
support for these treatments.

In this guide, learn about the most widely studied alternative treatments
for depression. Find out which ones show the best results, how they work, and
how they’re produced.

Warning:

Many herbs and supplements sold in the United States are not reviewed or
approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means these
products have not been tested by the FDA for their safety and effectiveness.
It’s possible that the product you buy will be unsafe, ineffective, or both.
The product may also be fraudulent.

If you’re interested in trying an alternative therapy to treat your
depression, talk with your doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist. These
professionals can help you determine which supplements are best for you. Not
all patients with depression will benefit from alternative treatments. Still,
it’s important to ask if you are interested.

St.
John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)

st. john's wort

Image Attribution

Image Attribution

Author: Photo: Bob Peterson/Wikimedia

St. John’s wort (Hypericum
perforatum
) is a shrubby herb with yellow flowers. It grows wild
throughout Europe, parts of Asia, parts of Africa, and the western United States.
Both the leaves and the flowers are used for medicinal purposes.

For centuries, St. John’s wort has been used to treat a variety of health
conditions, including depression and mental health disorders. The herb also has
anti-inflammatory properties, as well as antibacterial and antiviral
properties. People have used it to treat infections and wounds on the skin.

Today, St. John’s wort is a popular alternative antidepressant medicine in
Europe. However, the FDA has not approved St. John’s wort as a treatment for
depression in the United States.

Research is mixed on the effectiveness of this herb for depression
treatment. A 2009 study published in Evidence-Based
Mental Health showed the herb to be beneficial. The study found that St.
John’s wort may be more effective than a placebo. The herb also appears to
cause fewer unwanted side effects than traditional depression medication.

However, two studies found that that St. John’s wort was not effective in
mild and severe depression. The first study, published in the Journal
of Psychiatric Research, compared the herb to a placebo. The study found
that the herb failed to improve mild depression. Interestingly, this study also
found that the antidepressant citalopram didn’t work better than a placebo.

The second study was published in the Journal
of the American Medical Association. It found St. John’s wort was not
effective in easing moderately severe major depression.

The flowers on the St. John’s wort plant are used to create the supplement,
often in the form of teas, tablets, and capsules. Liquid extracts and tinctures
are sometimes used as well.

If you have mild to moderate depression, a standard dose of St. John’s wort
is between 20 to 1,800 milligrams from a tablet or capsule. The average dose is
300 milligrams two or three times per day. People with severe depression can
take 900 to 1,800 milligrams of the herb daily, according to the Mayo Clinic. If the supplement eases your depression
symptoms, you may decide to take less. Talk with your doctor before changing
your dosage.

If you think St. John’s wort may be right for you as a treatment for depression,
start a discussion with your doctor. St. John’s wort interacts negatively with
a variety of medications. If you’re taking prescription antidepressants, cough
suppressants, birth control, or blood thinners, talk to your doctor. In many
cases, the herb makes other medications less effective.

SAMe

SAMe

S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) is a compound made naturally by the body. An
artificial form of the compound can also be made in a laboratory setting.

In the late 1990s, the FDA approved artificial SAMe as a dietary supplement.
In Europe, the compound has been a prescription drug since the 1970s. It is
prescribed to treat a variety of conditions. It may help treat depression,
osteoarthritis, heart disease, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
and seizures.

In your body, SAMe plays a role in many important functions. In the brain,
for example, SAMe helps produce serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine. Serotonin
is an important chemical and neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters help carry
signals through your brain and into your body. If you have been diagnosed with
depression, you may have inadequate serotonin levels. Your doctor could
prescribe a medicine that helps your brain produce and use more serotonin. You could
also use SAMe to boost your serotonin levels.

In a 2010 study in The
American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers investigated the effectiveness
of SAMe. They found that people taking prescription serotonin reuptake
inhibitors (SRIs) may benefit from taking SAMe. Researchers for this study gave
study participants 800 milligrams of SAMe two times a day. Compared to people
who took a placebo, participants who used SAMe had fewer symptoms of major
depressive disorder.

SAMe doesn’t have an established dosage. A suggested dose of SAMe differs
depending on how you take the supplement. In many cases, you gradually build
your dosage of SAMe to reduce side effects and improve effectiveness.

A 2002 report in The
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition offered effective dosing information
for SAMe. The report investigated successful clinical trials of the compound.
The trials showed that SAMe was more effective than a placebo. It was also just
as effective as tricyclic antidepressants in easing depression symptoms. The
trials showed that doses of 200 to 1,600 milligrams per day were effective. However,
the same report noted that more studies were necessary to determine the best
doses.

Injections of SAMe are also possible. The average injection ranges from 200
to 400 milligrams. An injection may be needed daily for as many as eight weeks,
according to the Mayo Clinic. Injections are often administered in a
doctor’s office. They may not be an option unless you can visit your doctor’s
office daily.

Much clinical research suggests that SAMe may have short-term beneficial
qualities. However, long-term studies are lacking. Many healthcare
professionals would prefer greater support for SAMe before prescribing it to
patients.

If you think SAMe may help you combat your depression, discuss it with your
doctor or psychiatrist. The supplement is available over the counter, but it’s
important your doctor knows if you’re using it. This will help prevent
potential side effects.

SAMe can interfere with other medications. People who take blood thinners
may have a higher bleeding risk if they also take SAMe. The compound itself can
cause a variety of side effects, including dry mouth, diarrhea, dizziness, and
insomnia.

5-HTP

5-HTP

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a chemical the body makes from L-tryptophan.
L-tryptophan, or tryptophan, is a protein building block.

Tryptophan is found naturally in some foods, but 5-HTP is not. Instead, your
body uses tryptophan to produce 5-HTP. Dietary sources of tryptophan include:

  • turkey
  • chicken
  • milk
  • seaweed
  • sunflower seeds
  • turnip and collard greens
  • potatoes
  • pumpkins

Like SAMe, 5-HTP may help raise your brain’s serotonin level. Medications
that increase serotonin tend to help ease symptoms of depression.

In addition to depression, 5-HTP has been used to treat several conditions,
such as sleep disorders, ADHD, premenstrual syndrome, and Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers believe changes in serotonin contribute to all of these conditions.

Not all research supports the use of 5-HTP, however. A 2012 analysis of
5-HTP studies found that the benefits of the chemical were largely exaggerated.
In fact, the study, published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, claims
5-HTP may make underlying symptoms of depression worse. Long-term use of 5-HTP
may deplete other neurotransmitters.

5-HTP can be made from the seeds of Griffonia
simplicifolia
, an African plant. The seeds are manufactured into tablets
and capsules.

The average dose of 5-HTP is 100 to 300 milligrams taken one to three times
each day. However, the proper dosage for you and your condition may be
different. Talk with your doctor about the amount you should take.

Once you begin having success with 5-HTP, you may be able to reduce your
dose. This will help you maintain the benefits of the treatment without
experiencing side effects.

Be careful using 5-HTP with other medications that increase serotonin
levels, including antidepressants. You may get too much serotonin from the
combination of medicines. This can lead to a condition called serotonin
syndrome. Serotonin syndrome can potentially cause negative side effects,
including heart problems and anxiety.

Omega-3
fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids

The heart health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are widely reported. These
essential fats may be good for relieving symptoms of depression, too.

Omega-3s are also called essential fatty acids because the body needs them for
normal functions. These fats are important for neurological development and
growth. However, the human body can’t make omega-3s on its own. Omega-3s are
found in supplements and foods, including fish, some nut oils, and some plants.

While some studies suggest omega-3 fatty acids may help relieve the signs
and symptoms of depression, the overall evidence is unclear. A 2003 study in European
Neuropsychopharmacology found that people who took omega-3 fatty acid
supplements had reduced depression symptoms. This study also suggests omega-3
may be beneficial for people taking traditional antidepressants. A 2009 review of three other major
studies on omega-3 in depression found that the supplements yielded better
results in both children and adults compared with a placebo.

However, a later
study found that the promise of omega-3 as a treatment for depression is
largely unfounded. This analysis concluded that many of the studies were too
small or improperly researched.

Taking fish oil supplements for depression

Omega-3 supplements are made from two sources: fish or plants. The omega-3
fatty acids from fish are called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and
docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The omega-3 fatty acids derived from plant sources
are called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It’s important you have a balance of
both types in your diet. For supplement use, the oils are manufactured to make
capsules. Some ALA omega-3 sources are sold as oils.

EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids are most often recommended for people with
depression. One gram of omega-3s derived from fish may be effective at reducing
depression symptoms.

According to the National
Institutes of Health (NIH), most people can take up to 3 grams of omega-3
fish oil supplements each day without side effects or complications. For
depression, the Mayo
Clinic reports that a 1,000 milligram capsule with EPA has proven effective
in depression treatment. These are taken once a day. If you can’t swallow one
large pill at once, your doctor might recommend a smaller dosage taken twice a
day instead.

Despite the potential benefits, you should talk with your doctor before beginning
these supplements. Aside from the possibility of a lack of efficacy, fish oil
supplements can interact negatively with other medications. They can interact
with birth control pills and some high blood pressure medicines. They can also
increase the risk of bleeding. People on blood thinners should avoid taking it
without supervision.

As a 2009 study from The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry states that omega-3s are
helpful when used to bolster other treatment. But the study also noted there
wasn’t enough evidence to recommend omega-3s as a sole treatment for
depression.

If you want to add omega-3s to your treatment routine, discuss it with your
doctor. Overall, this complementary treatment seems to be most promising in
people with mild or moderate depression.

Vitamin
B

Vitamin B

B vitamins are important to your brain health. Vitamins B-12 and B-6 are
particularly significant. They help produce and control the chemicals that
influence mood and other brain functions. Indeed, low levels of these vitamins
are linked to depression.

To diagnose a vitamin B deficiency, your doctor may draw a blood sample for
testing. If your levels are low, you can increase your vitamin B through your
diet. B-rich foods include meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. If your vitamin B
levels are really low or your doctor wants to increase them quickly, they may
suggest a daily vitamin B supplement. In cases of severe deficiency, your
doctor may recommend a B-12 shot.

Boosting vitamin B levels may help end depression symptoms. However, studies
of vitamin B have mixed results. For example, a 2005 study in the Journal of
Psychopharmacology found that a combination of vitamin B-12 and
folic acid (another type of vitamin B) reduced depression symptoms. However,
other research, such as a 2005 study in Family
Practice, cast doubt on the benefits of vitamin B. More research is needed
before most doctors will support vitamin B supplements as an alternative to
traditional antidepressants.

Most multivitamins contain sufficient amounts of the most important B
vitamins. If you begin using a daily multivitamin, you may not need additional
supplementation. However, you can buy supplements that contain only vitamin B.
Most vitamin B supplements are made from manufactured bacteria. The bacteria
synthesize the vitamin, which is then put into tablets or capsules.

Doses for depression range between 1 and 25 micrograms per day. The NIH
recommends that adults over the age of 14 get 2.4 micrograms per day. Higher
doses may be both safe and effective. However, it’s important to discuss this
with your doctor before you begin using vitamin B in large doses.

Vitamin B supplements are generally handled well, if taken appropriately.
Side effects include diarrhea, blood clots, and itching. These are rare,
however.

As with many alternative treatments, vitamin B supplements can interfere
with other medications and treatments. Discuss taking vitamin B with your
doctor before you begin using it. They will consider possible interactions and
changes that may be necessary.

Vitamin
D

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has many health benefits. Adequate levels of the “sunshine
vitamin” help your body absorb calcium, which keeps your bones strong. Vitamin
D may also protect against cancer, high blood pressure, and other diseases. It
may even help ease symptoms of depression. The link between vitamin D and
depression isn’t as well supported as with other diseases, however.

People with depression tend to have low vitamin D levels, but most people in
the United States are deficient in vitamin D. Increasing your levels of the
vitamin might ease depression symptoms. A report published in Issues
in Mental Health Nursing suggests maintaining adequate vitamin D levels may
help reduce depression. The vitamin may have some effect, but more studies are
needed to determine just how effective it may be.

Your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. You can
also get vitamin D from certain foods, including cod liver oil, milk, sardines,
and eggs.

For many people, supplements are the safer choice. Routine sun exposure can
increase your risk for skin cancer. Also, the sun’s rays are not strong enough
in areas north of the 37th parallel. Many people in these regions aren’t able
to make enough vitamin D through sun exposure.

Studies supporting the use of vitamin D for depression are limited, so
dosing information is limited too. You can take the recommended daily intake,
which is 600 international units (IU) each day. You may be able to take a
larger dose, but the suggested average dose is between 400 and 800 IU each day,
according to the Mayo Clinic. Some people are able to take much larger doses
with success, but you should do this only under a doctor’s supervision.

Vitamin D toxicity is a possible complication if you take too much for too
long. Symptoms of vitamin D toxicity include weight loss, heart arrhythmias,
and excessive urination. However, you can’t get too much vitamin D from sun
exposure. Toxicity is only a concern if you get vitamin D from supplements.

Saffron
(Crocus satvius)

Saffron

Saffron (Crocus satvius) is a rare
spice made from the dried stigma of the Crocus
satvius
flower. Saffron has been used for centuries to strengthen
digestion, smooth menstruation, improve mood, and increase relaxation. Today,
it holds promise as a potential alternative treatment for depression.

A 2013 study in the Journal of Integrative Medicine found that saffron
supplements actually improve mood and reduce symptoms of major depressive
disorder more than placebo supplements. The study also concluded that more
research is needed before saffron can become a widely used alternative.

To make saffron supplements, powder from the dried Crocus satvius stigmas is turned into a capsule. One study,
published in Phytotherapy Research, found the spice to be effective when
subjects used 30 milligrams per day. If you take too much saffron, you may
experience side effects and symptoms, such as vomiting, dizziness, and
diarrhea.

Saffron is generally very expensive because many plants are needed to make a
tiny amount of the spice. Therefore, saffron supplements are not easy to find,
and they can also be costly.

Kava
kava (Piper methysticum)

Kava kava

Kava kava (Piper methysticum)
might offer people with depression some relief from their symptoms. The kava
plant is a tall shrub that is native to the South Pacific. Its root is used
commonly for medicine.

Kava can make people feel intoxicated, so teas and tinctures made from the
root have been used for centuries to help increase relaxation and reduce
anxiety. Kava doesn’t necessarily treat depression or the underlying causes.
Instead, it may help patients who use it feel more relaxed and calm. One study
published in Psychopharmacology investigated the effectiveness of kava kava. Researchers found that a water-based version of kava produced
anti-anxiety and antidepressant activity in people with depression. Researchers
also noted the extract brought up no safety concerns in the amount and duration
studied (250 mg of kavalactones per day).

Kava roots can be ground to a pulp and added to water to create a thick
mixture that may be consumed for medicinal purposes. For over-the-counter
supplements, dried kava root is crushed and then turned into a capsule. Kava is
measured in kavalactones, which are the chemical compounds derived from the
root.

A report published in Advances of Pharmacological Sciences analyzed multiple studies
on kava treatment. The method used most commonly was 300 mg/day for four weeks.
The report pointed to a study that used 280 mg/day. The study showed effects or
symptoms of using that amount were no worse than the placebo provided. Most
people can only take kavalactones for a short period of time because of the
risk of overdose and side effects. Your doctor should help you decide the right
duration for you.

Kava may cause kidney damage, especially if it is used for long periods of
time. Interactions between kava and other medicines may also cause serious side
effects. Because studies are limited and results are inconclusive, it’s best to
talk with your doctor before you consider kava as a treatment option.

A
dose of knowledge

The medical community supports the use of some herbs and supplements more
than others. Studies of these alternative treatments are limited, and the
results are sometimes inconclusive. Before doctors will recommend an herb or
supplement as a treatment, multiple studies need to return favorable results. One
positive study is rarely enough to persuade the medical community.

If you’re interested in using herbs, vitamins, or supplements to treat or
help treat your depression, consult your doctor or psychiatrist first. Many of
these treatments hold promise, but some come with side effects. Some of these
side effects and complications are very serious. Your doctor can help you
decide if one of these alternative treatments is right for you, your symptoms,
and your lifestyle.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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