Many people struggle with depression, but don’t know how to cope with it. In many cases these people first seek out help from a doctor without taking a look at their lifestyle and/or potential contributing factors to that depression. Prior to getting put on an antidepressant medication, it is important to consider trying some natural antidepressants.
Although these natural options are not nearly as powerful as antidepressant drugs, they may work well at alleviating your symptoms. By choosing a natural option to treat your depression, you will avoid the unwanted side effects and incredibly difficult withdrawal symptoms associated with antidepressant drugs. In addition to considering various supplements which often carry few side effects, it is important to make lifestyle changes.
If the depression you are experiencing is rooted in your genetics, it may be more difficult to treat with natural therapies, but it still is possible. If you explore natural options, make lifestyle changes, and find that no matter what you try, nothing helps – then at that point you’ll want to try a pharmaceutical medication. However it is important to mention that a lot of people end up on medication for years, withdraw from it for whatever reason, then make various lifestyle changes, try natural supplements and wish they would have gone the natural route first.
Natural Antidepressants: Best Supplements For Depression
Listed below are seven of the best natural options for treating depression. Understand that these are supplements that can be purchased over-the-counter. Perhaps the two with the most credibility are omega-3 fatty acids as well as SAMe. Others such as St. John’s Wort have also have some degree of credibility for mild depression.
Before you take any natural antidepressants, consider making lifestyle changes that could contribute to your depression. If you would like more holistic suggestions for overcoming your low mood, read an older article discussing various natural cures for depression.
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
In various studies involving omega-3 fatty acids for the treatment of depression, they were found very effective with a minimal side effect profile. In a review of evidence, a component of omega-3 fatty acids called “EPA” (eicosapentaenoic acid) was reviewed as an antidepressant augmentation strategy in a small group of 20 patients with unipolar depression. The group that received the EPA showed statistical improvement in depression scores compared to those who received a placebo.
Additionally most noted major improvements by the third week of EPA supplementation. Another study involving 28 children (aged 6 to 12) with major depression demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation as a monotherapy resulted in significant improvement in depression ratings across three tests. Some researchers hypothesize that low dietary levels of omega-3 fatty acids could be a cause of depression.
Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to work in the brain by influencing serotonin functioning and improve functioning in the hippocampus. Various reports have even suggested that high levels of omega-3’s resulted in higher levels of brain volume in adults compared to those with inadequate levels. Research supports taking this supplement for both depression and all-around mental functioning.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19499625
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20099994
2. SAM-e (S-adenosyl methionine)
SAM-e is a naturally occurring molecule that is involved in cellular metabolism within the body. It is made up of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) as well as methionine and is consumed by the liver. In a study published in 2010, Sam-e was found effective as an antidepressant augmentation option. The study involved 73 patients with major depression that didn’t respond to an SSRI.
In a double-blind, randomized trial, SAM-e (S-adenosyl methionine) was given at dosages of 800 mg twice per day to various participants. Based on Hamilton Depression Rating (HAM-D) results, individuals who had been treated with the Sam-e experienced significantly greater improvement in their mood. The results of this study demonstrated that Sam-e can be effective, and that it is well-tolerated with minimal side effects.
In a 1994 meta-analysis, SAMe was touted as being superior to a placebo for depressive syndromes and comparable in efficacy to standard tricyclic antidepressants. Other studies suggest that it may work more quickly than other antidepressants and is a legitimate option for those who cannot tolerate side effects associated with pharmaceutical antidepressants.
Although SAM-e is primarily utilized for depression, it is also commonly used to help combat liver disease and pain associated with osteoarthritis. Most research indicates that SAM-e is a good option for those wanting to treat depression naturally. With that said, larger-scale studies need to be conducted to further support initial findings.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20595412
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19909689
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7941964
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2183633
3. St. John’s Wort
St. Johns Wort is regarded as one of the most popular natural antidepressants on the market. Many people actually turn to this supplement prior to taking pharmaceutical antidepressants because they believe it will work. A considerable amount of research has been conducted with this particular supplement and it has been shown to be a cost-effective alternative to modern day pharmaceutical antidepressants.
This is a treatment option that works best for individuals with mild or moderate depression. For major depression, someone taking this supplement may not notice much of anything. Then again, there are forms of treatment-resistant depression that don’t even respond to most medications. If you have a low-grade depression, the research shows that this works just as well as other antidepressants on the market and is considerably cheaper.
Another benefit associated with using this as a natural treatment option is that there are significantly less side effects compared to medications. Additionally reports suggest that there are lower rates of discontinuation and less withdrawal symptoms when a person stops taking it.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23291009
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20977305
4. Rhodiola Rosea L. Extract (SHR-5)
Another natural option that has shown some promise in treating depression is an extract of Rhodiola Rosea L. called SHR-5. In one 6-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study, depression scores were measured using the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) as well as the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). There were a total of 89 participants in the study and they were divided into three groups: A (31 participants), B (29 participants), C (29 participants).
Group A received 340 mg of SHR-5 administered twice per day. Group B received 680 mg of SHR-5 twice per day. Group C received two placebo tablets per day. The goal of the study was to determine whether SHR-5 was effective and safe for treating mild to moderate depression. Results of this study showed that groups A and B experienced significant improvement in mood in comparison to group C. This suggested that Rhodiola extract could prove useful as a natural antidepressant.
It has only been tested among individuals with mild to moderate depression, so many not work as well if you have major depression. There were no serious side effects associated with this supplement and optimal dosage seems to be between 340 mg to 680 mg per day. Rhodiola is hypothesized to work as a natural MAOI due to the fact that it inhibits MAO-A, thereby boosting levels of neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin. In addition to helping improve mood, Rhodiola has also been shown to improve stress-related fatigue.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17990195
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19016404
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19168123
5. 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan)
This is a naturally occurring amino acid that is involved in producing serotonin and melatonin from tryptophan. It is a very popular supplement that many people take to help with depression, but it can also improve sleep and help suppress appetite. Throughout Europe it is actually sold in pharmaceutical-grade format under various drug names.
Although there hasn’t been a lot of research involving 5-HTP in large-scale studies, several double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have proven it effective to treat depression. Many of the findings from small-scale studies have been questioned. That being said, one study involved comparing 5-HTP to the drug Prozac (fluoxetine) among 60 participants.
The participants were divided into two groups, one received the 5-HTP and the other fluoxetine for a period of 8 weeks. To accurately measure depression, participants were given the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D). The HAM-D was given prior to the administration of 5-HTP and fluoxetine as well as at 2 weeks, 4 weeks, and 8 weeks. Study results indicated that HAM-D scores improved in both groups: 73% in the 5-HTP group and 80% in the fluoxetine group.
These findings suggest that 5-HTP has potential to treat depression as a natural therapy. Authors of this study indicated that 5-HTP was considered statistically “equal to that of fluoxetine.” Currently larger studies need to be conducted, some evidence suggests that this supplement may help with minor to moderate episodes of depression. Other researchers believe that although 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin,
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22888252
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23380314
6. Folic Acid / Folate (Vitamin B9)
In a 2014 publication, using “L-methylfolate” – commonly known as Folate, is significantly effective when used as an antidepressant augmentation strategy. A study involving 4,053 participants taking a second-generation antipsychotic with an antidepressant were compared with 1,351 patients taking 7.5 mg of Folate with an antidepressant. The results showed that both groups improved significantly in their depression.
However, the research suggests that those who received the Folate were more likely to follow through with treatment and the total costs for treatment were significantly lower than those taking the antipsychotics. Another study showed that taking Folate alone or with an antidepressant resulted in significant improvements in self-reported mood.
The verdict isn’t out as to whether this is a legitimate monotherapeutic option, but several studies suggest that it could help. For someone who is already taking an antidepressant, adding Folate as an adjunct has credible scientific support. There is also some evidence suggesting that a diet low in folic acid could contribute to depression.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24372461
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24392264
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15671130
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19388520
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23507369
There is significant evidence supporting the idea that magnesium deficiency could be a contributing factor to major depression and treatment-resistant depression. In a 2006 publication, several patients were noted that experienced rapid recovery (in less than a week) from major depression by supplementing 125 mg to 300 mg of magnesium with a meal before bed.
Authors note that magnesium is effective for treating general depression because when a person is deficient, it lead to an opening of calcium channels. When calcium channels open, this sometimes leads to injury and dysfunction among neurons. It should also be noted that cerebral spinal fluid levels of magnesium have been documented as being low among individuals who attempt suicide.
Additionally brain magnesium levels have been reported as being lower than average among individuals with treatment resistant depression. Although you may not be deficient in magnesium, you may want to try supplementing it for awhile to see if it helps. There is plenty of evidence supporting that if you are magnesium deficient, supplementation could pull you out of a deep depression.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16542786
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19944540
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23950577
Inositol is a carbohydrate that has effects on chemical messengers in the brain as a precursor. In a meta-analysis published in 2014 regarding the use of Inositol for depression (and anxiety disorders), the findings hypothesized that this supplement may help individuals with depression. Specifically, the analysis showed that Inositol was most beneficial among individuals with PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder).
Based on what was published in this study, this may be a supplement to consider. With that said, compared to other supplements, this is likely one of the worst options. The effect it had on improving depression was not regarded as clinically significant. Older small-scale studies from the late 1990s have found Inositol to be effective as a standalone treatment, but in a 2004 review of the evidence, it was still undecided as to whether this supplement had any significant effect.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24424706
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7726322
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15106232
There is preliminary evidence suggesting that supplementing Creatine may work well for depression. Although only small studies have been conducted, several have shown mood-elevating effects of creatine. Additionally this supplement can improve cognition and overall brain functioning. Initial studies have been very small and have only found a significant effect when creatine was supplemented in women.
Other studies have demonstrated no effect of creatine in reducing depression compared to a placebo. Researchers in that study did suggest that utilizing creatine as an SSRI augmentation strategy may yield a more rapid antidepressant response among women with major depression. Read more about creatine for depression to get a better understanding of the research that has been conducted.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22864465
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23466591
Note: It is important to note that just because these are considered natural supplements does not mean that they are void of side effects. If not taken properly, many of these supplements can cause some sort of harm. Most would agree though that they are significantly better tolerated, more cost-effective, and safer than standard psychiatric medications.
What is the best natural antidepressant?
Like any antidepressant, there’s no telling whether you will respond to a supplement until you actually take it for awhile. Many of these supplements require you to take them for a couple weeks before you start feeling the effects, others may take longer. Many people commonly ask, “What is the best antidepressant?” when in reality, the answer will be different for everyone. For one person it may be taking omega-3 fatty acids, while for another it may be Prozac.
You are probably wondering where the best place to start is from the supplements listed. If it were up to me, I would probably start with omega-3 fatty acid supplementation – most people do not get significantly enough in their diet. Some research published in 2012 suggests that only omega-3 fatty acids and SAM-e have sufficient evidence to support their use as an antidepressant. Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22589230.
However, this does not necessarily mean that the other items on the above list won’t work. For many of them, there simply isn’t enough funding to support large-scale studies. Most big studies for depression are conducted with pharmaceutical drugs with significant financial backing, not natural supplements. Feel free to try out some of these natural treatment options and see what you think. If you have already given one a try, be sure to share your experience in the comments section below.
I’ve taken 5HTP for a couple of years because I had been gaining a lot of weight on Prozac. With 5HTP I was less depressed, could sleep a lot better, I could live my life. The other good part was that I was able to exercise and loose weight. I didn’t crave goodies and it even helped me lose weight because I didn’t have a tremendous appetite.
I like this 5HTP…however… I don’t know if this is a related side effect, but now I do have a heart valve leak. Ugh… I read that 5HTP can be the culprit. I’m so sad. I’d like to return to 5HTP but so afraid it is the cause of this valve leak. It’s a wonderful supplement otherwise. I wish someone would do something to change that because it’s so good for depression.