Natural Remedies for Depression [Top Five Herbs for Depression]
6 Natural Depression Remedies Worth Trying
If you're depressed, as some 19 millions Americans are, joining the Prozac nation may not necessarily be the answer. For one thing, antidepressants work for only half the people who try them, says David Mischoulon, MD, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Then there are the side effects—fatigue, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, nausea, headaches, and dizziness. Plus you have to get yourself to a doctor, which is not always feasible.
Instead, many people are turning to natural remedies, which are easily accessible (some are over the counter), have few to no side effects, and are usually compatible with other meds you may already be taking. "Natural remedies offer a way for people to get treated quickly and conveniently," says Mischoulon. "And if you've already tried the marketed medications and they didn't work—these may work for you where others didn't."
If you're facing serious depression (click here to learn the classic signs), there's no question that you should get help immediately and could possibly benefit from medication, which has helped millions of people. But if your case is mild to moderate, consider trying some of the following alternative treatments. "The worst that could happen is that they don't work, and then you can always try prescription drugs," Mischoulon says.
Pop A Pill
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Supplements, available in most drug stores and online, are now backed by some pretty solid science. "I've seen many people get well with these remedies," Mischoulon says. These are the best studied:
Omega-3 fatty acids, found naturally in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, may be effective in preventing and treating depression. A 2014 study in the journalBiological Psychiatryfound that that taking omega-3 supplements for just two weeks significantly slashed depression in a group of patients who were at high risk for developing it. "Newer research suggests that inflammation could be an underlying mechanism of depression," Mischoulon explains. "And omega-3s have been well documented as anti-inflammatory."
Try it:A landmark study in 2002 found 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids daily to be the optimal dose for treatment of depression.
SAM-e, a chemical that occurs naturally in the body, may boost mood by providing raw material for the manufacture of the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Though more than 40 studies have looked at SAMe, results have been mixed. But one study, published by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2003, found the substance to be equivalent to at least low doses of some antidepressants, and with fewer side effects.
Try it:While the recommended dosage on the bottle is 200 mg a day, research suggests you need more like 400 mg three to four times a day to beat the blues.
St. John's Wort, made from a plant that grows in the wild, may ease depression by making more of the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine available. That's also how antidepressants such as Prozac work—and a 2005 Harvard study showed that St. John's wort to be just as effective if not more so for mild to moderate cases of depression. Other results have been mixed, but Mischoulon says there's good reason to give it a try.
Try it:Take 300 mg three times a day, and expect to wait three to four weeks to feel any effects. Be sure to speak to your doctor before taking the herb, since it can have serious side effects and may not be compatible with other medications you may be taking—especially ones that treat depression and mood disorders.
Talk It Out
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) works by changing the negative patterns that keep us trapped in a cycle of depression. "It helps people identify how they're thinking about things—typically in overly pessimistic, unrealistic, and hypercritical ways—and asks them to test the accuracy of those ideas in real life," explains Vanderbilt University psychology professor Steve Hollon, PhD. Perhaps the greatest gift of CBT is prevention: It teaches you better coping skills. In a 2013 study in theBritish Medical Journal, patients who underwent CBT were less likely to relapse after stopping treatment compared to patients who stopped taking antidepressants. "Medications, as good as they are, don't last—it's like taking aspirin," Hollen says. "With therapy, you learn the tools to ward off depression by yourself."
Try it:Visit academyofct.org, the website of the Cognitive Therapy Academy, and click on "Find a Therapist."
MORE:Are You Bummed Out...Or Depressed?
Photo by Christa Renee
Exercise tones both body and mind. Beyond triggering energizing, feel-good brain chemicals, such as endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine, exercise stimulates new nerve growth, which creates new pathways of communication and increases your brain's flexibility. A 2013 research review in theAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicinefound that even low levels of physical activity—including walking and gardening for 20 to 30 minutes a day—can ward off depression in people of all ages. Yoga, in particular, is gaining traction as a remedy for depression. In one study out of the University of Westminster, people with mild depression who attended two hour-long Iyengar yoga sessions weekly reported significantly fewer depression symptoms and a brighter mood after just three weeks.
Try it:Aim for 30 to 40 minutes three to five times a week of aerobic exercise such as walking, running, cycling or using a cross-trainer. Twice weekly yoga may also help, especially hot yoga, which Mischoulon is now studying. Apparently the rise in body temperature may release chemicals that boost mood.
MORE: 9 Surprising Signs Of Depression
Clear Your Mind
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A 2014 research review from Johns Hopkins University suggests that mindfulness-based meditation can help ease psychological stress including anxiety and depression. Mindfulness-based meditation teaches you to catch negative thinking while it's happening, short-circuiting the cycle of worrying that leads to depression, according to psychologist David Tate, PhD, director of the Center for Stress Reduction in St. George, Utah. Exciting findings published in theBritish Medical Journallast January suggest that you may get surprisingly good results from a simple smart phone app.
Try it:Test-drive an app such as The Mindful Way Through Depression by Sounds True, or the Mindfulness Meditation app by the author ofMeditation for Dummies. For best results, Tate suggests, listening for 15 to 20 minutes a day.
Other complementary techniques that may work for you include acupuncture, light therapy, hypnosis, massage therapy, and a variety of other herbal supplements, including Valerian and 5-HTP. For more information, visit the Depression page of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the Natural Institutes of Health.
And stay tuned for exciting new developments in depression treatment and prevention, including probiotics, which address imbalances in our gut bacteria; transcranial magnetic stimulation, which stimulates nerve cells in the brain that control mood; and the possibility of depression biomarkers (signs in our genes) that can be detected from blood tests and that could indicate the best type of treatment.
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