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Depression: Feeling Better With Natural Remedies
- Updated: August 28, 2014
Preventing or Reducing Symptoms of Depression Naturally
Symptoms of depression affect one of every ten adults in the United States according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This mood disorder produces distinct symptoms that include loneliness, sadness, and reduced interest over a long period of time. Even though relatively common, this illness continues to be studied in order to find increasingly better treatments.
Some of the other symptoms often associated with depression include:
- Sense of emptiness
- Feeling unworthy
- Change in appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Poor concentration
- Trouble making decisions
- Outbursts of anger
- Irrational reactions
- Unexplained pain
- Suicidal thoughts or successful suicide
Although medical professionals know there are many things that trigger an onset of depression the actual cause is not yet fully understood. From years of research, doctors believe the following are some of the factors that could play a role.
- Chemical imbalances in the brain
- Physical changes in the brain
- Hormonal changes, possibly linked to menopause, thyroid, and others
- Life changes such as death, divorce, layoff, finances, and so on
Getting Help Naturally
The more traditional method of treating depression involves a combination of prescription medication and counseling therapy. To resolve underlying physical issues to include chemical imbalances, antidepressants are prescribed and to cope with challenging situations and personal problems, counseling helps.
Although more traditional treatments for depression can be beneficial, there is an increasing interest in alternative treatment options. Because of this, natural remedies have gained a tremendous amount of research attention. As part of this, top researchers have studied multiple supplements, vitamins, and herbs as a way of identifying potential benefits for people who struggle with depression.
Data gathered from these studies is somewhat mixed. Some of the treatments look incredibly promising while some fall short of expectation during clinical trials. For this reason, a large number of medical professionals hesitate to recommend natural remedies for treating people with depression. With the information provided, people have the opportunity to learn about natural treatments that have been studied most.
Remember, unlike prescription medication, there is no mandate in the United States for supplements and herbs to be reviewed and approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration or FDA. Therefore, many of the remedies have not undergone testing using the FDA’s guidelines for both safety and effectiveness.
This means an individual could purchase an alternative treatment for depression that is unsafe, ineffective, or both. In fact, because there are some fraudulent products sold, consumers need to be highly vigilant when purchasing any alternative medicine. To reduce risk, we recommend anyone with depression interested in using a natural treatment to first talk to a reputable doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist.
We also want to mention that while alternative treatments work amazing well for many people who suffer from depression, they are not effective for everyone. Again, the best course of action is to start by talking to a medical professional so the best remedy can be identified.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Grown throughout Europe, as well as parts of Africa and Asia, and western regions of the United States, St. John’s Wort is a shrubby herb with blossoming yellow flowers. Unlike many other plants, both the flowers and leaves can be used for medicinal purposes. Using the flower part, a supplement can be developed, which is usually available in capsule, tablet, and tea form. However, there are tinctures and liquid extracts sold too.
St. John’s Wort has been used as a natural treatment of various health conditions for centuries and today, remains highly popular. In addition to having natural antiviral properties, it is an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. In some countries to include Europe, St. John’s Wort is a popular remedy for treating depression but in the United States, it cannot be because it does not have FDA approval.
There are some differences in how St. John’s Wort is perceived as far as an alternative treatment for depression. In 2009 study in the Evidence Based Mental Health publication showed St. John’s Wort has being beneficial. As part of this study, it was proven this herb was far more effective than a placebo. The study also found there were fewer associated side effects than with traditional medication used for the same purpose.
On the other hand, two other studies felt St. John’s Wort was ineffective for treating mild and severe depression. One study was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, which also compared results between the herb and a placebo. In this case, St. John’s Wort did not improve cases of mild depression but interestingly, when compared to placebo, one of the leading prescription drugs, Citalopram, did not do any better.
The second study, which was in a Journal of the American Medical Association publication, found the herb to be ineffective in treating moderately severe major depression. For someone with mild to moderate depression, the recommended dose of St. John’s Wort is between 20 and 1,800 milligrams if being taken in capsule or tablet form. However, the average dose usually taken is 300 milligrams, two to three times a day.
As reported by the Mayo Clinic, people with severe depression can take between 900 and 1,800 milligrams of St. John’s Wort daily. However, if symptoms of depression begin to subside, dosage can be reduced although this should first be approved by a doctor.
Although it appears that St. John’s Wort eases symptoms of depression for many people, there could be negative interaction with other medications to include birth control pills, blood thinners, antidepressants, and cough suppressants so talking to a doctor prior to taking the herb is crucial.
This is the acronym for S-adenosyl-L-methionine, which is a compound produced naturally by the body. However, SAMe can also be artificially created in a lab setting. During the late 1900s, this compound in artificial form was approved by the FDA with the sole purpose of being a dietary supplement. However, it became a prescription drug during the 1970s in Europe and to be used as treatment for a much broader array of health conditions such as heart disease, ADD, depression, osteoarthritis, and seizures.
In the body, this compound plays key functions. As an example, in the brain, SAMe produces dopamine, melatonin, and serotonin. While all three are important, serotonin is a valuable neurotransmitter, which helps carry signals through the brain and into the body. If someone has been diagnosed with depression, chances are good there is a serotonin deficiency. To help, medication can be prescribed whereby more of this chemical would be produced but also, SAMe can boost serotonin levels naturally.
In a 2010 publication of The American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers provided information regarding a study where the effectiveness of SAMe was investigated. They concluded that taking SAMe along with a prescribed serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SRI is highly beneficial. As part of the study, participants were given 800 milligrams of SAMe twice a day and when compared to those taking a placebo, the people who used SAMe experienced far fewer symptoms associated with depression.
At this time, there is no established dosage for SAMe although experts recommend doses based on how the supplement is taken. In many instances, a person will gradually increase the dose, which in turn reduces unpleasant side effects while increasing the level of effectiveness.
Another report published in 2002 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition provided important information pertaining to effective dosing of SAMe. Successful clinical trials of the compound were researched and shown to be more effective than placebo. In fact, SAMe was equally effective as popular tricylic antidepressants for reducing symptoms of depression. In addition, it showed that 200 to 1,600 milligrams of SAMe a day was highly effective. Even with these findings, researchers agreed additional testing to determine appropriate dose was needed.
SAMe is also available in injectable form, with average doses between 200 to 400 milligrams. According to the Mayo Clinic, some people need an injection every day for up to eight weeks, which are typically given in a physician’s office. Much of the research done to date suggests that SAMe offers short-term benefits opposed to longer-term. For this reason, many doctors prefer to have more support for this compound before prescribing it to their patients.
Someone who struggles with depression and feels that SAMe could prove helpful should talk first with their doctor. However, this compound is available as an over-the-counter supplement but because there could be possible side effects like dizziness, insomnia, diarrhea, and dry mouth.
In addition, SAMe could compromise the effectiveness and safety of other medications, the doctor needs to be notified prior to taking it. For instance, taking SAMe while on blood thinners raises the risk of excessive bleeding.
Commonly called 5-hydroxytryptophan, this chemical is made by the body from L-tryptophan, which is a type of protein building-block. Tryptophan is found in certain foods whereas 5-HTP is not. Therefore, to produce 5-HTP, the body uses tryptophan. A few examples foods that contain this chemical include:
- Sunflower Seeds
Similar to SAMe, experts believe that 5-HTP can help raise serotonin levels in the brain as a means of reducing symptoms associated with depression like medication does. In addition, many researchers feel it is also beneficial to other conditions like PMS, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, and certain sleep disorders while some dispute those claims.
In fact, according to one study published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment found 5-HTP actually makes symptoms of depression worse. Another concern is that using this chemical long-term could cause a deficit of neurotransmitters.
On average, patients are advised to take between 100 and 300 milligrams of 5-HTP between one and three times daily but actual dose depends on the individual. For this reason, it is always important to first consult with a physician. In addition, many people have been able to lower dose once symptoms of depression begin to soften.
5-HTP should be taken carefully since adding this to any other medications that boost serotonin levels can be dangerous, leading to Serotonin Syndrome that causes anxiety and heart problems.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Evidence as to the effects of omega 3 specific to symptoms of depression remains somewhat controversial. For instance, one study conducted in 2003 showed marked improvement in symptoms for people living with depression while another study performed later on could not support the earlier findings.
However, most experts believe that in addition to supporting a healthy heart, omega 3 fatty acids reduce symptoms of depression. After all, fatty acids are needed by the body for normal function but also critical for neurological development and growth. Unfortunately, the body is incapable of making omega 3 this fatty acid can be found in certain foods to include fish and nuts, as well as supplements.
Regarding omega 3 supplements, these come from two sources to include plants and fish. From fish, the acids are called eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA and docosahexaenoic acid or DHA. From plants, they are known as alpha-linolenic acid or ALA. The key is to balance the two types in the diet either from food or supplements.
For treating symptoms of depression, most doctors recommend one gram from fish. However, most people take up to three grams via fish oil supplements, according to the National Institutes of Health. In addition to reducing symptoms of depression, fish oil supplements cause few or no side effects. Even so, it is important to talk to a doctor prior to taking them. For instance, there are some negative interactions with medication to include birth control and certain types of high blood pressure medication.
When it comes to brain health, B vitamins are critical, particularly B6 and B12, which produce and control chemicals in the brain responsible for influencing mood, as well as various other brain functions. Keep in mind that low levels of B vitamins have been directly linked to depression.
A simple blood test can detect a vitamin B deficiency and if confirmed, more of this vitamin is necessary, through foods like dairy products, fish, meat, and eggs, or by taking supplements. Now, in extreme cases of deficiency, a vitamin B12 would help.
For many people, increasing levels of B vitamins will reduce or even stop symptoms associated with depression. However, results from several studies are mixed. In a 2005 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, vitamin B12 and folic acid reduced symptoms but another study that same year published in Family Practice, discredited the level of benefit.
Typically, multivitamins offer sufficient amounts of the key B vitamins but if needed additional B vitamins can be taken. As for dose, the average is between 1 and 25 micrograms daily although experts recommend 2.4 micrograms for people over the age of 14. Even though even higher doses might help, a doctor should be consulted before increasing the recommended daily dose.
Most people have no problem taking B vitamins but in some instances, side effects to include itching, diarrhea, and blood clots have been reported. Of course, B vitamins are no different from others in that some will have interactions with prescription medication so again, a doctor should be talked to prior to taking any of these vitamins.
The list of health benefits linked to vitamin D is quite lengthy. Also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, this aids the body with the absorption of calcium, which in turn produces strong bones and teeth. However, new studies suggest that vitamin D also protects against health-related issues like high blood pressure and cancer, among others. It has also been reported that vitamin D reduces symptoms of depression, although these claims are not strongly supported.
A deficiency of vitamin D is common in people with depression but interestingly, most Americans, whether depressed or not, do not have adequate levels of this vitamin. Specific to depression, one report published in Issues in Mental Health Nursing stated that by maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D, depression symptoms would be less. However, the degree of benefit remains in question.
Vitamin D is produced by the body by skin being exposed to sunlight but it can also be absorbed from foods like eggs, milk, and sardines. In addition to this, vitamin D can be taken in supplement form, which for some people is easier and safer compared to sun exposure, which has been shown to increase risk of cancer.
The recommended dose of vitamin D is 600 international units or IU daily but some take up to 800 a day. However, doctors now believe that women especially can take up to 3,000 IU a day because a deficiency is common and linked to heart disease but also, anything not used by the body is automatically disposed of naturally. Even with this, it is important to get a green light from a doctor before taking more than 800 IU a day of vitamin D.
The biggest risk in taking higher dosages is taking them over a long period of time. With this, an individual could develop toxicity, which promotes weight loss, excessive urination, and arrhythmias.
Sometimes called by its formal name, Crocus satvius, saffron comes from the Crocus sativa flower and considered a rare spice. For centuries, saffron has been used not only in cooking but for its medicinal purposes such as easing pain associated with menstruation, improving mood, promoting relaxation, improving digestion, and more. According to medical professionals, another key benefit is reducing symptoms of depression.
Information from a 2013 study was published in the Journal of Integrative Medication in which saffron in supplement form was found to bolster mood and reduce symptoms of depression, specifically those linked to major depressive disorder. While this is great news, researchers also agreed that more studies are needed to fully understand all of the benefits of saffron.
According to another study published in Phytotherapy Research, saffron is most effective when taken as 30 milligrams a day. With this particular product, it is important not to take more than the recommended dose because of unwanted side effects to include dizziness, diarrhea, and vomiting. The biggest downside, saffron is expensive because it takes a lot of plants to produce a small amount of spice.
Known also as Piper methystiocum, medical professionals believe this herb might provide people with depression relief. For hundreds of years, the root of the tall Kava plant has been used to treat various health conditions. Because Kava Kava produces a sense of intoxication, it is often used to promote relaxation and to help reduce anxiety.
Rather than treat underlying symptoms of depression, Kava Kava creates a calming effect that proves beneficial. A publication in Psychopharmacology reported findings of a study whereby a water-based version of this herb worked great as a natural anti-anxiety remedy. However, it also worked as an anti-depressant.
Also noted by researchers was the fact that Kava Kava extract posed no known safety risks, when taken in the recommended amount of 250 milligrams daily. Typically, roots are ground to a pulp, followed by adding water. The result is a thick substance, which is then consumed. However, Kava Kava is also available in supplement form sold over the counter. For this, dried root is crushed and then made into capsules.
According to another report published in Advances of Pharmacological Sciences, Kava Kava as a medical treatment has been analyzed in multiple studies. Based on these findings, experts believe taking 300 milligrams of supplement a day for four weeks is most beneficial. Also noted was that when compared to a placebo, there were no dramatic side effects.
In most cases, Kava Kava is used as a short-term treatment, which is effective but also reduces any risk of unpleasant side effects or other risks to include overdose. Again, a doctor should be consulted prior to taking this herb since in large doses or when taken over an extended period of time, the herb can cause kidney damage. Interactions with certain medications have also been found.
Using Knowledge as Power
The bottom line – the use of herbs, supplements, and vitamins is strongly supported by the medical community. In many cases, the outcome of using natural remedies is exceptional but because studies are limited, they all need to be highly respected.
For anyone interested in using natural remedies in addition to or as a standalone treatment for depression, a doctor should be consulted first. Although there is slight risk of side effects, these remedies for the most part hold a tremendous amount of promise