5 Natural Herbs and Supplements for Depression

With the difficult side effects associated with depression medication, it’s no surprise many seek out natural alternatives. But which are most effective?

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Depression is one of the most common mood disorders in America – affecting over 17 million adults. Unfortunately, it’s believed there are actually more people out there struggling as the majority of those with depression don’t seek out treatment. ¹

Depression is defined by feelings of sadness, emptiness, and overall cognitive changes. There are different types of depression, each of which can require a different treatment route. While traditional recoveries included pharmaceutical medication and psychotherapy, many are opting for a more natural alternative. ²

While this may include certain lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, it also tends to incorporate all-natural herbs and supplements that can improve depressive symptoms.

Throughout this article, we’re going to take a look at 5 different supplements you’ll want to consider if you’re struggling with depression. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.

Best Natural Supplements for Depression

It should be noted that the following natural supplements aren’t a replacement for depression medication. They are merely suggestions that have been found to help people improve their depressive symptoms.

In order to understand which of these supplements is best for you, you’ll want to talk with a mental health professional. They’ll not only be able to garner a more personalized list for you, but they’ll also help you with any goals you may have taking natural alternative.

For example, many seek out these supplements as a means of weaning off pharmaceutical medication. A mental health professional can help you reach this goal safety and continue to support your treatment through other methods, such as psychotherapies.

1.) Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fats are one of the essential fats we all must receive from our diets. Research has found that those who lack omega-3 fats are more vulnerable to developing depression. ³ With that, there’s been some discussion as to whether or not taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements can actually help treat depression.

A 2020 analysis that involved 638 women found that omega-3 fats significantly improved symptoms in those struggling with pregnancy depression and postpartum syndrome. The same study found that supplements that incorporated high ratios of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were very effective in treating depressive symptoms. Both these are types of omega-3 fats and typically found in seafood. ⁴

While this is great news, it’s important to note that some studies have found differentiating results. For example, a 2019 study that tested omega-3 supplements on children and adolescents found no reduction in depression symptoms. ⁵

Still, regardless of whether omega-3 fats help with depression or not, they should be an essential part of every person’s diet. With that said, while more research is required to confirm whether they help depression or not, there’s no harm in giving omega-3 fatty acids a try.

2.) Saffron

Saffron is a spice that’s often associated with having antioxidant compounds, such as carotenoids crocin and crocetin. However, some studies are revealing that saffron may be able to also treat depression.

In a review, it was revealed that saffron is able to increase mood levels in the brain thanks to its impact on serotonin. More specifically, saffron impedes on serotonin reuptake – so, it makes already existing serotonin stay in the brain for longer periods of time. ⁶

This same review also found that those who took saffron for depressive symptoms had a significant decrease in symptoms compared to those who received a placebo. So much so, that it’s been regarded as having similar effects to antidepressant medication.

Research continues to look into saffron supplements and how they may be able to help treat depression. If you’ve found that antidepressant medication is ineffective or you’re looking to take a more natural alternative, saffron may be the answer you’ve been looking for.

3.) Vitamin D

Just like omega-3 fatty acids, it’s critical people receive enough vitamin D in order maintain a healthy mind and body. Those who don’t are much more likely to develop depression and depression is much more common in those who lack vitamin D. Not to mention, it’s been found that those with the lowest levels of vitamin D tend to have the most significant symptoms of depression. ⁷

While the research isn’t 100% clear yet, it’s believed that vitamin D may be able to help fight against certain symptoms of depression. More particularly, vitamin D has been found to decrease inflammation, help regulate mood, and protect against neurocognitive affliction.

In a 2020 study, it was found that those who received an injection of vitamin D alongside their standard treatment showed a lot of improvement in symptoms. ⁸

While vitamin D in and of itself needs more research to confirm its use as an antidepressant, numerous studies can confirm that those who lack vitamin D often struggle with the effects of depression. Being as this is another critical component of our health, it’s worth taking regardless of your mental health.

4.) Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)

Rhodiola is a natural herb that’s been found to have a number of different health benefits, including a reduction in depressive symptoms along with an improved response to stress. While it’s not clear whether or not rhodiola can be taken as an antidepressant, it’s known to help enhance nerve cell communication and decrease an overactive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. ⁹

Our HPA axis is key in depression as it regulates the body’s reaction to stress. Some research has found that an overactive HPA not only leads to more stress, but may be an indicator of someone struggling with a form of depression. ¹⁰

There has been some research concerning rhodiola’s effects on those struggling with depression. In one study, 57 people with depression took 340mg of rhodiola extract daily for a 12-week period. It was found that this led to a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. Unfortunately, the study did conclude that rhodiola still wasn’t effective as the antidepressant medication Sertraline. ¹¹

Another study suggests that rhodiola had much more of an impact on depressive symptoms when taken with saffron. ¹² However, more research is required in order to confirm the efficiency of this combination.

In terms of using rhodiola for depression, there’s no study out there that allows us to confirm its impact. Still, being as it’s relatively safe and comes with very few side effects, you may want to consider giving it a try.

5.) N-acetylcysteine (NAC)

If you’re looking for a supplement that may be able to reduce depression and improve cognitive functioning, you’ll want to check out N-acetylcysteine (NAC). NAC is a natural precursor to the amino acid glutathione which is a vital antioxidant. When it’s regulating properly, glutathione helps to manage inflammation and protect cells from oxidative damage. ¹³

When we take NAC, we help to boost levels of glutathione in our body. In turn, this has a number of health benefits that are linked to depression. ¹⁴ For example, one research piece found that NAC acts as an anti-inflammatory against cytokines such as C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha. It’s been discovered that those with depression struggle with higher levels of these inflammations. ¹⁵

Taking NAC had also been found to help with neurotransmitter imbalance in other psychiatric disorders. This includes neurotransmitters such as dopamine and glutamate which are essentials in helping to improve symptoms from mood disorders and other mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia.

In a 2016 review that looked over five separate studies, it was discovered that NAC had not only decreased depressive symptoms but was also able to improve cognitive function.

While more research is required in order to prescribe NAC as treatment for depression, it’s safe to say it can be a fundamental supplement in your therapy. Especially when you consider how depression changes the brain and the impact NAC can have on those changes. If interested, it’s been found that 2 to 2.4 grams a day were most effective in treating depression. ¹⁶

Final Word

If you’re looking for a safe and effective alternative to medication, our list above may just provide you with the information you were looking for. While these all-natural supplements have not been approved for pharmaceutical use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), many preliminary studies are finding they’re effective in helping those with depression.

Still, it’s important to have a conversation with your mental health professional about these supplements and which you’re interested in. While they may be able to help improve symptoms, you may be required to continue along your already-established treatment path.

Your Questions

Still have questions concerning all-natural remedies for depression?

We invite you to ask them in the comment’s section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.

Reference Sources

¹ Journal of General Internal Medicine (Springer): Treatment Initiation for New Episodes of Depression in Primary Care Settings

² National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Depression

³ Integrative Medicine Research (Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine): Omega-3 fatty acids and the treatment of depression: a review of scientific evidence

⁴ Translational Psychiatry (Nature Publishing Group): The efficacy and safety of omega-3 fatty acids on depressive symptoms in perinatal women

⁵ Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (BMC): Omega-3 fatty acids for the treatment of depressive disorders in children and adolescents

⁶ Journal of integrative medicine (HHS Public Access): Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials

⁷ Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine: Vitamin D and Depression: A Critical Appraisal of the Evidence and Future Directions

⁸ National Library of Medicine: Effect of adjunctive single dose parenteral Vitamin D supplementation in major depressive disorder with concurrent vitamin D deficiency

⁹ Journal of clinical trials (HHS Public Access): Rhodiola rosea therapy for major depressive disorder

¹⁰ Molecular psychiatry (HHS Public Access): HPA Axis in Major Depression: Cortisol, Clinical Symptomatology, and Genetic Variation Predict Cognition

¹¹ Phytomedicine: international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology (HHS Public Access): Rhodiola rosea versus sertraline for major depressive disorder: A randomized placebo-controlled trial

¹² Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment (Dove Press): A preliminary assessment of a combination of rhodiola and saffron in the management of mild – moderate depression

¹³ Antioxidants (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute): Medical and Dietary Uses of N-Acetylcysteine

¹⁴ The Journal of the American Aging Association (Springer): An increased need for dietary cysteine in support of glutathione synthesis may underlie the increased risk for mortality associated with low protein intake in the elderly

¹⁵ BioMed Research International: N-Acetylcysteine for the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: A Review of Current Evidence

¹⁶ National Library of Medicine: N-Acetylcysteine in depressive symptoms and functionality: a systematic review and meta-analysis

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