Researchers have long believed that the direct cause of depression was due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, specifically with serotonin and dopamine. While that certainly plays a role in the cause of depression for many people, studies are finding out that nerve cell connections, nerve cell growth, and the functioning of nerve circuits are also having an impact on depression.
Research is always being conducted to learn more about depression and the areas of the brain it impacts, such as the amygdala, the thalamus, and the hippocampus. There are also many ways a person can develop depression. A person could possibly develop depression symptoms due to chemicals within the brain, stressful life events they’ve dealt with, side effects of medications, other health issues, and even genetics. The most important thing to remember is that it is possible to minimize the effects the symptoms of depression have on your life.
While many turn to prescription medications to deal with the depression they struggle with, others prefer to look for more natural options. That’s what we’re going to be looking into in this post.
There are a variety natural antidepressants available to help you conquer depression and regain your life. While some of these may do the job on their own, others work best when combined with your standard, prescribed antidepressant.
Before trying any of these supplements or incorporating these tips into your life, it’s important to consult with your doctor and do not stop taking prescription medications unless your doctor says it’s okay. With that said, here are 12 natural antidepressants you can try.
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After being diagnosed with depression, it’s most common for a doctor to give you a prescription medication to take. It may even take some time to figure out not only the right prescription, but also the right dosage in order to see results. However, many don’t like the idea of putting mysterious chemicals into their bodies that can often result in various side effects. Instead, they’d prefer to take something more natural in order to ease their symptoms.
If you’re wondering which natural antidepressants you can take, we’ve rounded-up a few options, plus the benefits they offer to those who take them. Check out our list, but be sure to consult with a doctor prior to incorporating any of them into your daily routine.
1. St. John’s Wort
If you aren’t familiar with St. John’s Wort, you may be a little thrown off by its odd name. It’s actually a plant that grows in the wild and has been used for health purposes for many years. And in a lot of cases, it has been taken as a way to combat the symptoms of depression. It’s most commonly prescribed as a depression treatment in Europe, but has not yet been approved for this purpose by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States.
The good news, however, is that many studies have been conducted on the effects of St. John’s Wort on depression symptoms. And many of those studies have yielded promising results! In 2009, there was a review of 29 international studies that suggested St. John’s Wort may work better than a placebo and is as effective as standard prescriptions. These studies noticed it provided results for those suffering with mild to moderate depression. In many of these cases, there were fewer side effects than with standard prescription antidepressants.
Although, that doesn’t mean St. John’s Wort is without its own downsides. There have been studies that question its effectiveness and some who have taken it reported negative side effects. It could also decrease the effectiveness of other medications you are taking, so always consult with a doctor first. If your doctor gives you the OK, it just might be what you need to decrease the depression symptoms you’re struggling with.
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5-HTP is short for 5-hydroxytryptophan, which is a chemical our bodies make from tryptophan. You’ve probably heard about tryptophan before, because it’s most commonly known for being in that Thanksgiving turkey you eat every year. Well, tryptophan actually serves a purpose for our bodies. You see, once our body has converted tryptophan into 5-HTP, that chemical is then converted into serotonin.
You may know of serotonin because it’s a neurotransmitters that is crucial to our brain function. It helps to relay signals between our brain cells, but is also used to regulate our moods and behavior. When people struggle with symptoms of depression, it’s often found that they have low serotonin levels.
Now, before you run out and start eating turkey and other foods that contain tryptophan, it’s important to know that they won’t increase your body’s 5-HTP levels by much. Instead, you would need to take a supplement in order to noticeably see an increase in those levels. The supplement itself is made from the seeds of an African plant call the Griffonia simplicifolia.
There have been numerous studies conducted on the effectiveness of 5-HTP when it comes to treating depression. The results of those studies have indicated it’s an effective treatment for those suffering from mild to moderate depression symptoms. The reason it works is because 5-HTP increases the levels of serotonin in our brains, much like the prescription selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac and Luvox, would.
In fact, one study showed that those who were given 5-HTP did just as well as those who were prescribed Luvox and they also had fewer side effects. While more research is needed, it’s still a possible natural antidepressant one could take. (source) Not only does it increase the serotonin levels in the brain, but it can also enhance your mood, alleviate stress, improve your sleep, and regulate your appetite.
Could a natural antidepressant be hiding in your kitchen right now? Possibly! Curcumin is the active ingredient found in turmeric. If you love to cook, you’ve likely used this Indian spice in the dishes you have prepared and are quite familiar with its yellow color. Not only is it great for seasoning your foods, but it has also has a long history that’s rooted in traditional Chinese medicine.
A study was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in the October 2014 issue and it showed the benefits curcumin may have. Researchers conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that involved 56 patients with major depressive disorder. In this study, the patients either received curcumin or a placebo. They took the pill they were given twice a day for eight weeks. They were then instructed to use the Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology self-rated version to measure results.
In the first few weeks, they couldn’t notice a clear difference. It wasn’t until the fourth through eighth weeks that things began to change. During this time frame, a significantly greater improvement was noticed by those who were in the curcumin group.
Not only did this study notice results in terms of depression symptoms, but the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nature of curcumin provides other benefits. People with depression often have greater inflammation and oxidative stress, which can affect all major organs in the body, including the brain. Chronic inflammation can decrease levels of serotonin and dopamine and lead to degeneration in certain brain areas. The effects of the curcumin could restore these neurotransmitters and protect the brain, ultimately leading to improvements in mood.
Much like curcumin, mentioned above, you’ve quite possibly used saffron in your cooking as well. Besides adding flavor to the dishes you whip up in the kitchen, it has also been used as a natural antidepressant. Not only that, but it’s also an anti-inflammatory and has provided gastrointestinal benefits such as aiding in the digestion of food. But let’s focus on its effects on depression!
An Iranian study was conducted to review the impact saffron could have on depression symptoms. Researchers conducted an eight-week, double-blind, randomized study that involved 40 adults who were classified as depressed. They either received a capsule that contained the petal of the Crocus plant at 15 mg or 10 mg of Fluoxetine (also known as Prozac). The patients were instructed to take their medication both in the morning and evening for a total of eight weeks. At the end of this trial, the researchers found the petal of the Crocus plant was just as effective as the prescription Fluoxetine. Fluoxetine had an 85% responder rate with 17 of 20 patients and crocus showed 75%.
Another study in 2013 also found saffron was able to reduce depression symptoms when compared to a placebo group. The great thing about using an herb, like saffron, is that people generally experience less side effects than with prescription medication.
Omega-3 is one of the supplements on this list that you’ve likely heard the most about. Whether you’ve seen TV commercials or heard about it on a health segment on TV or in an article, odds are, you know it provides great benefits for our bodies. You can get Omega-3s by consuming beef, eggs, and poultry, but it’s the most abundant in fish, specifically oily-fleshed, cold water fish. Besides those foods, there are also many Omega-3 supplements on the market today.
The reason Omega-3 is so important is because it contains EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Our bodies need both of these in order to maintain our health and to function properly. Unfortunately though, many people are low in Omega-3s and have experienced some negative symptoms as a result.
Low tissues levels of EPA and DHA have been linked to a variety of health concerns, which include mental and emotional disorders such as depression. By consuming plenty of Omega-3s, either through fish oil supplements or foods that are rich in it, it can help prevent depression and improve your emotional health overall. What’s even better news is that there’s no downside to adding this to your diet.
SAMe isn’t an herb or a hormone, but instead, it’s a molecule that all living cells, including our own, produce constantly. In various studies, researchers have found that SAMe can improve a person’s overall mood, thus aiding in diminishing the symptoms of depression. In fact, there have been 40 published clinical studies involving SAMe since the 1970s.
In all of those studies, the results were pretty consistent. When compared to placebos and standard antidepressants, SAMe provided patients with superior results and less side effects. While many standard antidepressants a doctor may prescribe come with a long list of possible side effects, the list for SAMe has been very minimal. The most serious side effect reported when taking SAMe was a mild stomachache. However, it has caused episodes of mania in those with bipolar disorder, so it’s important to be aware of that.
The reason SAMe works in cases of depression is because researchers have found it may enhance the impact of serotonin and dopamine, which are known for being mood boosters. SAMe has also worked to make existing receptors more responsive.
SAMe has even been approved as a drug in many countries. Doctors have actually been prescribing SAMe for two decades in 14 different countries with much success. It hasn’t seemed to cause any negative side effects in patients, which is part of the reason it has worked well for a lot of people. Due to its ability to increase levels of serotonin, it can be very helpful in reducing depression symptoms.
7. Vitamin D
By now, you’re probably well aware that our bodies need vitamin D in order to function properly. It’s one vitamin that our bodies produce more of when we spend time outside, enjoying the sunshine. What you may not realize is that having a low vitamin D level can be very serious. In fact, it’s been linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and even cancer. Studies have also shown a link between depression and low vitamin D levels, but haven’t been able to show that a low levels directly caused depression.
Our bodies become low on vitamin D especially when we don’t take in enough of the suns rays. This is why so many people suffer from SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, during the winter. During the colder months, we don’t spend much time outdoors and that has a negative impact on our vitamin D levels. Even being outside while wearing sunscreen prohibits our bodies from producing vitamin D by 95%.
A variety of tests have been conducted to show the effectiveness of vitamin D, including a small study that involved just three depressed women. These women were ages 42 to 66 and they each had a vitamin D deficiency. After being treated with vitamin D supplements for 12 weeks, they all reported better moods overall and said they felt less depressed.
If you’re in need of a mood booster, get your vitamin D levels checked to see if they’re too low. If they are, spend some time outdoors or start taking a supplement to make up for what your body is lacking. Truthfully, enjoying the great outdoors is one of the best fixes for low vitamin D, as it’s mother nature’s own natural anti-depressant.
Besides supplements, there are a variety of activities you can try that may act as natural anti-depressants. These activities are all great for boosting your mood so you stay happy and increase those positive emotions. Incorporating any of these activities into your daily life shouldn’t have any negative side effects, so they’re worthwhile to try if you’re struggling with symptoms of depression. The key is to find what works best for you and add it into your routine on a regular basis.
If you’ve ever attended a yoga class or done yoga at home, you’ve likely noticed that you felt an elevated mood afterwards. Your body probably felt more awake and relaxed, and you may have even noticed you felt peaceful and less stressed. That’s because yoga not only is great for our bodies, but for our minds as well.
When feeling of stress arrive, you can turn to yoga as a way to reduce your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. The flow of the moves is soothing for the mind and body and the practice overall requires us to focus more on our breath.
Studies have even found yoga to improve our moods similar to how exercise and various relaxation techniques provide this same benefit. Back in 2005, a German study was conducted that involved 24 women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed.” They were asked to take two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. At the end of the three months, they reported improvement in stress, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and wellbeing.
If you’re looking for natural anti-depressants that won’t have negative side effects, give meditation a try! The University of Exeter published a study all about “mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.” The results of the study showed that it was better than drugs or counseling when it came to treating depression, which is pretty impressive.
This particular type of therapy revolves around meditation, where you’re able to focus on your breath. When thoughts pop up during your session, you can acknowledge them and let them go, then return to thinking about the rhythm of your breathing. It’s a great way to encourage relaxation, decrease stress, and eliminate any depressed or anxious feelings.
While many picture meditation as just sitting on the floor in silence while breathing deep, there are various types of meditation you can do. Guided meditations are great for beginners and experts alike. Many require you to repeat affirmations that provide mood-boosting benefits. You can complete your meditations along with a CD or an app (such as Headspace) that guides you through the entire process.
It should come as no surprise that exercise has made its way onto this list! As if it wasn’t already obvious, exercise is commonly recommended as a treatment for a variety of ailments. Not only does it provide great benefits for our body’s health overall, but it’s essential for keeping our minds healthy as well as it can reduce anxiety and improve our moods.
Why does exercise work? A great exercise session will release all of those feel-good chemicals in your brain, such as endorphins, which can boost your mood and eliminate depression symptoms. It can help aid in reducing immune system chemicals that worsen depression, while also increasing your body’s temperature, which provides a sense of calm. Plus, you’ll likely become so focused on your workout routine that you’ll forget all about the stressors that have been weighing so heavily on your mind.
How many times have you been in a bad mood, turned on your favorite song, and instantly felt better? This has probably happened to you countless times in your life because we often turn to music because of how it impacts our moods overall. The right type of music can lift your spirits and leave you feeling energized and happy. That’s what makes it effective for those who are struggling with depression.
In a study that was conducted in Finland, participants were asked to attend up to 20 sessions of “co-improvisational active music-making.” The results suggested that music can improve the mood, thus helping with feeling of depression. So, if you’re feeling depressed, try playing music. Don’t worry about making it perfect, but instead, enjoy yourself and have fun with it.
Alternatively, a separate study was conducted that required patients listen to music. It was an eight-week study where half of the group tested had a 30-minute weekly counseling session with a psychologist, and the other half listened to a 50-minute program of classical music every day. The music therapy group observed improvement in 29 of the participants between the seventh and eighth weeks. For the group who met with a psychologist, only 12 participants saw improvement by week eight while 16 showed no improvement at all.
The reason music may be effective is because it has previously been shown to increase dopamine levels in our brains. As you know, in many cases of depression, people are found to have low dopamine levels. So, it turns out that a good jam session or some classical music might be key to boosting your mood.
Not only is massage great for relaxing our bodies and relieving any tight, sore muscles, but it’s also powerful for our minds. In fact, massage was one of the first treatments for depression during the times where we didn’t have all the prescription medications we have today. The reason massage was so effective is because it was found to decrease the levels of stress hormones in the body, thus reducing depression and anxiety symptoms.
Of course, it is important to note that there are some people who have various health concerns who should not be getting massages on a regular basis. Before you looking to adding massage therapy to your regular routine, consult with your doctor to make sure it’s okay for you. If it is, get a massage by a professional masseuse and see how it impacts your mood.
If you’re looking for natural antidepressants to help you conquer depression, the right treatment for you just might be one from this list. Before you begin taking any supplements, it’s essential that you consult with a doctor and do your research before making any changes. As for the activities, many of these could be incorporated into your daily routine and could provide significant benefits for your mood.
Has a natural antidepressant helped you? Let us know in the comments below!
This is a great list. I use music and massage almost weekly to help keep my mild depression to a minimum. It’s always good to think holistically first.