Herbal Remedies For Depression
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved medications for the treatment of depression, but you may not like the idea of taking a synthetic or manufactured pill. Another option that some people try to help feel better are herbs and natural remedies. Many of these have been used medicinally for centuries as folk and alternative treatments. Today, many herbs are marketed as mood boosters for people who experience chronic feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
Studies have attempted to track the benefits of herbs for treating depression. Here are several herbs that may help lift your mood when you experience mild to moderate depression.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort is a plant that’s native to Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. Europeans commonly take St. John’s wort as a way to treat depression, but the FDA hasn’t approved the herb to treat the condition. Taking the herb has been linked with increasing the amount of serotonin. Serotonin is a feel-good chemical in the brain that’s often low in people who have depression. Several antidepressants work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), St. John’s wort may help milder forms of depression, although its effects haven’t been conclusively proven either way. A 2008 review of 29 studies on St. John’s wort found that the plant was just as effective for treating mild to moderate depression as antidepressants yet resulted in fewer side effects. On the other hand, the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health sponsored two separate studies that found it wasn’t better than a placebo for treating depression.
It’s important to note that St. John’s wort is known for interacting with lots of medications. This especially goes for blood thinners, birth control pills, and chemotherapy medications. Always check with your doctor before taking this herb.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a healthy form of fats found in fish such as salmon, trout, and sardines (among others). They are available in supplement form and are sometimes also called fish oil capsules. According to the Mayo Clinic, researchers have found that people who have low levels of two brain chemicals found in fish oil supplements may be at an increased risk for depression. It is ideal to get a higher ratio of DHA to EPA, which are both types of omega-3 fatty acids.
In addition to taking fish oil supplements to get omega-3 fatty acids, you can also increase the amount of fish you eat. Eating fish three times a week can increase your omega-3 fatty acids without having to take supplements.
Keep in mind that some fish can have high levels of mercury. These include swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and shark. Avoid these in favor of lower mercury fish like light canned tuna, salmon, freshwater trout, and sardines.
Saffron is a spice derived from a dried portion of a crocus, a flower in the iris family. According to a study in Alternative Medicine Review, taking saffron stigma (the end of the carpel, or rod-like stem, in the flower) has been shown to be effective in treating mild to moderate depression.
SAM-e is short for S-adenosylmethionine. This supplement is designed to act like a synthetic form of the body’s natural mood-boosting chemicals. According to the Mayo Clinic, SAM-e is regarded as a supplement in the United States — the FDA doesn’t consider it a medication. You shouldn’t take SAM-e along with antidepressants. You should also be aware that SAM-e can cause health effects like upset stomach and constipation if you take too much.
There may be a link between low levels of folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) and people with depression. Taking 500 mcg of folic acid has been linked with improving the effectiveness of other antidepressants medications. Focus on consuming folate-rich foods daily. These include beans, lentils, fortified cereals, dark leafy greens, sunflower seeds, and avocado.
Zinc is a nutrient linked with mental functions like learning and behavior. Low levels of blood zinc are more associated with depression, according to Biological Psychiatry. According to Nutrition, taking a 25 mg zinc supplement daily for 12 weeks can help reduce depression symptoms. Taking zinc supplements can also increase the amount of available omega-3 fatty acids in the body.
Medical research suggests that cannabis may help improve mood, but users also seem to suffer higher rates of depression.
Marijuana is sometimes referred to as ‘green Prozac’ due to the fact that many users find it helpful in lifting their spirits. But can it actually be an effective treatment for depression?
Interestingly, the idea that cannabis can be used to improve mood goes back hundreds of years. And many people today still agree.
“A lot of people report using cannabis effectively to treat depression,” says Zachary Walsh, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia who heads a research lab focused on marijuana and mental health.
Studies on Marijuana and Depression
For depression that is caused by chronic stress, components of marijuana may be an effective treatment, according to a 2015 study by University of Buffalo scientists. The findings showed that stress caused a decrease in cannabis-like molecules naturally found in the brain, leading to behavior that mimicked depression.
Another study published in 2007 by a team at McGill University showed that administering low doses of THC could work like an antidepressant by increasing serotonin. However, in high dosages, THC decreased serotonin and seemed to worsen depression.
“These findings confirm what has been reported by people who smoke cannabis,” explains Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, who co-authored the McGill study. “Often it produces euphoria, calmness, sociability, but in other circumstances it can produce bad dreams and negative feelings.”
Overall there hasn’t been enough research in the field, Dr. Gobbi says, adding that the type of research needed to confirm whether marijuana can effectively treat depression is quite complex.
“Not only do we have to determine the dose-effect of cannabis on depressive people, but also which kind of cannabinoid may have a positive effect on mood.”
Cannabinoids are a class of molecules found in cannabis, which include THC and CBD. Over 60 different cannabinoids have been identified in marijuana, making it difficult to determine the drug’s overall effect on depression.
Cannabis vs. Antidepressants
While researchers can’t completely confirm if marijuana is effective for treating depression, Walsh points out that other medicines fall into the same problem.
He says that in some cases, typical antidepressants are no more effective than a placebo and have side effects that may be more severe than those of marijuana.
Dr. Gobbi explains that in order to declare a drug effective for a certain disease, it must go through different stages of clinical trials, which marijuana has not.
“If we want to take a rational approach about medicinal cannabis, we should go through systematic clinical studies and finally determine its efficacy in treating specific diseases and its safety compared to standard antidepressants,” she says.
Walsh agrees that further research should compare cannabis to commonly used antidepressants. “Then I think people can make the choice,” he concludes.