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What are some natural remedies for depression?

Learn what some natural remedies for depression are, including St. John's wort and ginkgo biloba.

Herbal supplements such as St. John's Wort are commonly used as natural remedies for depression. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Herbal supplements such as St. John's Wort are commonly used as natural remedies for depression.

Several natural remedies for depression have been studied in recent years for their ability to treat the problem. While plant-based or natural remedies tend to be perceived as being effective with fewer side effects, no definitive study has proven this to be true. Even so, some people suffering from mild to moderate forms of depression may find natural remedies a favorable alternative to prescription antidepressants. 

It is important to keep in mind, though, that depression is a serious condition and clinically depressed patients have a mortality rate that rises with the severity of the depression. Any person exhibiting the symptoms of depression should first seek the advice of a certified physician or mental health professional and also consult with a doctor before taking any natural remedy. 

But to help you have the most informed opinion when you do consult your doctor, we have provided information on various natural remedies for depression below.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum)

This herbal remedy is made from the plant of the same name and is available as a pill, capsule, liquid extract or tea. It has been used to treat mild-to-moderate depression for many years in Europe and the United States, but scientific evidence regarding its effectiveness as a treatment for major depression has been inconsistent. According to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an analysis of 37 clinical trials of various St. John’s wort extracts shows only minimal benefit for patients with major depression. Patients with minor depression, however, showed improvement comparable to that provided by prescription antidepressants. St. John’s wort also seems to produce fewer side effects than prescription medications. The herbal remedy does interact with certain drugs, including some antidepressants, birth control pills, HIV medication and cancer drugs. Patients should always consult their physician before taking any natural remedies for depression.

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan)

This natural antidepressant is made from the African plant Griffonia Simplicifolia and comes mostly in pill form. 5-HTP is a precursor for serotonin naturally present in the body. Few studies have been done on the treatment, but a 2003 study from the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience did show a higher effectiveness in treating depression than a placebo pill. The studies in which 5-HTP was found to be effective relied on a relatively high dosage of the drug (200 mg) and the additional ingestion of a peripheral decarboxylase inhibitor. The dose necessary for effectiveness when taken without a decarboxylase inhibitor is unknown, but is likely much higher and may produce serious gastrointestinal side effects. While the short term side effects of 5-HTP are few, extended use of 5-HTP is discouraged since little is known about its long term effects.

Ginkgo Biloba

Supplements made from the ginkgo biloba plant may be a useful treatment for elderly patients whose depression is resistant to standard antidepressants. In some cases, depression in elderly patients is linked to decreased blood flow to the brain, and the plant extract has been shown to aid circulation. Ginkgo biloba may interact negatively with some prescription and non-prescription drugs, however, so it’s important to consult a physician before use.

Vitamin Therapy

A 2005 study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology has shown a link between deficiency in folate and Vitamin B12 and depression. The study goes on to indicate that supplementation of folic acid and B12 improves the outcome of other depression treatments. Based on these findings, the researchers suggest that daily oral doses of both folic acid (800 microg) and vitamin B12 (1 mg) be taken as an adjunct to treatment for depression.

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