More Ways to Combat Depression Naturally – Herbs & Supplements
Part 2 of a 4-Part Series
In the first installment of this four-part series on natural ways to ward off depression, I discussed dietary considerations, including the role of anti-oxidants, protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, D3, folate, chromium, gluten, and alcohol. In this second article, I continue with a survey of common supplements and herbal strategies that enhance mood. As noted throughout, I strongly recommend that you educate yourself thoroughly and consult a naturopath or other holistic health provider before experimenting with these approaches, particularly if you suffer from any additional medical problems or are taking medications or other herbs and supplements.
Here is an outline of some of the most common herbs and supplements that are used to combat depression.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Although the best way to ramp up your intake of this essential nutrient is through diet, you can also supplement that with cold-water fish oils and capsules, flaxseed, or flaxseed oil. Fish oil is considered superior because it contains the more desirable DHA and EPA fatty acids. Flaxseed and other plant-based sources contain ALA, which converts to smaller amounts of DHA and EPA. Brain tissue is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and getting enough Omega-3s is therefore essential for appropriate development, growth, and the good functioning of the brain. Omega-3 deficiency has been linked to cognitive and emotional disorders, while increasing Omega-3 consumption has been shown to reduce symptoms of these disorders.
St. John’s Wort or Hypericum
St. John’s Wort has been used in Europe and other parts of the world for medical purposes, but is not approved by the FDA for treating depression in the U.S. Nevertheless, it can be purchased over the counter and used at the consumer’s discretion. Standardized extracts appear to be as effective as Prozac for mild to moderate depression. The downside is that it can interfere with the functioning of other medications, such as antidepressants and birth control pills.
5-HTP a.k.a. 5-Hydroxytryptophan
5-HTP is a naturally-occurring chemical that is thought to mitigate depression because it converts to serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that influences mood and many physiological and behavioral processes. It would be best to consult with a naturopath or other healthcare provider regarding dosage, since taking too much can cause sleepiness or loose stools. 5-HTP also can interfere with a pharmacological antidepressant if you are taking this at the same time. It is important to stick to credible brands, such as Thorne Research, Jarrow, or Source Naturals. Herbs and supplements such as 5-HTP are not regulated or approved by the FDA. This means that products may not always contain the amount stated, and potentially harmful contaminants may be present.
SAMe or S-Adenosylmethionine
SAMe is also prescribed for depression in Europe, although it is not approved in the U.S. Clinical trials indicate that it is as effective as pharmaceuticals in treating depression. SAMe has fewer side effects than antidepressant drugs, but there are nevertheless some potential side effects, such as an upset stomach, constipation, and insomnia. Just as with St. John’s Wort and 5-HTP, SAMe should not be used together with pharmacological antidepressants. Finally, do not take SAMe if you have been diagnosed with or think you may be suffering from bipolar disorder as it may lead to manic episodes or mood swings.
DHEA or Dehydroepiandrosterone
DHEA is a hormone that is synthesized from cholesterol by the body’s adrenal glands. DHEA can be produced synthetically from chemicals found in soy and wild yam, although your body will not produce more DHEA if you eat soy and wild yam. Low DHEA is strongly linked to depression. DHEA typically peaks at around the age of 20, and then gradually drops over the course of a lifetime to around 80% of one’s peak levels at the age of 70. Prolonged stress can also lead to high production of the stress hormone “cortisol” at the expense of the production of DHEA (which is also known as “adrenal burnout”). A diet high in sugar and simple carbs and/or lacking in healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, together with poor sleep and insufficient relaxation, chronic inflammation, parasites, and some medications are other factors in DHEA depletion. Studies indicate that protecting the body’s DHEA levels through diet, lifestyle choices, and DHEA supplementation can be effective in treating even major depression. Taking DHEA when your body’s levels are normal is not wise, and therefore testing and supervision by a qualified naturopath or holistic doctor is strongly recommended in order to avoid unwanted and potentially serious side effects.
SaffronSaffron is an extract that is derived from the stigma of the crocus flower and was used historically by the Persians to treat depression. It is believed to work by increasing the levels of serotonin and other mood-affecting chemicals in the brain. One study has found saffron to be as effective as fluoxetine (Prozac) in reducing mild to moderate depressive symptoms, but without the nasty side effects such as sweating and sexual dysfunction. A similar study compared saffron’s benefits with those of imipramine (Tofranil), with positive results. The only downside of saffron is that it can be expensive.
Zinc is an essential mineral involved in the body’s stress management and is a natural antidepressant. Low levels of zinc have been found in the brains of depressed people, and the more depressed the person, the lower the level of zinc. Zinc is best consumed in the food that we eat, but supplementation can also be helpful. Taking zinc in conjunction with pharmacological antidepressants is both safe and advantageous. When supplementing with zinc, dosage is important and more is not always better. A supplement of 25-50 mg. is typical and need only be taken every few days. More than 50 mg. per day is associated with adverse effects. If you consume a high-zinc diet, then zinc supplementation may be entirely unnecessary.
Magnesium is an important mineral for brain health and is found in beans, nuts, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables. Magnesium deficiency is known to produce symptoms of depression. The magnesium content of foods has decreased dramatically over the past century, largely due to the refining of grains, oils, and sugar, as well as poor soil quality. This has led some nutritional experts to believe that most people need supplementation for optimum health. Poor food choices, excess dietary calcium, and stress can also contribute to magnesium deficiency.
This is also known as B9 and its natural form, folate, is found in grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and other foods. The synthetic supplement version is called folic acid. Since the 1960s, folate deficiency and the malabsorption of folate have been implicated in the development of major depression. Interestingly, supplementation not only eases symptoms of depression on its own, but it also increases the effectiveness of pharmacological antidepressants. When looking for a supplement, be sure that it is L-methylfolate as that is the only form of folic acid involved in the synthesis of the mood-regulating neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Rhodiola is extracted from the herb rhodiola rosea. It has been used in Russia and the Scandinavian countries for centuries for many medical purposes. While not approved for the treatment of depression in the U.S., many consumers and holistic health practitioners have experienced its benefits and recommend its use for vexing symptoms of stress, such as fatigue, brain fog, poor concentration, and lack of energy, and also for mild depression. When shopping for this supplement, look for one containing 2-3% rosavin and .8-1% salidroside. Its energizing effect means that it is best to take rhodiola early in the day in order to avoid sleep problems.
This is a multiple supplement offered by Thorne Research and is designed to energize and enhance mood by supporting neurotransmitter and adrenal functioning. Active ingredients include Vitamin C, several B vitamins including folate, iodine, L-tyrosine, 5-HTP, Siberian ginseng, GABA, and rhodiola. Your naturopath or holistic health practitioner may be able to order it for you, or else you can purchase it directly from Thorne.
Christian Counseling in the Struggle against Depression
As a Christian counselor, I have learnt that depression often results from a “perfect storm” that involves biological, psychological, environmental, and spiritual factors. Working with a therapist is an important part of getting to the bottom of why you just can’t seem to shake it. Christian counseling can also help you to develop a holistic plan for overcoming depression. If you are sick and tired of being under depression’s thumb and want help, please reach out today.
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/
Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/
“Dark into the Light” courtesy of George Hadon, PublicDomainPictures.Net; “Surviving Days of Darkness,” courtesy of Partha S. Sahana, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)”; “Enjoying the Dawn,” courtesy of writer93, pisabay.com, absfreepic.com, CC0 Public Domain License