do natural antidepressants work?

“Just go outside! Get some fresh air!”

“Have you tried yoga? Maybe if you drank enough water each day…”

Yeah, Karen, if those “cures” worked, do you think I’d want to be depressed right now?

Those of us who deal with mental illness on a regular basis have heard these comments and more when learning how to manage our moods and symptoms. We’re told that by simply adopting some more healthy habits into the day, we’ll find consistent relief.


However, mental illness is far more complicated than some life hacks and quick fixes. Most of us need medication and/or therapy to truly help us stabilize how we’re feeling and make the most of each day. With that said, we shouldn’t completely discredit the effectiveness of “natural antidepressants,” the supplements and organic materials that may actually support a healthy, balanced mindset.

Although nobody should pursue routes of natural healing without a doctor’s advice, research has shown some promising results in minerals and oils that might bring about more placebo motivation if anything, but they can still be options for those who want to try things beyond the pharmaceutical counter.

St. John’s Wort

Probably the most well-known of them all, St. John’s Wort has proven to benefit those with mild to moderate depression. A Cochrane systematic review found that St. John’s wort can be effective in treating major depression, but the FDA hasn’t approved it for that purpose, as is the case with many of the substances I’ll be mentioning.

St. John’s Wort has been used for centuries as an anti-inflammatory to naturally remedy depression and symptoms, such as anxiety, tiredness, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. It’s also used to treat heart palpitations, moodiness, the symptoms of ADHD, OCD, seasonal affective disorder, and symptoms of menopause.

However, this is a VERY IMPORTANT THING TO NOTE: if you decide to try out St. John’s Wort, don’t take it with any other antidepressants. It’s been known to interact with other medications and result in unnecessary side effects. The main concerns about the herb center on the metabolic pathway known as cytochrome 450. If you’ve been told to not drink grapefruit juice while on certain medications, it’s the same reasoning. St. John’s Wort can encourage your body to produce more enzymes, which in turn clears chemicals from the bloodstream faster, including chemicals that are helping your body.

Curcumin

Yes, this is the magical compound that makes turmeric a super food. While it’s known for its anti-inflammatory properties, it can be very hard for our bodies to actually absorb it without absorption-enhancer such as black pepper.

While it’s effects still require more study to really illustrate the connection between curcumin and its healing abilities, one example specifically focused on how those taking a placebo versus curcumin in treating major depressive disorder (MDD) could affect symptoms. Surprisingly, curcumin was significantly more effective than placebo in improving several mood-related symptoms.

If you’re considering curcumin as a natural antidepressant, you’ll not only want to coordinate with your doctor, but you should also be paying attention to what kind of curcumin supplement you buy. Like St. John’s Wort, the FDA doesn’t regulate companies selling natural supplements, so you’ll have to check yourself on the purity of ingredients. You should consider only taking supplements from companies that offer third-party validation of their ingredients or source their ingredients from suppliers who have been properly audited.

Saffron

This herb has been used for centuries in traditional Persian medicine and has just recently been considered for its mood-stabilizing abilities. Double-blind studies have proven saffron to not only be more effective than placebos, but they have also found saffron to be just as effective as clinical formulas, specifically Tofranil (imipranine) and Prozac (fluoxetine).

Saffron has high amounts of antioxidative carotenoids (including the main antioxidant crocin, a carotenoid which gives it its burnt orange color) and B vitamins. It is thought that saffron changes the levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain. Also, the antioxidants in saffron are thought to help clean up free radicals in the body, to help brain cells from oxidative stress, a known problem in people with mood disorders.

Another benefit of saffron comes from how it interacts with the digestive system. Since prescription antidepressants often come with adverse side effects, often causing stomach woes like indigestion, constipation, bloating and more, saffron relaxes the muscles of the digestive tract to reduce spasms and help digest food. Since the gut and the mind are so interwoven, it makes sense then that saffron’s ability to help with mood is only enhanced by its digestive support.

5-HTP

Just sounds like a random math formula? I can see that. 5-HTP is a naturally-derived chemical compound that is naturally produced in your body as it makes serotonin. Many doctors actually suggest taking 5-HTP over a serotonin supplement because 5-HTP can access the brain from the bloodstream, while serotonin cannot.

Since SSRIs, the common antidepressant prescribed for depression and anxiety, are meant to accomplish the same thing in our bodies, many see 5-HTP as the natural remedy for this purpose. Just like curcumin, 5-HTP alone cannot be absorbed into the body, so if you’re interested in trying this option, make sure to find a supplement that also includes Vitamin B6 to aid the amino acid’s conversion into serotonin.

Final thoughts

Obviously with as prevalent as mental illness is, the more people who are acknowledging their mindsets and conditions, and the more people who are seeking out natural alternatives to big-name pharmaceuticals. Let’s face it: medications can be expensive, and all the side effects that come along with antidepressants usually leave us with more problems.

I will stress it again, but if you’re considering any of these natural antidepressants, please see your doctor for their advice. While holistic remedies seem like a great avenue, they aren’t for everybody. Just like the journey of finding the right antidepressant for your body, the same sentiment applies to natural supplements, too. Some people have to take specific medications, and they don’t have any other choices. There’s no shame in knowing and relying on what works for you. The fact we have all these options at our disposal and we’re utilizing them in healthcare is already amazing.

Treat yourself well, whatever that might look like. Take medications, go to therapy, use natural antidepressants, even do yoga if that’s your saving grace. How you seek out health and treatment options is up to you. Either way, I encourage you to not settle for mediocre. You deserve to feel your very best, to experience your optimal state. The process to get there is often not an easy one, but as I myself am embarking on it, I can tell you in full confidence that yes, it’s worth it.

Have you tried any natural antidepressants, and have you found any that work for you?

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

share your thoughts