Depression is a serious mood disorder with symptoms that range from mild to debilitating and potentially life-threatening. Some people look to manage depression with herbal remedies, rather than with medication a doctor prescribes. The most recent data from the National Institute of Mental Health suggest that in the United States, 6.7 percent of people experienced a major depressive episode in 2016. Medications and counseling are conventional ways to alleviate the symptoms of depression. However, some herbs and supplements may also help.
1. St. John's Wort
St. John's wort is also known as Hypericum perforatum. This plant has been a common herbal mental health treatment for hundreds of years. However, people must use caution if they chose to try it as a potential treatment for depression. A 2016 systematic review found that St. John's wort was more effective than a placebo for treating mild to moderate depression and worked almost as well as antidepressant medications. While St. John's wort might help some people, it does not show consistently beneficial effects.
This supplement comes from the gnarled root of the American or Asian ginseng plant. Siberian, Asian, and Eleuthero ginseng are different plants with different active ingredients. Practitioners of Chinese medicine have used ginseng for thousands of years to help people improve mental clarity and energy and reduce the effects of stress. Some people associate these properties of ginseng with potential solutions for the low energy and motivation that can occur with depression. However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) advise that none of the many studies that people have conducted on ginseng have been of sufficient quality to form health recommendations.
A study in 2012 reviewed data about chamomile, which comes from the Matricaria recutita plant, and its role in helping to manage depression and anxiety. The results show that chamomile produced more significant relief from depressive symptoms than a placebo. However, further studies are necessary to confirm the health benefits of chamomile in treating depressive symptoms.
Lavender oil is a popular essential oil. People typically use lavender oil for relaxation and reducing anxiety and mood disturbances. A 2013 review of various studies suggested that lavender might have significant potential in reducing anxiety and improving sleep. Lavender has mixed results in studies that assess its impact on anxiety. However, its effectiveness as a treatment for ongoing depression has little high-quality evidence in support at the current time.
Some studies cite using saffron as a safe and effective measure for controlling the symptoms of depression, such as this non-systematic review from 2018. However, more research would help confirm the possible benefits of saffron for people with depression. Scientists also need to understand any possible adverse effects better.
SAMe is short for S-adenosyl methionine. It is a synthetic form of a chemical that occurs naturally in the body. However, they also found that SAMe had about the same effectiveness as the common antidepressants imipramine or escitalopram. Furthermore, it was better than a placebo when the researchers mixed SAMe with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications. As with many other studies into herbs and supplements, the investigations into the safety and efficacy of SAMe are of low quality. More research is necessary to determine its exact effect. People use the supplement in Europe as a prescription antidepressant. However, the FDA have not yet approved this for use in the U.S.
7. Omega-3 fatty acids
\In a 2015 systematic review, researchers concluded that omega-3 fatty acid supplements are not useful across the board as a depression treatment. While the study authors reported no serious side effects from the supplement, they also advised that it would only be an effective measure in treatment for depression that was due to omega-3 deficiency.
Also known as 5-hydroxytryptophan, this supplement may be useful in regulating and improving levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that affects a person's mood. 5-HTP has undergone a number of animal studies, and some, such as this review from 2016, cite its potential as an antidepressant therapy. However, evidence of its effects in human subjects is limited. 5-HTP is available as an over-the-counter (OTC) supplement in the U.S. but may require a prescription in other countries. More research is necessary, especially regarding concerns that it may cause serotonin syndrome, a serious neurological complication if a person takes 5-HTP in excess.
Though often referred to as vitamin B8, inositol is not a vitamin at all but rather a type of sugar with several important functions. Inositol plays a structural role in your body as a major component of cell membranes. It also influences the action of insulin, a hormone essential for blood sugar control. In addition, it affects chemical messengers in your brain, such as serotonin and dopamine. It has been estimated that a typical diet in the US contains around 1 gram of inositol per day. Rich sources include grains, beans, nuts and fresh fruits and vegetables. However, supplemental doses of inositol are often higher. Researchers have studied the benefits of doses up to 18 grams per day with promising results and few side effects. Supplement manufacturers do not have to prove that their product is consistent. The dose on the bottle may also be inaccurate.
People should ensure they purchase herbs and supplements from a trusted manufacturer.