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Natural Remedies for Depression: Alternative Treatments to Antidepressants

For some people suffering from depression, antidepressants may not be a favorable remedy. Some may prefer more natural remedies for depression. Described below are some common natural cures for depression, which include natural antidepressants and other alternative treatments for depression. In research studies, some natural depression treatments have been shown effective in alleviating depressive symptoms while other natural remedies have not been formally studied, but reported to be helpful anecdotally. In general, natural treatments may be helpful for mild to moderate forms of depression.

Natural/Herbal Remedies for Depression

First, here is a precaution before you use natural remedies to treat depression. With any natural medicine, you should consult your doctor before taking, especially if you are taking other medication. Just because something is all natural, does not mean it is not potentially dangerous (e.g. drug interactions).

  • St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) – This herbal depression remedy is made from the plant with the same name. St. John’s Wort comes in tablets, capsules, liquid extract and oil. Some studies have shown that this herb may be helpful in treating mild to moderate depression. (There have also been studies which do not demonstrate this.) This natural antidepressant is commonly used in many European countries. A concern is herbal remedies are not regulated and are not required to be tested for safety and quality. There are also drug interactions with St. John’s Wort and can make certain medications less effective (e.g. which treat certain cancers, heart disease, HIV, seizures, transplant rejection). Consult with your physician before taking St. John’s Wort. Do not take this natural remedy if you are also taking an antidepressant (e.g. SSRIs, tricyclic antidepressants). Side effects are not common and less severe than typical antidepressants. They include dizziness, fatigue, dry mouth, upset stomach, constipation, sleep problems, restlessness and allergic reactions.
  • 5-Hydroxy-Tryptophan (5-HTP) – A natural antidepressant made from the seeds of the Griffonia Simplicifolia plant. 5-HTP is a precursor to neurotransmitter, Serotonin and as a result increases Serotonin levels. This herbal remedy primarily comes in capsule form. Some small studies indicate that 5-HTP may be useful in treating depression, but further research is needed. Side effects appear to be fewer and less severe than usual antidepressants. They include nausea, constipation, heartburn, gas, drowsiness, and decreased sexual desire. 5-HTP can interact with other drugs. Consult a doctor before taking 5-HTP.
  • B12 Vitamins – Some studies have shown a link between B12 vitamin deficiency and depression (e.g. worsening). B12 (and folic acid) may defend against depression and help maintain positive mood. This natural remedy would not be sufficient alone to treat clinical depression, but may be a helpful addition. B12 is found in foods such as meat/liver, chicken, fish, milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs or B12 vitamin supplements can be taken.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids – Although not sufficient by itself to treat depression, studies have shown that this all-natural remedy is a useful adjunct to other depression treatment. The best way to get Omega 3s is to eat fresh fish (e.g. salmon, sardines) or you can take Omega3 supplements (e.g. capsules, oil).

Natural Alternatives to Antidepressants

  • Therapy of course! - Talking to a therapist can both help alleviate depressive symptoms and help you cope with the stressors that trigger or make depression worse. In fact, therapy can change brain chemistry (as well as your thoughts – especially ones that are repetitive or intense). The most common types of therapy to treat depression include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT or Cognitive Restructuring), Interpersonal and Solution Focused. For more information, please see Get Depression Help and Finding a Therapist.
  • Depression Self-Help Book - To help therapy move along more quickly or for mild to moderate depression, you can read a self-help book on treating depression using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. CBT can be relatively easy to learn which makes it well suited for self-help type workbooks.
  • Exercise - Has many health benefits including improving mood and other depressive symptoms like low energy and trouble sleeping. Research has shown that exercise may be helpful in treating mild to moderate depression. Exercise, when effective, may take longer to work than anti-depressants.
  • Light Therapy – Type of remedy that is used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is depression that only occurs at specific times of the year (e.g. fall, winter). As an alternative to antidepressants, people with SAD are exposed to bright light (through a florescent light unit) that is equivalent to being outside during a sunny day. It is believed that sunlight exposure helps regulate the body clock. When sunlight is registered through the eyes, certain chemical changes occur in the brain which involve Serotonin and Melatonin (which is associated with sleep/wake patterns).
  • Meditation – Numerous studies have shown meditation to have many health benefits as well as improving mood, anxiety and stress. Meditation can be a helpful addition to treating depression. Over time, meditation can help one feel more at peace and be able to step back and let go of thoughts, which is helpful since depressed individuals often experience repetitive negative thoughts. Meditation can be as simple as sitting quietly with eyes closed and concentrating on one’s breath. When you notice yourself no longer focusing on your breath, gently bring your focus back to your breathing.
  • Acupuncture – An ancient healing remedy from China which uses very tiny needles to activate certain points (meridians) on the body to control symptoms, treat illnesses and improve health. Acupuncture can act as an antidepressant by improving mood and symptoms associated with depression such as insomnia, fatigue, changes in appetite and anxiety.


Also see: [ treating depression ] [ antidepressants ]



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