Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
- 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
- Fish Oil
- Hatha Yoga
- Music Therapy
- Rhodiola Rosea
- S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe)
- Saffron ( Crocus sativus )
- Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine
- Vitamin B 6
- Vitamin B 12
Depression is a common emotional illness that varies widely in its intensity. Many of the natural treatments described in this section have been evaluated in people with major depression of mild to moderate intensity. This apparently contradictory language indicates a level of clinical depression that is significantly more intense than simply feeling "blue," but not as disabling as major depression of severe intensity, which usually requires hospitalization.
Typical symptoms of major depression of mild to moderate severity include depressed mood, lack of energy, sleep problems, anxiety, appetite disturbance, difficulty concentrating, and poor stress tolerance. Irritability can also be a sign of depression.
More severe depression includes markedly depressed mood complicated by symptoms such as slowed speech, slowed (or agitated) responses, markedly impaired memory and concentration, excessive (or diminished) sleep, significant weight loss (or weight gain), intense feelings of worthlessness and guilt, recurrent thoughts of suicide, and lack of interest in pleasurable activities. This form of clinical depression is a dangerous and excruciating illness. The emotional structure of the brain has frozen into a pattern of misery that cannot be altered by willpower, a change of scenery, or the most earnest efforts of friends. In a sense, the brain has locked up like a crashed computer.
One of the earliest successful treatments for major depression was shock therapy. This technique is in some ways analogous to rebooting a computer, and in cases of major depression, its effects were revolutionary. For the first time, a reliable way was available to bring people out of the depths of severe major depression.
However, shock treatment was overused at first and became unpopular as a result. The accidental discovery of antidepressant drugs provided a route with fewer interventions. The original antidepressants, known as MAO inhibitors, could bring people out from the depths of major depression as successfully as shock treatment. However, MAO inhibitors can cause serious and even fatal side effects. No one would ever think of using MAO inhibitors to treat mild to moderate depression.
Subsequently, antidepressants with progressively fewer side effects came on the market, but most of them still caused significant fatigue. Since fatigue is one of the most characteristic symptoms of mild to moderate depression, such medications were seldom found useful for anything other than severe depression. With the appearance of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class of antidepressants, however, suddenly there was a practical option for depression that was less than catastrophic. Practically overnight, enormous numbers of people began taking Prozac and similar drugs for mild to moderate depression, as well as for the related, but more mild condition, known as dysthymia.
The big advantage of the SSRIs is that they usually don't cause severe fatigue. Many people find them to be entirely side effect-free. However, side effects are not uncommon and include sexual disturbances (such as impotence in men and the loss of the ability to experience an orgasm in women), insomnia, and nervousness. The antidepressant drug Wellbutrin is an option for people who have sexual side effects from SSRIs.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Alternative medicine offers numerous options for treating depression, but only one has strong scientific evidence behind it: the herb St. John's wort.
What Is the Scientific Evidence for St. John's Wort?
Note: St. John's wort alone should never be relied on for the treatment of severe depression.
St. John's wort seldom causes immediate side effects. However, it interacts adversely with a large number of critical medications and may present other safety issues as well. For more information, see the full St. John's Wort article.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
There are a number of other herbs and supplements that may be helpful in depression, although the evidence for them is nowhere near as strong as that for St. John's wort.
vitamin B 1212 12
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Folate article.
The supplement S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) has been widely marketed for the treatment of depression, but the evidence to indicate that it works remains incomplete.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full S-adenosylmethionine article.
Ginkgo is used mainly for age-related mental decline such as that from Alzheimer's disease . However, during the studies on impaired mental function, researchers frequently observed improvements in mood and relief from symptoms of depression. This incidental discovery led scientists to investigate whether ginkgo might be useful as an antidepressant treatment.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Ginkgo article.
Phenylalanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that we all consume in our daily diets. There is some evidence that phenylalanine supplements may help reduce symptoms of depression.
Phenylalanine occurs in a right-hand and a left-hand form, known as D- and L-phenylalanine, respectively. Some studies have evaluated the D form, and others have evaluated a mixture of the D and L forms. Both formulations may provide some measure of relief for symptoms of depression. The mixed form (DLPA) is the one most commonly available in stores.
Unfortunately, there do not seem to have been any properly designed studies that compared phenylalanine to placebo. Until these are performed, phenylalanine cannot be considered a proven treatment for depression, but it is certainly promising.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Phenylalanine article.
When the body sets about manufacturing serotonin, it first makes 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). The theory behind taking 5-HTP as a supplement is that providing the one-step-removed raw ingredient might raise serotonin levels.
5-HTP caused fewer and less severe side effects than fluvoxamine. The only real complaint was occasional mild digestive distress.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full 5-hydroxytryptophan article.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Fish Oil article.
In seven out of eight studies reviewed, various forms of exercise proved beneficial for depression. Aerobic exercise, weight training, dancing, and racquetball all produced improvements in mood as compared to no exercise.
However, the findings of the one negative study reported in this review cast doubt on the others. In this trial, some participants exercised, while others took a course at school and didn't exercise at all. The results: equal benefits in both groups. This suggests that it may not be the exercise itself that is helping, but rather the general effects of participation in an organized activity.
Another feature of the positive studies also tends to cast doubt on the value of exercise per se in depression. You'd think that if it were exercise itself improving mood, the more effectively the participants exercised the greater the effect. However, no correlation was seen between how much participants increased their physical fitness and how significantly their depression improved.
Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Other Herbs and Supplements
Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution
Various herbs and supplements may interact adversely with drugs used to treat depression. For more information on this potential risk, see the individual drug article in the Drug Interactions section of this database.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 08/2013 -
- Update Date: 08/22/2013 -