Natural Antidepressants for Depression

Defocused young woman in eyeglasses pouring out pills from glass bottle on hand.

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More people are seeking natural forms of anti-depressants to help them cope with depression. Traditional anti-depressants sometimes have unwanted side effects. For an approach that doesn’t rely on pharmaceuticals or psychotherapies, consider these options.

Supplements, natural remedies, and lifestyle changes can improve your depressive symptoms. But ask a medical professional to assess your depression. Only they can determine what route is best for you. Then work together to combat your particular level of depression using the various tools available.

What Is Depression?

Depression appears as a persistent sad mood, reduced interest in your favorite activities, and having symptoms that negatively interfere with your daily functioning.  

Hopelessness and anhedonia (the loss of pleasure) are two hallmark symptoms that are almost invariably present in major depressive disorder. Additional signs include fatigue or restlessness, headaches, difficulty in concentrating, weight changes, guilt, or anxiety.

Depression is very common but it’s still a serious mood disorder. It affects all facets of your life. There are many types of depression including seasonal affective disorder and mild depression to postpartum depression.

If you’re feeling seriously depressed, you’re not alone. The Anxiety & Depression Association of America states that major depressive disorder (MDD) affects more than 16.1 million American adults and is more prevalent in women than in men.

Herbal Supplements & Vitamins That May Treat Depression

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the usage of herbal supplements is so widespread, more than half of the people in our country take a daily supplement. 

For milder forms of depression, some people seek out herbal supplements. Their natural effects can help you cope with depression.

Derived from plants, herbal supplements are believed to have healing properties. Although they're backed by centuries of use, that doesn’t mean they are completely harmless. Their side effects and interactions with other drugs can be very harmful so caution in using them is advised.

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort is another popular supplement taken for depression, anxiety, menopausal symptoms, and sleep problems.

Based on recent researchthat included a systematic review of thirty-five studies including close to 7,000 patients, scientists found that St. John’s Wort was helpful.

When given to those with mild and moderate depression, it was better than a placebo. Results weren’t very different than those taking antidepressants. However, it's worth noting that there is a lack of research on the effects of St. John’s Wort on people with severe depression. 

Side effects of this herbal remedy (e.g., sensitivity to sunlight and high blood pressure) have been reported.

Mixing this supplement with other medicines, birth control pills, antidepressants or blood-thinning drugs can also have adverse effects. Therefore, it’s better to work under the guidance of your health care provider or pharmacist.

S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe)

SAMe, also known as ademetionine or S-Adenosyl methionine, is another supplement used for depression. The synthetic form of a compound that is produced naturally in the body, people take SAMe for depression and arthritis. It's also used to support healthy moods and to help with other conditions.

Side effects of SAMe can include nausea, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and vomiting. Agitation, anxiety, and insomnia may also occur. SAMe can trigger manic or hypomanic episodes in people with bipolar disorder. Like other supplements, mixing SAMe with various medications can lead to negative outcomes.

Though the optimal dose of SAMe for depression is unclear, studies have examined the effects of up to 1600mg of SAMe per day. Someone looking to treat their depression with this supplement may find that a dosage this high is quite costly.

Remember that herbal and dietary supplements are not regulated like medicines so be cautious in using them.

B Vitamins

Should you take vitamins for depression? You might be deficient in certain vitamins and those deficiencies could play a role in your depressed state. But medical professionals would have to test you to know for sure.

B vitamins are very important for our health. Vitamin B-9 (folate) synthesizes and repairs DNA; it also helps to remethylate homocysteine to convert it back to methionine, which has antidepressant properties.

Vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) plays an essential role in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function, and the production of DNA. Both folate (in the L-methylfolate form) and B-12 play a role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. (Serotonin is a chemical that regulates our mood.)

Alternative Therapies

Often referred to as complementary or integrative therapies, these therapies can also help reduce depression.

For example, the needles used in acupuncture activate endorphins, which kill pain and promote pleasure. Mindfulness meditation can help people manage depression and boost feelings of well-being.

Alternative therapies include:

Lifestyle Changes

These lifestyle changes can help you manage your depression. Tweak those already good habits and see if your depression diminishes.

Get More Exercise

Yoga can help with depression. The popular exercise and spiritual practice is backed by a recent study that compared the therapeutic effect of yoga with antidepressant drugs in non-suicidal out-patients with major depression. Results show yoga groups with or without drugs obtained better antidepressant effects than the drugs-only group. 

If yoga isn’t your thing, get moderate-intensity aerobic activity three times a week. In a recent meta-analysis studyadults (aged 18 to 65) diagnosed with major depression who did an average of 45 minutes of aerobic exercise at moderate intensity three days a week experienced a significant anti-depressive effect. This was compared to those who did minimal exercise. Participants had to exercise this way for at least two months.

Focus on Good Nutrition

While you might want to reach for your favorite dessert when you're feeling down, it might not be a good idea for your well-being. Eating too much sugar and gaining too much weight can be dangerous for our mental health.

Based on a recent study,obesity is associated with a higher risk for major depressive disorder (MDD) among females.

Take Time to Give Thanks

According to Harvard Health, expressing gratitude (especially in writing) has been shown to have a positive emotional effect on people with depression. There’s an association between gratitude and a person’s well-being.

When you write down what you appreciate, you increase activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that’s often associated with depression. Gratitude really does make you happier!

Expand Your Social Connections

Because loneliness and isolation increase your risk for depression, be sure to reach out to family and friends rather than withdraw.

Think about the future in positive ways. Sign up to help out in your community. Volunteering actually lowers depression levels.

Walk Through a Green Environment

Being amongst the trees can tamp down your depressive feelings. Turn to nature therapy. When you walk through a forest (what is called forest bathing), you also relieve stress. Trees release phytochemicals that interact with our immune system in a positive way, enhance mood, and lower blood pressure.

Explore a new park in your neighborhood and you’ll increase dopamine, the feel-good chemical in your brain.

A Word From Verywell

Medical professionals offer various treatments for depression. Most include a psychotherapy component as well as a medication component in the form of antidepressants.

The natural anti-depressants discussed above, namely supplements and vitamins, alternative therapies, and lifestyle changes, can help you cope with depression and even reduce your symptoms. Work with your primary physician or integrative medicine doctor.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

16 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Barbara Field
Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.