Natural Medicine for Depression
Herbal and Nutritional Supplements

Natural medicine for depression includes herbal, nutritional, and other holistic treatments which are all relatively safe and effective alternatives to conventional (allopathic) medicine.

This page provides references to research results that demonstrate the effectiveness of some of these approaches in the treatment of depression and Bipolar Disorder. Links to recommended sites provide additional information about natural medicine for depression.

St. John's Wort is probably the most well known and widely used natural medicine for depression. This antidepressant herb is extremely popular in Europe and well respected as a viable treatment alternative to synthetic antidepressant medication, particularly for mild to moderate depression.

St. John's Wort works in a combination of ways which are more comprehensive then any particular type of synthetic antidepressant. Caution: Like other antidepressants, those with Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression), may experience symptoms of mania with this supplement. Please consult your health care professional when taking any type of natural medicine for depression.

SAM-e is a supplement which is a naturally occurring substance produced by the human body. Although the FDA has not studied this supplement extensively enough to endorse its use for depression, studies have been done in Europe for over a decade, and it is well established there, and in other countries as a trusted natural medicine for depression. More powerful than St John's Wort, this supplement is often used for moderate to severe depression (as well as for arthritis). Some research suggests that SAM-e is equal to, the efficacy of conventional medications. As with antidepressants, patients with Bipolar Disorder are at risk for triggering a manic episode with the use of this supplement.

For a review of the research on Sam-e visit:

PubMed Sam-e Research

Rhodiola Rosea commonly known as Golden Root or Rosea, is a powerful Eastern Siberian herb which has long been valued for it's energizing, stress reducing benefits as well as its use as a natural medicine for depression. Like Ginseng, it is classified as an "adaptogen" - and is revered and widely used by the tribal people of the regions where it grows. There it is known to improve physical and mental vitality and stamina, sexual energy, memory, cardiovascular and brain functioning. It is used by Russian athletes, and has been extensively researched and its benefits documented in many scientific studies.

Bacopa (Bacopa monniera), also known in Ayurvedic Medicine as "Brahmi" is a well known herb known in the Indian Ayurvedic literature for it's many health benefits. Considered a brain tonic, it is said to enhance of memory, learning and concentration, and also has been used to treat anxiety and epileptic disorders. WebMD also lists Altzeimer's and ADHD as disorders that may be improved with Brahmi.

While not listed as a natural medicine for depression, there has been some anecdotal evidence that this herb is very helpful to some people with Bipolar Disorder, I find this interesting because there are similarities between bipolar disorder and epilepsy (and the pharmaceuticals used as "mood stabilizers" are most often actually anti-seizure drugs).

Additional health benefits may include gastrointestinal and respiratory function, as well as heart health, and it's antioxidant properties may be helpful for certain types of cancer.

Vitamin B6, B12 and Folate (Folic Acid) are a commonly recognized natural medicine for depression. Though found in many food sources, low levels of vitamin B-12, B-6 and Folate have been associated with symptoms of depression. According to research by Christina Bolander-Gouaille posted in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2005: "On the basis of current data, we suggest that oral doses of both folic acid (800 µg daily) and vitamin B12 (1 mg daily) should be tried to improve treatment outcome in depression." Advised doses may vary depending on the source.

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a naturally-occurring amino acid, a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin and an intermediate in tryptophan metabolism. It is marketed in the United States and other countries as a dietary supplement for use as a natural medicine for depression, as well as an appetite suppressant, and sleep aid. Is also commonly used as an alternative treatment for Bipolar Disorder, but it is recommended that you follow the guidance of a private health care professional to ensure its safe use. Other applications may include chronic headaches, fibromyalgia symptoms, and for treating night terrors in children.

The PubMed research site, includes a review of these and other supplements found to have some benefit for depression.

Amino Acid Supplements as a Natural Medicine for Depression:

Amino acids are the building blocks of the brain's neurotransmitters. Without proper nutrition, due to inadequate diet, or due to not absorbing the necessary nutrients in food (a common problem for many) - we do not get the amino acids needed to keep us feeling energized and happy.

Everyone is different, and may be affected differently by different amino acids and other supplements (as well as medications). Here are some of the most useful and frequently used amino acids as a natural medicine for depression:

  • L-Tyrosine: Very effective for depression, brain-fog, low energy, and those who have had little benefit from antidepressant medication, but feel better with amphetamines (or caffeine). Has a stimulating effect. Also may be helpful for ADD. Caution: May trigger mania for those with Bipolar Disorder. This is for depression only
  • D,L-Phenylalanine: May be helpful for Depression as well as Bipolar Disorder.
  • Tryptophan: Necessary for the production of Serotonin.
  • GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid): GABA inhibits the other neurotranmitters. It is often at low levels during Bipolar Manic episodes. It can be effective for anxiety, excitability, impulsivity and agitation and tends to have a sedative affect).
  • 5-HTP: Precursor to the production of Serotonin and may be helpful in alleviating depression.

    Consult your MD, ND, nutritionist or other health professional when choosing an amino acid or other natural medicine for depression, and do not combine with antidepressant or other medication without their guidance, as the interaction can be dangerous.

    Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids and DHA
    As Natural Medicine for Depression

    Good quality, pure fish-oil is the highest potency source of essential fatty acids (EFA's) found in nature. Flax seeds, while containing high amounts of EFA's, are not nearly as usable by the human body. EFA's are not produced by the body and without them we cannot live.

    Much research has been done, and continues to show that fish oil is useful as a mood stabilizer and anti-depressant, and it is non-toxic. It is widely recognized as a natural medicine for depression. It also has multiple other health benefits including heart health, prevention of stroke, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis.  Be sure to look for a brand that is guaranteed pure, mercury free, and is high potency.

    Research articles showing the benefits of fish oil:

    Fish oils and manic-depressive illness

    Manic-depressive illness (bipolar disorder) is a common, severe mental illness involving repeated episodes of depression, mania (rapid mood changes, hyperactivity, and excessive cheerfulness) or both. It is usually treated with drugs such as lithium carbonate or valproate. Unfortunately, these drugs are not very effective and recurrence rates are high. It is generally believed that bipolar disorder involves an overactivity in the neuronal signal pathways. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to dampen this overactivity and the hypothesis has been advanced that they may be useful in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Medical scientists have now confirmed this in a landmark study just completed at the Harvard Medical School. the double-blind, placebo-controlled study involved 30 patients (men and women 18 to 65 years of age) who had all been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Half the patients were given seven fish oil capsules twice a day while the placebo group were given seven olive oil capsules twice a day. Each fish oil capsule contained 440 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid and 240 mg of docosahexaenoic acid. All of the participants except four in the fish oil group and four in the placebo group also continued to received a standard mood stablizing drug prescribed previously. The mental state of the participants was measured using four scales (Clinical Global Impression Scale, Global Assessment Scale, Young Mania Rating Scale, and the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression) at the start of the study and after two, four, six, eighth, twelve and sixteen weeks. Twelve of the 14 participants in the fish oil group completed the four-month study without major episodes of mania or depression as compared to only six out of 16 participants in the placebo group. Also, while nine of the placebo group members experienced worsening depression none of the fish oil group members did. The four patients in the fish oil group who had not been prescribed mood-stablizing drugs all completed the study without major episodes, but only one member in the placebo group not on mood-stablizing drugs did. The average decline in depression rating on the Hamilton Scale was almost 50 per cent in the fish oil group as compared to an increase of 25 per cent in the control group. The Harvard researchers urge further trials of fish oils as a natural medicine for depression and manic-depressive illness. Stoll, Andrew L., et al. Omega 3 fatty acids in bipolar disorder.

    Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 56, May 1999, pp. 407-12 and pp. 451-16

    (commentary) Calabrese, Joseph R., et al. Fish oils and bipolar disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 56, May 1999, pp. 413-14 (commentary)

    Omega-3 fatty acids: the missing link? Dr. Emanuel Severus of the Berlin University points out that major depression is characterized by a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids and that these acids possess powerful antiarrhythmic properties. He suggests that the missing link in the recently establishes association between major depression and sudden cardiac death may be the omega-3 fatty acid deficiency which characterized both conditions.

    Severus, W. Emanuel, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids: the missing link. Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 56, April 1999, pp. 380-81 (letter to the editor)

    Fish consumption and depression [ROCKVILLE, MARYLAND]. Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, a researcher at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports in a letter to The Lancet that he has found a convincing correlation between fish consumption and the incidence of major depression. Dr. Hibbeln correlated the annual incidence of major depression per 100 people in nine countries with the consumption of fish. He found a high incidence of depression in countries with low fish consumption. New Zealand with an annual fish consumption of only 40 lbs had an annual incidence rate of depression of 5.8 per cent while Korea with a fish consumption of more that 100 lbs/year had an annual incidence rate of only 2.3 percent. Japan with a fish consumption of almost 150 lbs/year had the lowest incidence of major depression (0.12 per cent). Dr. Hibbeln cautions that various economic, social, cultural and other factors could have influenced his results, but points out that high blood plasma concentrations of docosahexaenoic acid, and essential fatty acid found in fish, has been linked to increased serotonin turnover and lower incidences of depression and suicide.

    Hibbeln, Joseph R. Fish consumption and major depression. The Lancet, Vol. 351, April 18, 1998, pp. 1213 (correspondence)

    Your brain needs DHA
    [NEW YORK, NY].
    Dr. Barbara Levine, Professor of Nutrition in Medicine at Cornell University, sounds the alarm concerning a totally inadequate intake of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) by most Americans. DHA is the building block of human brain tissue and is particularly abundant in the grey matter of the brain and the retina. Low levels of DHA have recently been associated with depression, memory loss, dementia, and visual problems. DHA is particularly important for fetuses and infants; the DHA content of the infant's brain triples during the first three months of life. Optimal levels of DHA are therefore crucial for pregnant and lactating mothers. Unfortunately, the average DHA content of breast milk in the United States is the lowest in the world, most likely because American eat comparatively little fish. Making matters worse is the fact that the United Stated is the only country in the world where infant formulas are not fortified with DHA. This despite a 1995 recommendation by the World Health Organization that all baby formulas should provide 40 mg od DHA per kilogram of infant body weight. Dr. Levine believes that postpartum depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and low IQs are all inked to the dismally low DHA intake common in the United State. Dr. Levine also points out that low DHA levels have been linked to low brain serotonin levels which again are connected to an increased tendency to depression, suicide, and violence. DHA is abundant in marine phytoplankton and cold-water fish. Nutritionists now recommend that people consume two to three servings of fish every week to maintain DHA levels. If this is not possible, Dr. Levine suggest supplementing with 100 mg/day of DHA for brain improved brain functioning and as a natural medicine for depression.

    Levine, Barbara S. Most frequently asked questions about DHA. Nutrition Today, Vol. 32, November/December 1997, pp. 248-49

    Docosahexaenoic acid fights depression
    Researchers at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism believe that the increasing rates of depression seen in North America over the last 100 years are due to a significant shift in the ratio of n-6 (arachidonic acid, linoleic acid) to n-3 (docosahexaenoic acid, linolenic acid) fatty acids in the diet. The human race evolved on a diet having a ratio of about 1:1 of these acids; it is now estimated to between 10:1 and 15:1. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a main component of the synaptic membranes and a lack of it has been linked to depression. Fish oils are a rich source of DHA and it can also be biosynthesized in the body from linolenic acid. The researcher speculate that the depressions which often accompany alcoholism, multiple sclerosis, and childbirth (postpartum depression) are all due to a lack of DHA and can be corrected by increasing the dietary intake of DHA or linolenic acid (flax seed oil). they also point out that depression and coronary heart disease are strongly associated and that a low intake of n-3 fatty acids has been linked to both.

    Hibbeln, Joseph R. and Salem, Norman. Dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids and depression: when cholesterol does not satisfy. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 62, July 1995, po. 1-98 is an excellent resource for research articles and testimonials by patients who are using effective natural medicine for depression.

    Cod Liver Oil has been a traditional food among the fishing communities of Scotland, Iceland, Norway and Greenland for several centuries. It was believed that this nutritious oil, which an excellent source of vitamins A and D and essential omega 3 fatty acids, helped them maintain a healthy and active life.

    Cod liver oil contains two essential omega 3 fatty acids: Eicosahexanoic Acid (EPA) and Docasahexaenoic Acid (DHA). These fatty acids are called essential because they must be provided through the diet and cannot be produced by the body, and are essential for proper body function. There is a significant amount of scientific research on these fatty acids and their function in the human body.

    Cod liver oil has a slightly fishy taste and odor, but when it is not concentrated by molecular distillation, is derived only from codfish and is completely in its natural form, the flavor is surprisingly mild.

    Flaxseed Oil vs. Cod Liver Oil

    Flax oil and other vegetable sources of omega 3 do not contain any DHA or EPA. They contain a form of omega 3 fatty acids that is not as usable by the body. Your biochemistry would need several specific metabolic enzymes (NOT digestive enzymes) in certain concentrations in order to convert any of the vegetable omega 3 to DHA and EPA. Even in ideal circumstances, only small amounts are converted.

    *(information source: Wilderness Family Naturals)

    Supplements such as superfoods, vitamins, minerals and herbs are only one important aspect of brain health and optimum emotional and mental functioning.

    Natural Medicine for Depression should include a complete holistic program of self care.

    This site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. As with any drug, not all supplements are safe for all individuals and there may be risks and contraindications for people with certain conditions. Always consult your doctor before trying to treat yourself with a natural medicine for depression. These statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration.

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