If you’ve been diagnosed with depression or are experiencing depressed feelings, there are plenty of options for treatment—and they’re not limited to prescription drugs. Although prescription medication is certainly helpful for some, others would prefer to avoid potential side effects. Many people have found various natural remedies for depression to be effective in treating mild-to-moderate cases—and possibly even more severe cases.
These five natural remedies are some of the most commonly used — although to be clear, there’s not a great deal of conclusive evidence in their efficacy.
St. John’s Wort:
This herb has a centuries-long history of treating mild cases of depression, for which it’s a popular remedy in Europe, according to Mayo Clinic. Just because it’s natural, though, doesn’t mean it’s without side effects. It’s possible that St. John’s wort will decrease the effectiveness of antidepressants, HIV/AIDS medications (eek!), birth control pills, blood-thinning meds, chemotherapy drugs, or drugs taken after organ transplants.
5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is a chemical naturally created in the body from the amino acid tryptophan, which you get from food, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. It’s then further converted to become serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Serotonin is known to help regulate mood, and is even the basis for an entire class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like Prozac and Zoloft. 5-HTP supplements, which increase serotonin levels in the brain, may be a worthy natural alternative. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, one study that compared the effects of 5-HTP to the antidepressant Luvox found patients taking either treatment had equal levels of success—but those who received 5-HTP experienced fewer side effects. (It’s important to note, though, that this study was only done on 63 people, making it too small to be definitive.)
Technically, SAMe isn’t natural, but rather a synthetic form of a chemical that exists naturally in the body. There hasn’t been a significant amount of research to verify the success of SAMe, which is short for S-adenosylmethionin, as an anti-depressant. That said, it’s prescribed in Europe to treat depression (SAMe has not been approved by the FDA as a depression remedy; according to the Mayo Clinic, “high-quality studies are lacking,”).
According to Mayo Clinic, Omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold-water fish (think: salmon, albacore tuna, and herring) as well as certain nuts and plants, may be helpful in treating depression. Fish oil supplements, found at most drug stores, offer a more direct intake of the omega-3 if you aren’t into eating tons of fish. But please note that the medical profession is skeptical. As a paper by Simon N. Young PhD for the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience explains, “[T]here is not sufficient evidence to suggest the use of fish oils for the treatment of depression and no evidence for the prevention of depression. Nonetheless, fish oils are good for the heart, have no demonstrated adverse effects when taken in reasonable dosages, and could potentially be beneficial for mood.”
More than a tasty seasoning herb, saffron—which is derived from the flower of Crocus sativus—can be effective in treating mild-to-moderate depression, according to a study of multiple clinical trials released by the Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical & Experimental journal. Similarly to 5-HTP, it was found that saffron had a similar effect to antidepressants on the patients involved. The effectiveness of saffron may be due to its ability to increase serotonin levels in the brain, as well as its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
If you’d like to try a new treatment for depression— natural or otherwise, though — it’s important to consult your doctor first. A doctor will likely also recommend more exercise, changes to your diet, and even therapy to address your depressed feelings.