Do natural antidepressants work?

Do Natural Antidepressants Work? Seeking the Truth in 2023

Writen By: Sana Ihsan
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: December 22, 2023

Do natural antidepressants work? And if so, how effective are they in alleviating symptoms of depression? This simple inquiry prompts us to explore the impact of herbs, lifestyle changes, and dietary adjustments on mental well-being. Let’s delve into whether these natural approaches hold promise in addressing the complexities of depression and discover the extent of their potential effectiveness.

The efficacy of natural antidepressants is a subject that sparks considerable debate within the medical community. While some people find relief from symptoms of depression through lifestyle changes, exercise, and certain supplements, their effectiveness can vary widely among individuals. It’s essential to approach natural remedies with an awareness that they may not replace conventional antidepressant medications for everyone.

In this blog post, we’re tackling the question, “Do natural antidepressants work?” It’s a topic with mixed views. Some people feel better with lifestyle changes or supplements, but scientific proof is still unfolding. We’ll explore the upsides and downsides, recognizing that what works varies for each person. Our focus on “Do natural antidepressants work?” guides us in navigating the complexities of this subject, offering insights into the potential benefits and limitations of natural remedies for depression.

What are Natural Antidepressants? 

Natural antidepressants refer to non-pharmaceutical methods and substances aimed at alleviating symptoms of depression. These encompass a range of approaches, including lifestyle changes, specific nutrients found in natural antidepressant foods, and herbal supplements. 

The question “Do natural antidepressants work?” draws attention to the potential advantages of these substitutes. Whether through dietary adjustments or incorporating natural supplements, the conversation around all-natural antidepressants highlights diverse strategies individuals may consider in managing their mental well-being outside of conventional medications.

Types of Natural Antidepressants

Before we move on to answer our main question: Do natural antidepressants work? Let’s explore the common types of natural antidepressants.

1. Dietary Adjustments

These dietary adjustments are advised for depression.

  • Incorporating Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and flaxseeds, have been linked to improved mood. These essential fats affect brain function and can positively influence neurotransmitter activity.

  • Increased Intake of Serotonin-Boosting Foods

Certain foods, such as bananas, nuts, and seeds, contain nutrients that support serotonin production, a neurotransmitter associated with mood balance.

This 2021 research study suggests that three natural compounds found in sage, mint, and citrus fruits may be effective in treating depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders with fewer side effects than existing medications.

2. Herbal Supplements

herbal supplements

These herbal supplements can be useful. According to this 2010 study review, these three natural remedies for depression (St. John’s Wort, SAMe, and omega-3s) seem promising, but more research is needed before replacing or adding them to conventional treatments. Use caution during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

  • St. John’s Wort

This herb has been studied for its potential to alleviate mild-to-moderate depressive symptoms. It may impact neurotransmitters in a way similar to some prescription antidepressants.

  • Supplemental Vitamin D 

Vitamin deficiencies affect the body as well as the mind. Studies show that depression is more common in people who receive less vitamin D than the average person. In fact, it appears that lower vitamin D levels are linked to higher levels of depression.

  • Folic Acid 

One type of vitamin B is folic acid. It is a synthetic form of folate that occurs naturally in food. Legumes, citrus fruits, and leafy green vegetables are a few examples. While folic acid does not directly produce the feel-good chemical serotonin, it does help the brain regularly produce it.

  • Saffron Extract

Saffron has shown promise in clinical studies as a natural remedy for improving mood, possibly by influencing serotonin levels.

This 2019 research says that herbal therapies such as Daylilies and Gladiolus plants might be natural depression fighters with fewer side effects than existing drugs. More research is needed to pinpoint their potent compounds and how they work.

3. Best Over-the-Counter Antidepressants (Natural Alternatives)

Best Over-the-Counter Antidepressants
  • DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a natural steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It plays a role in synthesizing hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Some suggest that DHEA’s neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects might influence mood regulation. In the context of depression, lower DHEA levels have been observed, prompting the exploration of DHEA supplementation.

  • SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine)

SAM-e is a compound that occurs naturally in the body and is involved in various biochemical processes, including the production of neurotransmitters. It’s available over the counter and has been explored for its potential antidepressant effects.

  • 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan)

5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, and its supplementation is thought to increase serotonin levels in the brain. It’s commonly used as a natural alternative for managing mood.

This 2011 research says that Rhodiola, Chromium, 5-HTP, and Inositol are emerging as potential next-gen antidepressants, targeting specific depression types with a gentler touch. Early evidence is promising, but more research is needed before they join the mainstream. 

4. Mind-Body Practices

Mind-Body Practices

These practices can act as natural alternatives for antidepressants.

  • Meditation

Mindfulness meditation can help individuals develop a heightened awareness of their thoughts and emotions, promoting mental clarity and reducing symptoms of depression.

  • Yoga

Combining physical postures, breath control, and meditation, yoga offers a holistic approach to mental well-being, fostering relaxation and stress reduction.

  •  Exercise

Engaging in physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. Exercise also helps regulate sleep patterns and reduce stress, contributing to overall mental well-being.

These natural alternatives for antidepressants, including over-the-counter options, provide individuals with a range of choices to explore in their quest for mental health support. However, it’s crucial to approach these methods with an understanding that individual responses may vary, and consultation with a healthcare professional is advisable.

How Natural Antidepressants are Different from Conventional Medicines?

Before we answer the question, “Do natural antidepressants work?” Let’s first understand how natural antidepressants differ from conventional ones.

Antidepressants differ from conventional medications in their approach to addressing depressive symptoms. While conventional medications often involve pharmaceutical formulations with specific chemical compounds, natural remedies for depression embrace lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, and herbal supplements. Natural alternatives for antidepressants, such as 5-HTP or SAM-e, are among the best over-the-counter antidepressants. 

This 2011 research study says that natural plant power is rising. Herbal remedies, with their broader effectiveness and gentler touch, are being extensively studied for their potential to tackle depression in ways current drugs can’t. 

These options aim to influence neurotransmitter activity in a way similar to prescription drugs but are available without a prescription. Natural antidepressant foods, such as those rich in omega-3 fatty acids or serotonin-boosting nutrients, form a key component of these approaches. The distinction lies in the source and composition, with natural alternatives for antidepressants emphasizing a holistic, often gentler, and sometimes slower approach to mood regulation compared to the targeted effects of conventional medications.

This 2022 study says that depression is a big problem. Regular medicine for it isn’t perfect, so scientists are digging into ancient plant wisdom for help. These special plants might be gentler and attack the many sides of depression like a team.

conventional antidepressants vs natural antidepressants

Do Natural Antidepressants Work? 

Now let’s address our main question: Do Natural Antidepressants Work? in the light of research studies. You will get a much clearer understanding from these authentic research findings that, indeed, natural antidepressants are effective. 

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil and certain nuts and seeds, play a role in brain function and may have anti-inflammatory and mood-stabilizing effects.

A 2010 study shows that Omega-3s, those brain-boosting fats from fish, are showing promise as natural mood elevators. Studies suggest they work against depression, and unlike some meds, they’re gentle on the system.

Another 2016 research further says that fishy friends like salmon might help with the blues! Omega-3s, those healthy fats, could be allies in fighting depression, though doctors aren’t sure yet how powerful they are. 

Additionally, 2013 research further mentions that Omega-3s can prevent cardiovascular diseases as well, which can in turn prove helpful in your depression as well.

2. Zinc 

Zinc is an essential trace element crucial for various bodily functions, including immune system support, wound healing, and DNA synthesis.  Some studies suggest that maintaining sufficient zinc levels may positively influence neurotransmitter regulation, potentially offering support in managing depression.

This 2017 study suggests that low brain zinc is linked to depression and possibly psychosis. Zinc supplements show promise in treating depression; early research suggests potential for psychosis too. 

Moreover, the 2021 study further suggests that Zinc acts like a natural antidepressant by boosting nerve growth and influencing mood chemicals. More research is needed, but zinc shows promise as a future tool for depression.

3. Vitamin D supplements

Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, plays a crucial role in various physiological processes, including bone health, immune function, and neuromuscular regulation. Beyond its classical functions, emerging research suggests a potential link between vitamin D deficiency and mental health, particularly depression.

This 2018 study suggests a positive association between low vitamin D levels and depression, implying that vitamin D may have potential as a natural antidepressant.

This 2011 study further mentions the immune-modulating benefits of vitamin D, which might be relevant. Since depression and inflammation are linked, the immune regulation properties of vitamin D may have an indirect impact on depression symptoms.

4. Folic Acid 

Folic acid, a B-vitamin essential for cellular function and DNA synthesis, has garnered attention for its potential role in mental health. Some studies propose a connection between folic acid deficiency and an increased risk of depression. Folate, the active form of folic acid, is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which play a key role in mood regulation. 

This 2020 research suggests that folic acid exhibits antidepressant-like effects in a rat model of depression induced by chronic, unpredictable mild stress. Folic acid treatment positively influences behavior and impacts various pathways related to depression. These findings provide evidence supporting folic acid’s potential as an antidepressant.

This 2023 study suggests that folic acid, an important vitamin, is low in depressed people. Scientists are studying if folic acid and a related form can help treat depression.

5. St. John Wort

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a flowering plant with a long history of use as a natural remedy for various ailments, including depression. The plant contains active compounds like hyperforin and hypericin, which are believed to influence neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

This 2022 research says that medicinal herbs like St. John’s wort and saffron show promising antidepressant effects in clinical trials. 

This 2011 research further suggests St. John’s Wort (SJW) might be helpful for mild-to-moderate depression, but not for severe cases. It seems effective in the short term but the long-term benefits are unclear. While no increased risk of suicidality was found, more research is needed to confirm this. Overall, SJW could be a potential alternative for mild depression, but with caution and under medical supervision.

6. Lavender

Lavender, known for its pleasant fragrance, has been explored for its potential as a natural antidepressant. The essential oil derived from lavender is believed to have calming and soothing effects, impacting mood and stress levels.

This 2012 study shows that two groups were compared for their sleep quality. Both groups had a good sleep routine but the one with lavender was sleeping better.

This 2021 research further suggests that natural volatile oils, such as Lavender and Acorus tatarinowii, have the potential to treat depression with fast onset, significant effects, and minimal side effects.

7. Exercise

Physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, promotes the release of neurotransmitters like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, which are associated with mood regulation.

According to a 2004 study, exercise improves depression treatment in primary care. It’s an effective addition to medication, helping alleviate symptoms. Primary care doctors are advised to counsel patients on adopting exercise programs.

This 2022 research further suggests that exercise, especially sports, reduces depression in adults. Each extra session lowers depression levels. People in sports have significantly less depression. 

8. Sunlight Exposure

Sunlight exposure helps regulate circadian rhythms and influences the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood and happiness.

This 2023 study suggests that operating room nurses show that more sunlight exposure is linked to better mental health. Poor mental health is associated with irregular sleep and chronic diseases.

This 2009 study further links decreased sunlight exposure to a higher probability of cognitive impairment, especially in individuals with depression.

9. Dehydroepiandrosterone 

Some research indicates that DHEA could alleviate anxiety, depression, and PTSD, among other mental health conditions. According to 1997 research, DHEA supplementation improves depression and memory performance in middle-aged and elderly patients with low DHEA levels. Extended treatment showed persistent benefits.

DHEA, however, has a lot of negative effects as well. It may cause bleeding, alter blood sugar, raise the risk of some cancers, interfere with menstruation and fertility, and interact with a variety of medications. There are safer alternatives to this treatment.

10. S-adenosyl methionine

According to a 2009 analysis, SAM-e is a promising supplement against depression like other “natural” options but needs more investigation and caution, especially for pregnant/breastfeeding women.

Another 2011 research study also confirms that SAM-e is promising for treating mild-to-moderate depression, but its effectiveness needs further confirmation due to limited studies with flaws.

However, because SAM-e may exacerbate mania symptoms, the NCCIH states that it might not be safe for those who have bipolar disorder. Additionally, SAM-e should be avoided by HIV-positive individuals as it may promote the growth of Pneumocystis jirovecii, a pathogen that can cause pneumonia.

So, all this research evidence suggests that Natural antidepressants, including certain vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements, have demonstrated potential benefits for some individuals in supporting mental health. Compounds like omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, and St. John’s Wort show promise in influencing mood positively, though their effectiveness varies among individuals. It’s important to note that these natural options are often considered complementary and not standalone treatments. Individuals with depression should consult healthcare professionals for personalized advice and treatment plans.

Caution is advised, and consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial, as efficacy and safety may depend on individual health factors and potential interactions with medications. While some people may find relief with natural antidepressants, a comprehensive approach to mental health, combining both natural interventions and professional guidance, is recommended.

Factors Affecting the Efficiency of Natural Antidepressants

The following are some of the factors that can affect the efficiency of natural antidepressants.

  1. Dosage and Standardization

The proper dosage and standardization of herbal supplements can have an impact on the efficacy of natural antidepressants. Insufficient dosages or inconsistent formulations may reduce their therapeutic effects.

  1. Individual Variation

Responses to natural antidepressants can vary among individuals. Factors such as genetic makeup, overall health, and underlying medical conditions can influence how a person responds to herbal remedies.

  1. Quality of the Herbal Product

The quality of the herbal product, including factors like sourcing, processing, and manufacturing practices, plays a crucial role. High-quality, well-produced supplements are more likely to deliver consistent and reliable results.

  1. Interaction with Medications

Natural antidepressants may interact with other medications a person is taking. Understanding potential interactions is crucial to avoiding adverse effects and ensuring the safety of combining herbal remedies with prescribed medications.

  1. Duration and Consistency of Use

 The effectiveness of natural antidepressants may depend on the duration and consistency of their use. Some herbal remedies may require regular and prolonged use to observe significant improvements in mood and mental well-being.

Limitations of Natural Antidepressants

The following are some of the common limitations of the natural remedies of depression.

  • Varying Effectiveness

The impact of natural antidepressants can vary significantly from person to person, and not everyone may experience the expected benefits.

  • Limited Scientific Evidence

Some natural remedies lack extensive scientific research to support their efficacy in treating depression, leading to uncertainties about their reliability.

  • Slower Onset of Action

Unlike pharmaceutical antidepressants that may offer relatively quicker relief, natural alternatives often take longer to show noticeable effects, requiring patience and consistency.

  • Dependency on Lifestyle Changes

Successful implementation of natural remedies often relies heavily on sustained lifestyle changes, which can be challenging for individuals with existing habits or constraints.

  • Potential Interactions

Certain natural supplements may interact with medications or have adverse effects, emphasizing the importance of consulting with healthcare professionals to avoid unintended consequences.

  • Severity of Depression

 Natural antidepressants may be insufficient for managing severe or clinical depression, necessitating a more comprehensive treatment plan, including professional intervention.

  • Not a One-Size-Fits-All Solution

 Each person’s response to natural remedies is unique, making it difficult to establish a universal solution applicable to everyone, emphasizing the need for personalized approaches.

  • Compliance Challenges

 Consistent adherence to dietary changes, exercise routines, or other lifestyle adjustments required by natural antidepressants can pose challenges, impacting their overall effectiveness.

This 2010 study suggests using natural products for depression looks promising, but it’s still risky, and there are limitations. More research is needed to better understand their effectiveness and safety.

Why Should You Talk to a Healthcare Expert Before Using Natural Antidepressants?

  • Healthcare experts check your health and avoid clashes with other medications, keeping your treatment safe.
  • They give tailored tips based on your health, depression severity, and unique needs.
  • Experts watch for any adverse reactions, fixing issues early during treatment.
  • They explain what natural remedies can and can’t do, suggesting other methods if needed.
  • Experts help set realistic expectations, showing what science says about these remedies.
  • They find and treat other health issues linked to depression, making treatment more complete.
  • Talking to them stops you from guessing, avoiding the dangers of DIY treatment.
  • Experts also offer mental health tips, helping you cope and stay well beyond just using natural antidepressants.

Lifestyle Changes and Other Natural Approaches

The following lifestyle changes are beneficial for reducing the symptoms of depression and can act as natural alternatives for antidepressants.

Listening to calming music can promote relaxation and reduce stress, contributing to a more positive mental state.

  • Social Connection

Engaging with friends and loved ones fosters emotional support, helping to combat feelings of isolation often associated with depression.

  • Spending Time in Nature

 Being outdoors and connecting with nature have been linked to improved mood and reduced stress levels, offering a natural remedy for depression.

  • Sleep Quality

 Prioritizing good sleep hygiene and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can significantly impact mood and mental health.

  • Limiting Screen Time

Reducing excessive screen time, especially on social media, may reduce negative influences on mental health and promote a healthier lifestyle.

  • Creative Outlets

Engaging in creative activities, whether it’s art, writing, or other hobbies, provides an expressive and therapeutic outlet for emotions.

  • Setting Realistic Goals

Establishing achievable goals, both short-term and long-term, can create a sense of purpose and accomplishment, positively influencing mental health.

  • Volunteering or Helping Others

Contributing to the community or helping others in need can foster a sense of connection, purpose, and fulfillment, countering depressive tendencies.

  • Sunlight Exposure

Spending time outdoors in natural sunlight can positively impact mood and regulate circadian rhythms, potentially alleviating symptoms of depression.

  • Hydration

 Maintaining proper hydration levels is essential for overall well-being, and dehydration can sometimes contribute to feelings of fatigue and low energy associated with depression.

Alternative Therapies

The following therapies can act as all natural antidepressants.

  • Acupuncture

Traditional Chinese medicine involves the insertion of thin needles at specific points to stimulate energy flow and potentially alleviate symptoms of depression.

  • Massage

Therapeutic massage not only relaxes the body but also may contribute to a reduction in symptoms related to depression, promoting a sense of well-being.

  • Guided Imagery

Visualization techniques guided by a therapist or recorded audio can be used to create positive mental images, offering a tool for managing depressive thoughts.

  • Brain Stimulation Therapy

Techniques such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) are medical procedures that aim to alleviate severe depression by modulating brain activity.

  • Aromatherapy

Inhaling essential oils or using scents to create a therapeutic atmosphere may have mood-enhancing effects and contribute to stress reduction.

  • Biofeedback

This technique involves monitoring and gaining control over physiological functions, such as heart rate or muscle tension, to promote relaxation and emotional well-being.

  • Art Therapy

 Expressing emotions through art, whether through drawing, painting, or other creative mediums, can provide a non-verbal outlet for individuals dealing with depression.

Potential Risks of Natural Antidepressants

When considering natural antidepressants, it’s important to be aware of potential risks and take precautions:

  • Herb-Drug Interactions

Natural remedies like St. John’s Wort may interact with prescribed medications, affecting their efficacy or causing adverse effects. Always inform healthcare providers about any supplements you’re taking.

  • Effectiveness Variability

 Responses to natural antidepressants can vary among individuals. What works for one person may not be effective for another. It’s essential to monitor progress and consult with a healthcare professional.

  • Quality and Purity

Over-the-counter supplements may lack consistent quality control. Ensure you choose reputable brands and products, as impurities or variations in potency could impact safety and efficacy.

  • Delayed Onset or Limited Efficacy

 Natural remedies might take longer to show results compared to pharmaceutical antidepressants. In severe cases of depression, they might not provide the necessary relief, and professional medical intervention may be required.

  • Allergic Reactions

Some individuals may be allergic to components of natural remedies. Monitor for any allergic symptoms and seek medical attention if they occur.

  • Not a Substitute for Professional Care

Natural antidepressants should not replace professional mental health care. If you have severe depression or are at risk, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional before starting any natural antidepressant regimen, especially if you’re already on prescribed medications or have underlying health conditions. Regular monitoring and open communication with your healthcare team are key to a safe and effective approach.

Self-Help Books

The following are some of the self-help books that you can read to increase your knowledge about natural antidepressants.

This book explores various natural approaches to managing depression, emphasizing lifestyle changes, herbal remedies, and holistic strategies.

This book focuses on the benefits of St. John’s Wort, delving into its properties as a natural antidepressant and its potential broader health applications.

This book offers insights into combating depression using St. John’s Wort, providing practical guidance and information on its usage as a natural remedy.

Therapy-Providing Organizations

Here are some of the online platforms that provide therapy and support that can help you overcome your depression.

  • BetterHelp: Online therapy with licensed therapists and a variety of self-help resources.
  • Talkspace: Online therapy with licensed therapists, group therapy, and psychiatry services.
  • Talkiatry: Online psychiatry with medication management for mental health conditions.

Conclusion

In summary, addressing the question, “Do natural antidepressants work?” reveals a diverse landscape of potential solutions. While options like the best over-the-counter antidepressants, natural antidepressant foods, and all-natural remedies offer promise, their efficacy varies, and caution is necessary. Understanding the potential risks, including interactions and delayed effects, emphasises the need for an informed and personalised approach, ideally in consultation with healthcare professionals.

It’s crucial to view natural alternatives for antidepressants as complementary to rather than a substitute for evidence-based mental health care. Balancing these options within a comprehensive strategy ensures a holistic and tailored approach to managing depression, fostering a synergy between natural remedies and professional guidance for optimal well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions ( FAQs)

Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about natural antidepressants.

1. Is it possible to feel better without antidepressants?

Yes, many individuals experience improvement through non-pharmacological approaches such as therapy, lifestyle changes, and holistic remedies. These methods focus on addressing underlying factors contributing to depression.

2. Can you take saffron with Zoloft?

Combining saffron with Zoloft or any antidepressant should be approached cautiously and only under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Potential interactions and side effects need careful consideration.

3. What is the most natural antidepressant?

St. John’s Wort is often regarded as a natural antidepressant. It contains compounds that may impact neurotransmitters associated with mood regulation.

4. Can I take saffron with antidepressants?

Consultation with a healthcare provider is crucial before taking saffron alongside antidepressants due to potential interactions. Their guidance ensures safety and effectiveness.

5. What are natural alternatives to citalopram?

Natural alternatives include St. John’s Wort, an herbal remedy, and mindfulness practices. However, their efficacy can vary, and professional advice is recommended.

6. What are the most effective natural antidepressants?

St. John’s Wort and Omega-3 fatty acids, found in certain fish and supplements, are commonly considered effective natural antidepressants. Incorporating them into a balanced lifestyle may offer benefits.

7. Which herb has been proven to be an antidepressant?

Saffron and St. John’s Wort have shown promise as herbal antidepressants. However, it’s essential to note that individual responses may vary.

8. What is the closest thing to antidepressants?

Exercise, therapy, and mindfulness practices are close alternatives to antidepressants. They can positively impact mood and overall mental well-being.

9. What is the absolute best antidepressant?

Determining the best antidepressant is highly individualised. Healthcare professionals assess factors like symptoms, medical history, and potential side effects to recommend the most suitable option.

10. Is there a natural form of SSRI?

Herbs like St. John’s Wort are considered natural alternatives to SSRIs, as they may influence serotonin levels. However, their effectiveness can vary, and professional guidance is essential.

11. What vitamin acts like an antidepressant?

Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with mood regulation and may exhibit antidepressant-like effects. Adequate sunlight exposure and a balanced diet contribute to their natural intake.

12. How can I increase serotonin in my brain naturally?

Increasing serotonin naturally involves engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet with tryptophan-rich foods, and ensuring exposure to natural sunlight. These lifestyle factors contribute to serotonin production.

13. Does vitamin D work as an antidepressant?

Vitamin D has been linked to mood regulation, and deficiencies are associated with depressive symptoms. While it may contribute to improved mood, its role as a standalone antidepressant varies, and consultation with a healthcare professional is advised.