Depression is far more common than many people realize, and many suffer in silence. Whether it’s lack of insurance, embarrassment because of social stigma or simply aversion to traditional drug therapies, some will never seek professional treatment. For these people there is some hope and a few options. In fact, there are several completely natural and highly effective treatments that are available over-the-counter. These supplements have all been shown to be quite powerful in boosting mood and alleviating depression;
1. St. John’s Wort
This is the Gran-daddy of natural depression remedies, and is the most well researched. In Germany it is the treatment of choice for depression, and is prescribed far more often than heavy hitters like Prozac, Paxil or any other traditional depression drugs. Several double blind studies all over the world have proven St. John’s Wort to be at least as effective as traditional drugs in relieving mild to moderate depression, only without the harsh side effects. Standard protocol for using St. John’s Wort is 900 mg. per day, usually in divided doses. Like traditional anti-depressants, St. John’s Wort must be taken 4-6 weeks before seeing its full benefits.
SAM-e is short for S-adenosylmethionine and it is involved in many biochemical processes in the body that are essential for life itself. Although some SAM-e is produced naturally by the body, supplementing with this substance can have a number of positive effects. Over the past several years many studies have shown supplemental SAM-e to be as effective as prescription drugs in alleviating even severe depression, and often in only 1-2 weeks. Side effects are almost non-existent. Start with 400 mg per day, and if no improvement is seen in 2 weeks, dosage can be increased up to a maximum of 1,600 mg, if necessary.
5-HTP is an amino acid that is readily converted to serotonin in the brain. Most prescription anti-depressants work by blocking the re-uptake of serotonin in the brain. 5-HTP does not actually block the re-uptake, but helps in the creation of more serotonin. This has a similar anti-depressant effect, only works more quickly. Several double-blind studies have shown that 5-HTP is as effective as prescription anti-depressants at alleviating depression. The recommended dose for adults is 50 to 300 mg. per day. Start with the lowest dose and move up slowly if needed.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
While most people are familiar with Omega-3 fatty acids from fish, they also occur in other foods, such as flax seed, echium seed and evening primrose oil. The most important of these acids in terms of mood are EPA and DHA, which occur mainly in fish oils and echium seed oils. A number of studies have shown EPA and DHA to have a positive impact on mood. In fact, recent studies at Harvard University showed that supplementing with 1,000 mg of EPA daily led to a significant decrease in depressive symptoms among test subjects. Look for omega-3 supplements that supply around 1,000 mg of EPA and 50 to 350 mg of DHA per day.
5. Lithium Orotate
Lithium has been used for decades as an anti-seizure and mood stabilizing drug, but more recently has been found highly effective in resistant depression, either alone or in combination with antidepressants. When prescribed by a doctor it is usually given in the synthetic form of Lithium carbonate or citrate. This form is available by prescription only, and requires close monitoring by a physician due to the possibility of toxic side-effects. Lithium orotate, however, is a natural form of lithium and does not require a prescription. Proponents claim that Lithium orotate is 30 times more bio-available than the synthetic form, and therefore more effective at lower dosages. This eliminates the need for high doses, the subsequent risk of toxic side-effects and the need for close monitoring. The usual starting dosage is 120 mg. per day. If no improvement is seen in 1-2 weeks, the dosage can be increased to 240 mg. per day. While not as well-tested as the other supplements on this list, research on this unique form of Lithium has been promising. More research is needed before the final verdict is in on the usefulness of this supplement for depression.
While it is always best to consult a doctor or psychotherapist when facing depression, realistically, many people never will. For these people, the above natural therapies can be tremendously helpful. One final caveat: Anyone taking prescription drugs should always consult a pharmacist about any potential interactions with these supplements.