Depression affects over 16 million people in the United States alone, and it's one of the biggest causes of disability. (Yeung et al., 2018) Most people are unaware that having no desire to do things you used to do or having a lack of energy can result from depression.
Major Depressive Disorder or clinical depression is the more commonly known form of depression, and women are two times more likely to struggle with Major Depressive Disorder than men. (Kring & Johnson, 2021)
Some Symptoms of Depression:
- Mood swings
- General Discontent
- Social Isolation
- Excess Sleepiness
- Excess Hunger
- Lack of Concentration
- Thoughts of Suicide
Some people go undiagnosed for extended periods because they may not have more pronounced symptoms such as excessive sleepiness. Many people struggle with high-functioning depression, where they seem to be “normal” because they can function in society rather effectively.
Some Examples of Natural Antidepressants:
- Fish Oil
- Vitamin D
- Rhodiola Rosea
- Prebiotics and Probiotics
How Do Antidepressants Work?
Antidepressants work by modulating neurotransmitter activity in the brain. Antidepressants reduce feelings of depression; however, they often come with the risk of many different side effects such as insomnia, agitation, shakiness, anxiety, etc.
15 Natural Antidepressants
Exercise is not something you can take, but it is an underrated natural antidepressant. Research shows it is as effective as antidepressant medication combined with psychotherapy. Exercise helps with body image, quality of life, and an individual's ability to cope with stress. (Knapen et al., 2015)
The sun is an excellent source of white light which can help reduce symptoms of depression. A study showed that individuals given white light therapy for 4-6 weeks had lower depression scores. (Sit et al., 2018)
In addition, sunlight helps your body produce more Vitamin D, which is actually a hormone. You can also consume foods that are higher in Vitamin D, to increase your levels of the vitamin and help alleviate symptoms of depression.
Lavender is an everyday essential oil, a fragrant, concentrated oil with purported therapeutic properties. For example, a study revealed that lavender essential oil inhalation lowered corticosterone levels in the body. Corticosterone is a precursor to aldosterone, a hormone that regulates blood pressure.
Organic plants are raised without pesticides and are not genetically modified. If this concerns you, look for an organic lavender oil.
Passionflower is a vine that grows in the southeastern United States and Central America. It is typically used as a sedative and has been taken in doses of 800 mg safely for up to 8 weeks. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)
According to research, saffron increases the production of serotonin, your “happy hormone,” and it alleviates symptoms of depression. Saffron originates from the flower Crocus sativus and is used to color and flavor foods. (Merriam-Webster.)
Saffron is in supplements such as capsules, or it is found in a tincture form. Tinctures are typically absorbed faster; however, not everyone can stomach the taste of an herbal extract in an alcohol base.
6. Fish Oil
Fish oil contains a type of polyunsaturated fats called Omega-3s that you may be familiar with. There are multiple forms of Omega-3s, but DHA and EPA are the main ones that help reduce inflammation in the body and help with brain development.
DHA, in particular, helps with brain development and mood disorders by protecting the brain from damage due to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when you are exposed to toxins in your environment, when you eat unhealthy foods, and even when you exercise, leading to a weakened immune system. DHA, along with antioxidants, helps balance out the oxidative stress we endure.
EPA works by minimizing inflammation and therefore helping reduce brain inflammation, a common contributor to anxiety and depression. Excessive inflammation in the body can increase the chance of someone struggling with Major Depressive Disorder or MDD. (Beurel et al., 2020)
7. Vitamin D
Vitamin D3 is the recommended form of Vitamin D
to increase your Vitamin D levels. Extensive research exists on how Vitamin D works as a great natural antidepressant, showing an association between a lack of Vitamin D in depression sufferers. (Parker et al., 2017)
It is taken in a soft gel or dropper form and is excellent to give to your children as well. In addition, Vitamin D helps support a healthy immune system and energy levels, both of which can be weakened with depression.
To find a suitable dosage for yourself, try a very affordable Vitamin D test to see where your starting point is. Then you may be able to purchase a supplement that is 5,000 IUs, an average dosage for a few months, and retest again to see if you need to adjust your dosage.
A few signs of Vitamin D deficiency include chronic pain, low energy, insomnia, blood sugar imbalances, etc.
Note: Make sure to let your doctor know about your concerns if you have low Vitamin D levels and you are supplementing to increase them.
L-glutamine is an amino acid, and it is one of the critical nutrients that can help improve your gut health. The enteric nervous system is part of your digestive system. People who struggle with “leaky gut” or other digestive issues can have problems with their gut-brain axis.
L-glutamine works as a natural antidepressant by repairing holes in the gut lining that prevent nutrients from being absorbed. Furthermore, L-glutamine also serves as a natural antidepressant by minimizing inflammation in the gut.
9. Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens work to create balance in the body by giving you energy if you need it, or they can help with sleep or relaxation. Rhodiola, in particular, alleviates lethargic depression and asthenia. (Iovieno et al., 2011)
This particular adaptogenic herb is known for its neuroprotective, cardioprotective, anti-fatigue, and nootropic benefits. Research shows that Rhodiola reduces burnout feelings, improves mental performance, and is effective against overall generalized anxiety and depression. (Panossian et al., 2010)
Rhodiola comes in a tincture form or veggie capsules.
10. Prebiotics and Probiotics
The reason these two are combined is that prebiotics feed the probiotic strains. If you are unfamiliar with probiotics, they are healthy bacteria in your gut, skin, and other parts of your body. They can diminish from antibacterial soaps, poor diet, medications, stress, etc.
Prebiotics are a form of fiber you consume in your diet that feeds your healthy probiotic gut bacteria.
Examples of these are fructooligosaccharides from fructose, which are calorie-free and are considered soluble fiber. (Sabater-Molina et al., 2009) Galactooligosaccharides are from lactose and human milk and can also help support healthy intestinal bacteria.
These two prebiotics have been shown to help individuals with moderate depression and anxiety if consuming at least 5 grams per day. (Taylor & Holscher, 2020)
Inositol is a water-soluble B-vitamin, and it is excellent for blood sugar balance, stress, and more. It works effectively as a natural antidepressant by women struggling with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). (Mukai et al., 2014)
There are two types of inositol: D-chiro and Myo-inositol. You can find supplements with both for concerns like PCOS. However, the more easily accessible form is typically the D-chiro-inositol.
Myo-inositol was found to be very effective in premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and it also appeared to be effective in mood disorders in general. Individuals with schizophrenia or another mood disorder showed lower Myo-inositol levels than patients without a current or past effective diagnosis. (Chiappelli et. el., 2015)
Magnesium is a mineral and an electrolyte, and it is vital for hydration, sleep, anxiety, depression, and more. In addition, magnesium is necessary for over 300 body processes, including blood sugar balance, blood pressure, and our body's bone remodeling cycle.
Studies have shown that a magnesium deficiency can cause an individual to have personality changes, be agitated, be delirious, insomnia, and more. Magnesium deficiency can result from stress, poor diet, alcoholism, Type 2 diabetes, and certain medications. (Serefko et al., 2016)
Magnesium comes in a powder, pill, or liquid form. All three are effective; however, the powder or liquid forms may be absorbed better and faster with the growing concern of gut issues.
13. Vitamin B-12 & Folate
A B-complex supplement is a combination of Vitamin B1 (Thiamin), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (niacin), Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), Vitamin B7 (biotin), Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin), and folate (MTHF).
Most people take these vitamins together because there are so many forms of Vitamin B, and it is for stress. When your body is stressed, B vitamins, along with other nutrients, become depleted.
Research demonstrates that Vitamin B12 and folate deficiency can cause disorientation, psychosis, and depression. (Petrie & Ban, 1985) B vitamins, especially Vitamins B12 and folate, are often deficient in people who struggle with alcoholism.
Furthermore, high homocysteine levels occur in individuals who struggle with depression. Vitamin B12 and folate/folic acid (MTHF) help lower homocysteine levels.
High levels of homocysteine occur in patients struggling with depression. (Esnafoglu & Ozturan, 2020) Homocysteine is a result of natural body processes. High amounts of homocysteine increase the risk for many cardiovascular diseases such as coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular disease. (Maron & Loscalzo, 2006)
SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine) is a natural compound found in every cell of your body. Studies show that SAM-e has been very effective at minimizing symptoms of depression in more mild cases, according to the study. (Sarris et al., 2020)
15. St. John's Wort
St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum L.) is known for its ability to work as a natural antidepressant.
A study showed that patients had similar results when taking St. John's Wort for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) compared to tri- or tetracyclic antidepressants and SSRIs. It gave patients great results, and it also resulted in fewer adverse side effects than the medications. (Linde et al., 2008)
Don't Give Up
When choosing to take any of these natural antidepressants, remember that it takes time to replenish your body when you have been deficient or severely stressed for an extended time. Stress plays a significant role in your body's ability to function correctly.
Stress will always exist; you have to work to become better at dealing with it actively. However, with the combination of a balanced diet, exercise, social interaction, talk therapy, and natural antidepressants, you could stand a chance at improving your overall mental health with limited side effects.
If you have a hard time dealing with stress, I highly recommend talking to a therapist. Therapists are great at helping you come up with strategies to better cope with stress, help you create better habits, and work to make you feel understood and heard.
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Megan is the owner and founder of Holistic-Momma.com. Her background is in the natural health industry and her education is in psychology and a current degree program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She writes about natural ways to cope with your mental health, in addition to how moms can communicate with and take care of their children in a loving and effective manner.