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Do Natural Antidepressants Work?

If you have been asking yourself, “do natural antidepressants work,” it’s important to do your research — and consult with a qualified professional first. 

Many people mistakenly believe that the word “natural” means that these substances are harmless. They also assume that if a natural antidepressant is legal, it must be effective. Neither of these are completely accurate. But do natural antidepressants work?

When you educate yourself about natural antidepressants, you’ll be prepared to have an informed discussion with your doctor or other healthcare provider about their benefits, side effects, and suitability for you.

What Are Natural Antidepressants?

Natural antidepressants are substances or practices thought to possess mood-boosting properties that might help alleviate symptoms of depression. The category of natural antidepressants includes a variety of substances, many of which are derived from plants. Natural antidepressants may also be referred to as supplements, herbal remedies, botanicals, or alternative medications.

Do Natural Antidepressants Work?

People have been using plants and their derivatives for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. For example, researchers have found written directions for creating plant-based medications on a 5,000-year-old clay slab from Sumer (an ancient culture in what is now southern Iraq). 

A 2018 article in Focus: The Journal of Lifelong Learning in Psychiatry notes that the plant hypericum perforatum (commonly known as St. John’s wort) has been used for centuries to treat what modern clinicians would refer to as depression.

Today, natural antidepressants and similar substances can be purchased online and in stores throughout the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies natural antidepressants as dietary supplements. This means that the safety and effectiveness of natural antidepressants are not tested as rigorously as are prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications. 

Popular Natural Antidepressants Today

St. John’s wort is one of the most widely known natural antidepressants. As mentioned in the previous section, it has been incorporated into treatment for hundreds of years. 

In the late 1900s, the use of St. John’s wort to treat depression increased considerably. At the same time, researchers began to take a closer look at its effectiveness.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the results of these studies have not been conclusive. 

Some studies suggest that St. John’s wort can have a short-term benefit for people who have been experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of depression. Other studies have found St. John’s wort to be no more effective than placebo. 

In addition to St. John’s wort, other popular natural antidepressants include ginkgo biloba, omega-3 fatty acids, saffron, S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), 5-hyrdroxytryptophan (5-HTP), lavender, and melatonin.

List of Natural Antidepressants

  • Gingko biloba is extracted from the leaves of the maidenhair tree, which is native to China. Gingko has been used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine for more than 1,000 years.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and some plants. In addition to their potential mood benefits, omega-3 fatty acids are important for heart health. They can help prevent the hardening of arteries and lower the likelihood of blood clots. 
  • Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world. It contains antioxidants that some people believe can improve mood and alleviate some symptoms of depression. 
  • SAMe is naturally produced by the human body. In supplement form, it is believed to help people who have depression, arthritis, and liver disease.
  • 5-HTP is also naturally produced by the human body. It is associated with the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can influence mood. Some people take 5-HTP supplements for depression, fibromyalgia, insomnia, and migraine headaches.
  • Lavender is a plant that has been used for a variety of purposes. This includes cooking, cosmetics, landscaping, aromatherapy, and as a natural antidepressant.
  • Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that helps regulate humans’ internal body clocks. Melatonin supplements may be synthetic or derived from the pineal glands of certain animals. 

As is the case with St. John’s wort, some studies suggest that some of these natural antidepressants can relieve certain symptoms of depression. However, other studies have found no conclusive evidence of their effectiveness. 

Lavender is considered to be one of these natural antidepressants

Should I Use Natural Antidepressants?

Many may ask themselves, do natural antidepressants work? However, before you begin to use a natural antidepressant or any other supplement, you should always consult with your family doctor or another qualified healthcare professional. 

Your doctor can provide an expert opinion on whether or not a certain natural antidepressant can treat your symptoms. They can also tell you how the natural antidepressant may interact with any medications you are taking. 

For example, the Mayo Clinic reports that St. John’s wort may reduce the effectiveness of certain chemotherapy drugs, contraceptives, protease inhibitors, and several additional medications. Other natural antidepressants can also have a negative effect on certain prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Another important reason to consult with your doctor or another expert is that depressive disorders are complex mental health conditions. Attempting to self-medicate certain symptoms on your own, without the benefit of professional guidance, can lead to a variety of distressing unintended consequences.

What Are the Alternatives to Natural Antidepressants?

Anyone who has developed depression deserves to receive comprehensive, personalized care from an experienced provider or a reputable program. Depending on the individual’s specific needs, effective treatment for depression may involve a variety of evidence-based therapies and certain thoroughly studied prescription medications.

During therapy sessions, people can discuss how their lives have been impacted by depression. In addition, they can develop the skills that will help them manage their symptoms and receive focused guidance. Therapy can also help people identify self-defeating thought and behavior patterns and replace them with healthier alternatives.

When used as directed within the context of a comprehensive depression treatment program, certain prescription medications may also be extremely beneficial. 

At Arbor Wellness Center, all medication recommendations are made on an individual basis following a thorough assessment of each patient’s history and needs. We discuss the features and effects of all medications with our patients before they receive them, and we monitor their progress throughout their time in our care.

Get Depression Treatment in Nashville, Tennessee

Arbor Wellness Center is a premier provider of personalized treatment for depression and certain co-occurring mental health disorders. Depending on their specific needs, adults can receive depression services at the residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, or outpatient level. If you or someone that you care about has been struggling with depression, the Arbor Wellness Team is here for you. Contact us today to learn how we can help.