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Do Natural Antidepressants Work?

If you have been thinking about trying natural antidepressants, 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.

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?

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.

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 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. In fact, the FDA classifies natural antidepressants as dietary supplements. This means that the safety and effectiveness of these substances 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. 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 a placebo. 

Types of Natural Antidepressants

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.

  • 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, including 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. While other studies have found no conclusive evidence of their effectiveness. 

Should I Use Natural Antidepressants?

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 the symptoms you have been experiencing. 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?

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, develop the skills that will help them manage their symptoms, and receive focused guidance from a trained professional. Therapy can also help people identify self-defeating thought and behavior patterns and replace them with healthier ways of thinking and acting.

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 in Nashville, 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.

Depression Treatment in Nashville, TN

Arbor Wellness Center in Nashville, TN 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. Give us a call or visit our admissions page today to learn how we can help.