Naturopathic Treatment for Depression

Elise Deming, RDN
homeopathic plants

Depression is a rampant illnesses taking over the US today, and as many as 19 million Americans battle it. With a slew of anti-depressant pharmaceutical drugs on the market with potential side effects, some look to other methods to free themselves from depression. Many naturopathic methods for treating depression have been researched and found effective at reducing or alleviating depressive symptoms.

St. John's Wort

A flowering plant, St. Johns Wort is a highly studied and utilized herbal treatment for depression. The herb is also used to treat PMS, menopause, seasonal affective disorder, wounds, and burns. St. John's Wort is most commonly taken as a supplement, but it is used also in teas, as a liquid extract, and in topical treatments.

How St. John's Wort Helps Depression

A 2016 systematic review of 35 studies and 6,993 patients confirmed the beneficial effects of St. John's Wort in reducing minor to mild depression in adults with similar outcomes to and fewer side effects of pharmaceuticals. This is attributed to hyperforin and hypericin, two chemicals found within the plant; however, the exact way hyperforin and hypericin treat depression remains unknown.

Benefits

  • A large quantity of clinical studies backing the validity of use exists.
  • It is shown to treat minor depression in a variety of studies listed in the review above.

Drawbacks

  • Increased side effects with high dosage
  • Interacts with many medications listed below
  • US supplement brands contain inconsistent amounts of active component

Contraindications

St. John's Wort can cause severe and life threatening risks if taken with various medications such as antidepressants, antihistamines, cough medicine, digoxin, immune suppressants, HIV drugs, birth control pills, reserpine, sedatives, theophylline, migraine medicine, warfarin, and other drugs. Speak to your doctor before using St. John's Wort.

Side Effects

St. John's wort may have side effects including:

  • Phototoxic rash
  • Mania
  • Psychosis
  • Headaches
  • Muscle cramps
  • Anxiety
  • Dry mouth

Usage

As there are many contradictions to taking St. John's Wort, speak with your doctor before supplementing and to determine an adequate dosage. Most supplement dosages provide 400-600mg per pill. Clinical studies with success of diminish depression range anywhere from 300mg per day to 900mg per day.

Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola rosea
Rhodiola rosea

Rodiola Rosea is an herb known as "golden root" that grows in areas of Europe and Asia. This herb is used in many countries to treat mild depression, fatigue, attention, productivity, and stress. Rhodiola Rosea is typically taken in the supplement form.

How Rhodiola Rosea Helps Depression

Experts postulate this herb helps ward of depression through alterations of dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. The ability to change these hormones is one way that Rhodiola Rosea works as an adaptogen.

Pros

  • Various studies demonstrate the efficacy of this herb.
  • No known side effects of using rhodiola rosea exist.
  • A systematic review also established increased mental performance, decreased fatigue, and low toxicity in those that supplemented rhodiola rosea.

Cons

  • There is a lack of large, long-term studies.
  • Those with anxiety may feel over-stimulated.

Contraindication

Bipolar individuals that become manic should not use rhodiola rosea.

Usage

The range of supplementation of rhodiola rosea is quite broad (50mg to 680mg per day), and it is recommended to not exceed 680mg per day. One study showed beneficial results by supplementing 340mg per day to 680 mg per day over a six week period. However, consult your doctor before beginning any supplementation.

Saffron Extract

Saffron is a prized spice grown all over the globe. The golden yellow extract comes at an expensive price and is usually taken as a supplement or cooked into meals.

How Saffron Extract May Help Depression

Two components of saffron called crocins and safranal are thought to play a role in saffron's antidepressant effects through dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin regulation. Saffron has been found to be anti-inflammatory, neuro-regulatory, and a stimulant of serotonin, all of which help in alleviating depression.

Benefits

  • Found to be effective for mild to moderate depression in multiple small clinical trials
  • Excellent nutritional content containing manganese, magnesium, vitamin C, and iron
  • Side effects are typically uncommon in daily intake

Drawbacks

Extremely high doses of saffron can cause toxicity and side effects.

Contraindications

Do not use if you:

  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Have bipolar disorder
  • Have a heart condition
  • Have low blood pressure

Side Effects

Excessive intake may cause:

  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Death

Usage

Adding saffron to food one way to get the benefits of saffron. Additionally, studies showing anti-depressant benefits demonstrate supplementing saffron at 30mg per day. As always, speak with a physician before beginning to supplement.

Folate

Foods high in folate
Foods high in folate

Folate is a naturally occurring B vitamin that helps make DNA and is typically taken to treat anemia or when pregnant. Folate can be found in dark leafy greens such as spinach, collards, turnip greens, etc., liver, asparagus, beans, peas, lentils, and fortified grains and cereals. Folate is also commonly taken as a supplement.

How Folate Can Help Depression

Folate has been shown to improve symptoms in depressed patients in some studies. When consumed in the diet, folate is converted to L-methylfolate, which is typically supplemented for depression. Additionally, it has been found that folate works with pharmaceutical antidepressants to increase the efficacy of the antidepressant.

Pros

Folate is safe and may be help protect your heart due to reduction in homocysteine.

Cons

  • No known side effects exist.
  • It may cause allergic reaction in small populations.
  • It may cause restricted blood flow in men.
  • High amounts of folate can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency if taken as folic acid.

Contraindications

Folate is known to interact with a few medications such as cancer medications and psychiatric medications.

Taking Folate

To supplement folate, take 0.4-0.6mg per day, but do not exceed 0.1mg per day. Make sure you are taking 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, or the natural form of folate, and not folic acid, as it is better absorbed by the body.

S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe)

S-adenosly-L-methionine or SAMe is, in the simplest form, a chemical found in the body. SAMe assists in the overall function of the body, helps carry out many reactions, and plays a large role in immunity. SAMe is commonly taken as a supplement and the largest brand variety can be found online at sites like Vitacost.

How SAMe May Help Depression

SAMe is required for the synthesis of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Deficiencies in SAMe are thought to result in depression and other cognitive impairments. Increased SAMe intake may increase production of neurotransmitters that improve depressive symptoms.

Pros

SAMe has no serious side effects and is very low toxicity.

Cons

SAMe can be expensive.

Contraindications

If you have manic bipolar disorder, do not take SAMe due to worsening of manic symptoms.

Side Effects

SAMe may have mild side effects including:

  • Light insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

Use

Take 400-1600 mg/d according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)

EPA

EPA is one of the omega-3 essential fatty acids. You will find it in supplements and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. EPA has been found to be preventative of heart disease, decrease inflammation, relieve ADHD, and many other aliments.

How EPA Helps Depression

A review conducted of 15 trials of 916 participants with acute depression who supplemented with EPA demonstrated that when EPA content was at least 60 percent of the supplement in relation to DHA (the other omega-3), EPA was effective in alleviating depression. The mechanisms of how EPA affects depression remains unknown.

Benefits

  • EPA promotes health in other areas, such as heart heath, reduction in triglycerides, and decreased risk of stroke.

Drawbacks

  • EPA has a few side effects.
  • It may be expensive ($30-50) to purchase good quality supplements. Good quality means that there is a high amount of EPA/DHA, and the company is reputable and not adding extra, unneeded ingredients.

Contraindications

Do not take if you have a seafood allergy. Additionally, individuals on blood thinning medications should consult their physician before taking omega-3 supplements.

Side Effects

Mild common side effects may exist with EPA, including:

  • Belching
  • Indigestion
  • Taste changes

The above side effects may be avoided if you take enteric-coated capsules.

Other side effects, including serious side effects, include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Rash
  • Heartburn

Extremely high doses (20g) can decrease blood clotting and increase risk of stroke.

Use

A great way to get EPA is through consuming fatty fish. However, many people choose to get a more concentrated form of EPA through supplements. If supplementing, 1g pure E-EPA twice a day for 4 weeks is what is recommended according to the Mayo Clinic.

B Vitamins

There are many B vitamins that are crucial for many reactions to take place in the body including making red blood cells and giving your body energy. B-Vitamins can be found in an array of foods such as eggs, chicken, fish, dairy, leafy greens, papaya, fruits, and vegetables.

How B Vitamins Can Help With Depression

While folate or folic acid is a B vitamin (B9), there are a few more important B Vitamins involved in mood regulation, such as B1, B3, B6, and B12. All of these vitamins play an important role in the central nervous system, and a deficiency any of them can contribute to depression. Additionally, in a 2015 systematic review, long term use was found to decrease relapse into depression.

Pros

Taking B vitamins may contribute to a possible increase in mood, energy, cognition, and immunity.

Cons

There may be side effects from over-supplementation.

Contraindications

There are no known contraindications for B vitamins.

Side Effects

Large doses can cause flushing, nerve damage, impaired kidney function, heart conditions, and some drug interactions, such as fluorouracil, calcitriol, capecitabine, doxercalciferol, paricalcitol, and others.

Use

Most B-vitamins are packaged as a "B-complex" supplement, although you can get them individually as well. However, not all B-complex vitamins are created equal. Be sure to purchase one that contains 200mg choline, 100 percent biotin, folate, and B12. Additionally, if your B-complex vitamin already contains folate, there is no need to take an additional folate supplement.

How to Evaluate Claims About Natural Depression Cures

It can be difficult to figure out what is true and what is false when reading about health claims. Here are some tips on how to decide if the claims you're reading are valid:

  • Use evidence-based articles, peer reviewed journals, or scientific studies to determine if a remedy claim is legitimate.
  • Do not get your information off of social media like Facebook or Pinterest.
  • Fact check your findings. Look for other studies that back up the information you found.
  • Make sure the information you found isn't sponsored by a supplement or pharmaceutical company.
  • Herbs and supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so be sure to choose reliable companies such as Pure Encapsulations, Xymogen, or Designs for Health.
  • Any changes in supplementation should be discussed with physician prior to taking it. All herbs and supplements taken should be reported to your primary health care provider.

Naturopathic Treatments and Depression

There is a vast amount of information about how to treat whatever illness or aliment you may have. However, utilize the tips above on how to choose what information you follow. To treat depression, St. John's Wort, rhodiola rosea, saffron, Folate, SAMe, EPA, and B vitamins have all been backed by successful clinical trials. When choosing which therapeutic treatment to pursue, weigh the pros and cons of each option, consider any other medical issues you may have, and always consult your doctor.
Naturopathic Treatment for Depression