We all feel blue from time to time, but if you’re consistently down in the dumps and you can’t think why, you might be one of around 10 percent of Americans suffering from depression.
The good news is that pharmaceutical help is available; antidepressants like Fluoxetine, Citalopram and Sertraline are among the most widely prescribed medications for depression.
The bad news is that these powerful, mind-altering drugs — despite their proven efficacy and relative safety — come with a laundry list of unpleasant side effects, such as anxiety, nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, insomnia, weight gain, and even impotency.
Remember that depression can be a very serious condition. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and before changing medicines or taking dietary supplements.
If you’re struggling with depression but concerned about these side effects, you might be looking for a natural alternative. Here’s a list of three:
St. John’s Wort
The yellow flowering herb Hypericum perforatum, more commonly known as St. John’s Wort, has long been recognized as a natural antidepressant.
Used for centuries as a folk remedy for melancholy, St. John’s Wort has been found in clinical trials to act on the brain in much the same way as the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) generally prescribed by doctors — but without the nasty side effects.
In 2017, a large-scale scientific meta-analysis of 27 studies that tested St. John’s Wort as an antidepressant concluded that the traditional herbal remedy is just as effective as SSRIs in treating mild to moderate depression, while an even more recent review of 26 meta-analyses found that St. John’s Wort had significantly fewer adverse effects.
Many a chef relies on the fragrant, crimson-colored spice harvested from the saffron crocus to improve soups and stews, but can it improve your mental health too? Research suggests that it can.
According to a systematic review and meta-analysis carried out by a team of Italian and Iranian scientists in 2018, saffron showed clinical results similar to those of the antidepressant drug Fluoxetine, and should therefore be considered as “a suitable and safer alternative to Fluoxetine.”
Studies are ongoing, but the results so far are encouraging. Just last year, a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial, in which patients with type 2 diabetes were given 100mg of Saffron daily for 8 weeks, found that the spice not only “significantly” improved depression, but also “sleep quality and overall quality of life”!
This bright yellow powder derived from turmeric — another spice — is a relative newcomer among clinically-studied natural antidepressants, but the authors of a recent article in the peer-reviewed Planta Medica journal think it’s one of the three most promising potential alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs for treating depression. (The other two are St. John’s Wort and Saffron!)
Three new Curcumin extracts have already been approved by the FDA as “generally recognized as safe,” and a scientific review of human trials published earlier this year noted that Curcumin has been well tolerated, with mild to no side effects. Of the seven trials reviewed, six reported “positive antidepressant effects.”
Another, broader review of 65 preclinical studies and 15 clinical trials and open-label studies between 2005 and 2021 found that “results were positive in reducing psychiatric deficits” in a whole range of mental health disorders, from depression to schizophrenia.
Depression is a serious mental health condition that affects millions of Americans, and while there are pharmaceutical drugs generally considered safe and effective in treating it, plant-based remedies are increasingly popular as natural alternatives with fewer side effects.
Even so, you should always consult your doctor before taking herbal remedies for depression, especially if you’re already on medication or have a pre-existing medical condition.
If you are suicidal, dial 988 or visit The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.) It is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States.