What is this mysterious condition called depression?
No one really knows. It’s defined by its symptoms which vary from fatigue, listlessness and hopelessness to anger, anxiety and frustration. Some can’t sleep, others can’t get up. Some hear voices, others are completely tuned out. They say true depression is a chemical imbalance, which really means the brain is not functioning properly. Science has learned much about neurotransmitters, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other brain functions, but still the real causes and cures for depression elude us.
Prescription drugs work to keep the serotonin flowing, albeit with some potential side effects including possible weight gain and lower libido (bummer!). But that beats the alternative of trying to manage and survive depression on your own. Sadly, a possible side effect of untreated depression is suicide – up to 15 percent of major depressives die this way.1
But depression holds a whole spectrum of malaise ranging from ennui and boredom to serious conditions that require institutionalizing. The mid- and lower ranges of depression are where supplements can help the most. If you know you’re off your game, even if it’s seasonal or circumstantial, it may be worth talking to a healthcare practitioner, naturopath or doctor about taking some herbs or supplements. Here’s what works:
St. John’s Wort
Scientists call it Hypericum perforatum, really a fancy word for yellow perennial flower.The extract has been found in human studies to be an effective antidepressant in mild to moderate depression.2 Though it has been found to be effective in some cases of major depression, professional advice is strongly recommended in such instances.3
B vitamins, specifically folic acid, also called B9 or folate, is an important part of brain chemistry. Low blood levels have been associated with depression and other disorders, including dementia.4 Conversely, research suggests that taking folic acid (800 mcg) and B12 (1mg) daily can reduce the symptoms of depression.5 Folic acid has also been found helpful as an addition to prescription medication in relieving depression.6
Is there anything these wonders can’t do? These fatty acids can be found in fish oil, krill oil, chia seeds, flax, and a number of other sources. Krill oil, due to the fact that the omega-3s in it are bonded to phospholipids, appear to be more readily available to the body’s cells than many other sources. The fact is, fatty acids are critical to so many functions in our bodies, including brain health. Double-blind studies have found that people with major depressive disorder taking omega-3s versus placebo have reduced symptoms of depression.7 Supplementing medication with omega-3s also has significant benefits compared to placebo.8
Officially called S-Adenosyl methionine, this compound is involved in the building of brain cells and sold as a prescription drug in Europe. Most of the research is somewhat dated, but it does show that SAMe acts as an antidepressant without some of the typical side effects of prescription drugs., Recently, a 2009 study from the Harvard Medical School found SAMe to be “more efficacious than placebo and equal in efficacy to the tricyclic antidepressants for treating major depressive disorder.”
This supplement is a precursor to serotonin, the happy juice in our brains. Research has found 5-HTP effective in treating depression and related conditions such as binge eating, insomnia and headaches, and better than placebo at relieving depression. And like SAMe, 5-HTP is sold as a prescription drug for depression in Europe.
– Chris O'Brien
Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is a public service of WellWise.org, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended to constitute personal medical advice.