Getting Out of the Dumps: Natural Supplements for Depression

by Wellness Editor – MH

Of all the mental health problems facing Americans, depression ranks as one of the most widespread and onerous. It is estimated that over 21 million patients in the US suffer from regular depression. All of these melancholic feelings inevitably spill into professional lives of depression patients, leading to $31 billion in lost worker productivity every year. With such a heavy social and economic toll, it’s no wonder that so many prescription drugs have been introduced to fight this disease.

While antidepressants are doubtlessly potent medications, they are also a double-edged sword. Like most medicines, antidepressants come with strings attached, as users can experience a wide range of side effects. A patient’s response to such drugs can vary widely, and is often influenced by a number of factors (i.e. genetic makeup, preexisting medical conditions, etc.). The divergent impact of depression medications is illustrated by the proceeding list of possible complications:

  • Nausea
  • Spike in appetite and subsequent weight gain
  • Noticeable decrease in sex drive
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Feelings of drowsiness and fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred VisionConstipation
  • Dizziness
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety

Given the large range of unintended consequences associated with antidepressants, some patients have started to take a hard look at all-natural substitutes. Such supplements are available without prescription, and may help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression without causing distressing side effects. Though such natural remedies represent an intriguing alternative, it is always best to consult with your doctor when reviewing treatment options for depression.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids – Omega 3 fatty acids have enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity in recent years, and for good reason; these essential acids have been linked to lower risk of heart disease and heart attack, and might be able to protect joints from rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to such alluring benefits, some research has found that omega 3 acids might help with warding off depression. Small-scale studies in Australia and Israel have found that omega-3s can reduce depressive symptoms in children by 40 to 50 percent. A 2009 report, published in the journal of the American College of Nutrition, noted that depression patients responded well when administered an omega 3 acid called EPA. Curiously enough, omega 3 fatty acids appear to be most beneficial to those with relatively severe depression; patients with minor depression symptoms, in contrast, may not see much overall improvement.

Folate – Also known as vitamin B9 or folic acid, folate is a key nutrient in such healthy fare as eggs, spinach, kale and broccoli. Compared to omega 3 acids, folate has received little time in the spotlight. Consequentially, most people unaware that it even exists. Despite this relative obscurity, folate is very useful to the human body, helping to defend against serious illnesses like heart disease and cancer.

Though limited research on the subject has been conducted, some evidence indicates that folate may be an effective antidepressant. In 2010, the American Psychiatric Association weighed in on this issue through its Task Force on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. According to this panel, folate represents “a low-risk and reasonable part of a treatment plan” when used in conjunction with antidepressant medications. The task force did stress that more research was necessary to better gauge the impact of folate on depression.

SAM-e – SAM-e probably sounds like a strange name for a natural supplement, but you have to admit that this moniker beats its full name – S-adenosyl-L-methionine. Researchers have long known about the depression-fighting capabilities of SAM-e, as this chemical has been used to fight depression in Europe since the 1970s. The drawback of SAM-e is that, until recently, this treatment was only effective when administered intravenously (i.e. with a syringe). Though SAM-e capsules can now be bought without much difficulty, little research has been performed examining the impact of these supplements on depression.

Despite this lack of attention, there is reason for optimism. A 2010 study, conducted by faculty from Harvard University, found that SAM-e lessened depression symptoms in subjects after a six week time period. While such results are certainly encouraging, it should be noted that the Harvard study included only 73 participants, and that additional research is needed on the effects of SAM-e.

5-HTP – If you thought that SAM-e’s full name was a tongue twister, check out what 5-HTP stands for – 5-hydroxytryptophan. You can see why most people use the 5-HTP abbreviation when referring to this supplement, even though it sounds more like some newfangled computer gizmo. Like other supplements on this list, 5-HTP has not been conclusively proven to alleviate depression symptoms, though studies have suggested that such a relationship does indeed exist. A report issued by researchers at the University of Maryland, for example, found that depression patients benefited noticeably from consuming 100 milligrams of 5-HTP per day.

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