Treating Depression

Want To Try Natural Remedies And Supplements?

Talking about natural remedies for depression, here we take a closer looks at some of the supplements and natural remedies that have been used to relieve depression symptoms and improve mood. It is not a comprehensive list of possible natural substances for depression. Always seek the advice of your physician if you want to try any of these supplements or natural extracts.   

Supplements And Natural Remedies for Depression

Although antidepressants have revolutionized the treatment of depression,not everyone responds to these drugs favorably. For some people the side effects are too harsh, while others fail to experience the desired relief. This underlines why many wants to try something more naturaI.

Fortunately, nutritionally oriented doctors and herbalists have researched a number of “natural” therapeutic approaches to depression which include herbs, vitamins and exercise. What follows is a brief summary of the most commonly used alternative substances.

Supplements for depression

L- tryptophan

Do you remember the neurotransmitter targetted by the SSRI drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft and the like? Serotonin isnt it? L- tryptophan is an amino acid that serves as a precursor to this Serotonin. 

This amino acid was quite popular in treating depression and insomnia during the 1980s. L-tryptophan is currently available only by prescription in the United States.


A product similar to L-tryptophan, 5-hydroxy-tryptophan, is currently available over the counter. This product is a metabolite of tryptophan and a precursor to serotonin that may work even better than tryptophan. In a head-to-head study conducted by German and Swiss researchers in 1991, 5-HTP and the antidepressant Luvox were shown to be equally effective in treating depression over a six-week period.

Since then, 5-HTP has been used by many people to lower their current dosages of antidepressants or to replace them completely. Do not make decision of trying this supplement on your own. Any adjustments should be made under the care of your psychiatrist or physician.

Other Amino Acids


  • L-tyrosine is an amino acid that serves as a precursor to the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, which have been shown to be deficient in many depressives. The supplementation of this amino acid may help the body to form more of these substances during difficult times. Tyrosine may also be helpful in cases where clinical or subclinical thyroid disease is present.

L-phenylalynine and DL-phenylalynine

Phenylalynine is a precursor to tyrosine, and so exhibits many of the same effects. In addition, the supplementation of phenylalynine can help the body produce a substance called “phenylethylamine,” which is also present in chocolate and marijuana and is created by the body in greater amounts when the individual is “in love.” Phenylethylamine is supposedly present to a greater degree in the DL form of phenylalynine than the L form; however, the DL form may be more likely to increase blood pressure.


Methionine is an amino acid that has been shown to be helpful for some individuals suffering from depression. Its metabolite, S-Adenosyl-Methionine (SAM), is intimately involved in the biochemistry of neurotransmitters and has been used in some European countries to treat depression. Recently, SAM has also become available in the United States.

Phosphatidylserine (PS)

PS is one of a class of substances known as phospholipids. The permeability of brain-cell membranes depends on adequate amounts of the substance. Some studies have shown PS to be an effective antidepressant in the elderly. PS may work by suppressing the production of cortisol, a naturally occurring steroid hormone whose levels are elevated in depressed people.

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

DHEA is a naturally occurring androgen produced by the adrenal glands. It is abundantly found in plasma and brain tissue and is the precursor of many hormones produced by the adrenals. DHEA seems to alleviate some of the effects of aging, such as fatigue and muscle weakness. Levels of DHEA may be lower in depressed patients, while supplementation with DHEA may reduce symptoms. However, since DHEA is a hormone, you should not take it without having your doctor check your blood level of the hormone. Also check with your physician before adding it to your diet if you are on an antidepressant, a thyroid medication, insulin, or estrogen.

Vitamin and mineral supplementation

Many clinicians believe that supplementing your food intake with certain vitamins, minerals and amino acids may also help to balance your brain chemistry.

Vitamins B6 and B3

The entire vitamin B complex is known to maintain and promote normal mental functioning. Deficiencies of any or all of these vitamins can produce significant symptoms relating to depression, e.g., anxiety, irritability, lethargy, and fatigue.

Although the research remains inconsistent, several studies indicate that vitamin B6 supplementation (100 to 300 milligrams per day) helps alleviate depression associated with premenstrual syndrome. Since oral contraceptives can deplete the body of vitamin B6, women taking birth control pills need to supplement their diets with B6 as well. In addition, niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, has shown some success in alleviating both depression and anxiety.

Folic acid

A large percentage of depressed people have low levels of the B vitamin folic acid (British Journal of Psychiatry; 117:287-92). Anyone suffering from chronic depression should be evaluated by a nutritionally oriented doctor for a possible folic acid deficiency. Folic acid is usually taken with vitamin B12 and is best supervised by a physician. Large doses of folic acid may contribute to mania. Thus anyone with a bipolar disorder should be evaluated by a qualified health care provider before trying this supplement.


GABA is usually classified as an amino acid, although it actually serves as a neurotransmitter (there are more GABA sites in the brain than for other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine or serotonin). GABA basically acts as an inhibitory transmitter, keeping the brain and body from going into “overdrive.” Supplementation of GABA seems to be quite effective for anxiety disorders as well as insomnia (especially the type of insomnia where racing thoughts keep the individual from falling asleep). Hence, those suffering from depression exacerbated by anxiety might want to consider taking this supplement.efore trying this supplement.

Alternative Medical Therapies

St. John’s Wort

The yellow flowering tops of St. John’s Wort have been consumed for centuries in tea or olive oil extract for a variety of “nervous conditions.” In 1994, physicians in Germany prescribed 66 million daily doses of St. John’s Wort, making it the country’s medication of choice for the treatment of mild to moderate depression.

Reported Efficacy

Patients who respond to St. John’s Wort show an improvement in mood and ability to carry out their daily routine. Symptoms such as sadness, hopelessness, feelings of worthlessness, exhaustion, and poor sleep also decrease.

The standard dosage of St. John’s Wort prescribed by the European doctors is a 0.3 percent extract of the active ingredient, hypericin, taken in 300 milligram capsules, three times a day. A person using St. John’s Wort should be monitored for four to six weeks before evaluating its effectiveness.


St. John’s Wort is relatively free of side effects when compared to pharmaceutical antidepressants (common side effects are gastrointestinal symptoms, allergy, fatigue, and increased sensitivity to light).


St. John’s Wort should not be taken along with the traditional antidepressants. If you are already taking Prozac or another antidepressant and would like to try St. John’s Wort, consult with a psychiatrist or other medical person and wean yourself from the pharmaceutical before you start the St. John’s Wort.

Kava Extract

Kava (Piper methysticum) is a member of the pepper family native to the South Pacific. Its tusberous rootstock is used to make a beverage (also called kava) that is believed to make people happy and sociable. Hence, it has been used for hundreds of years in native ceremonies and celebrations.

In recent years, a number of Western pharmacologists have prepared and ingested the beverage, reporting similar tranquilizing and uplifting effects. Like St. John’s Wort, kava extracts are gaining in popularity in European countries for treating depression and anxiety.

The active ingredients in kava are the kavalactones, although several other components seem to be involved as well. In a number of double blind studies, individuals taking kava extract containing 70 percent kavalactones showed improvements in symptoms of anxiety as measured by several standardized psychological tests, including the Hamilton Anxiety Scale. In addition, unlike the benzodiazepines- such as Xanax and Ativan, that are prescribed for anxiety-kava extract neither impairs mental functioning nor promotes sedation.

Another problem with benzodiazepines is that the body gradually adapts to their presence, so that it takes more of the drug to produce the same effect. This condition, known as tolerance, does not seem to occur with kavalactones.

The recommended dosage for taking kava to reduce anxiety is 45 to 70 milligrams of kavalactones three times a day. For sedative effects, a dosage of 180 to 210 milligrams can be taken before bedtime.

To put these dosages in perspective, the standard bowl of traditionally prepared kava beverage contains around 250 milligrams of kavalactones, and more than one bowl may be ingested at a sitting. Finally, although no significant side effects have been reported from taking kava at the normal levels, some case reports suggest that kava may interfere with dopamine and worsen Parkinson’s disease. Until this issue is resolved, kava should not be used by patients who have this illness.

In addition to the herbs, vitamins, minerals and amino acids listed above, there exist a number of alternative medical therapies such as homeopathy, Chinese medicine (including acupuncture and herbal medicine), chiropractic, Bach flower remedies (and other flower essences), therapeutic gemstones, etc.

If you are interested in trying one or more of these alternative approaches, consult first with the health provider who is treating you for depression. Because of their non-invasive nature, you may be able employ these therapies at the same time that you are receiving standard treatment (medication and/or psychotherapy).

Do Not Forget

Anyone taking these remedies should do so under the supervision of a nutritionally oriented physician (psychiatrist, family doctor, chiropractor, naturopath, etc.).

As with antidepressants, it is important that you and your doctor try one natural remedy at a time until you discover what works. Moreover, you should not switch from a prescription antidepressant to any of these supplements without first consulting your health care provider.

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