Natural antidepressants include SAM-e, St John’s Wort, and omega-3-fatty acids, among others. If a person thinks they have symptoms of depression, they should speak to a doctor before trying any natural antidepressants.

In this article, we focus on six natural antidepressants, their effectiveness in treating depression, and other alternatives.

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The effectiveness of natural antidepressants may vary among individuals.

If a person thinks they have symptoms of depression, they should speak to a healthcare professional as soon as possible so that they can begin treatment.

According to a 2017 article, 40–60% of people who take prescription antidepressants experience an improvement in symptoms within 6–8 weeks, compared with just 20–40% of people who do not.

Natural antidepressants may offer some relief. However, as with prescription antidepressants, results vary from person to person.

1. SAM-e

S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) naturally occurs in the body. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), several studies suggest that SAM-e may help treat depression. However, no conclusive scientific research has shown it works.

A 2011 analysis of existing research studies found that SAM-e improved symptoms of depression in eight studies. However, each of these studies had methodological flaws.

In a separate 2009 analysis, SAM-e worked better than a placebo in six placebo-controlled trials.

According to the NCCIH, SAM-e may not be safe for people with bipolar disorder because it may increase mania symptoms.

People living with HIV should also avoid SAM-e because it may encourage the growth of Pneumocystis jirovecii, which could lead to pneumonia.

Doctors should also monitor SAM-e use in people with Parkinson’s disease as it could decrease the effectiveness of levodopa (L-dopa), a treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

2. St. John’s Wort

Please be aware that St John’s Wort can make many prescription medications less effective, and if a person combines it with antidepressants a life-threatening amount of serotonin could accumulate in the body.

St. John’s wort derives from a yellow flower that people have used in herbal medicine for centuries.

Some studies show that St. John’s wort can treat depression, but the results of these studies are inconsistent. Researchers do not know if St. John’s wort is an effective long-term treatment.

Some research suggests that St. John’s wort may change how the brain processes serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in a similar way to some antidepressants.

In some studies, St. John’s wort works better than a placebo and can work just as well as tricyclic antidepressants.

A 2011 review of previous research studies found that St. John’s wort improved symptoms of depression in ten of the studies.

However, little data suggested that it works well to treat severe depression, or that it can be a long-term depression treatment.

3. Omega-3 fatty acids

Some types of fatty fish, such as tuna and albacore, contain omega-3 fatty acids. People who do not eat fish and want to boost their omega-3 levels can take them as supplements.

According to a 2009 analysis of 20 clinical trials, large doses of omega-3 fatty acids may improve mood and treat depression.

More findings from a 2015 report show that omega-3s may help with depression in both adults and children.

Researchers do not know how or why omega-3s work. They may reduce inflammation or reduce the effects of the stress-related hormone cortisol.

At high doses, omega-3s may cause a fishy aftertaste or an upset stomach. According to a 2013 clinical trial, they may also thin the blood. People with clotting disorders and blood thinners should carefully regulate how much omega-3 they consume.

4. Lavender

People anecdotally talk about the benefits of lavender, including its relaxing properties, and how it helps them get a good night’s sleep.

As many people with depression also experience anxiety and sleep issues, lavender could help them sleep without the side effects of sleeping pills.

According to a 2012 systematic review inhaling lavender aromas before sleeping, did help people get to sleep. However, the studies were small, and most had methodological issues, so researchers need to do more studies to support the findings.

However, a 2015 randomized controlled trial does provide more evidence that lavender may help with sleep. In that study, two groups practiced healthy sleep hygiene, with one group wearing a lavender aromatherapy patch. Both groups were sleeping better, but the results were stronger in the lavender group.

5. 5-HTP

5-hydroxytryptophan may change serotonin levels in the brain, much like some antidepressants. A small number of studies suggest it may ease symptoms of depression.

A 2016 study on mice suggests it might be a viable alternative for treatment-resistant depression.

However, there is not enough research on 5-HTP to conclude if it is an effective treatment for depression.

Some research suggests that 5-HTP may deplete certain neurotransmitters, potentially worsening a person’s mood over time. The longer a person uses 5-HTP, the risk of this happening will increase.

6. DHEA

5-Dehydroepiandrosterone is a steroid hormone that the adrenal glands produce. A very small number of studies suggest it may ease some mental health symptoms, including PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

However, DHEA causes many side effects. It may interact with a wide range of drugs, increase the risk of certain types of cancer, change blood sugar, affect menstruation and fertility, and cause bleeding. Other treatments are safer.

Researchers have not studied all antidepressants, including some herbal medicines. Some people take herbal supplements to relieve their depression or anxiety.

However, researchers remain unclear whether the relief they experience is a placebo effect or chemical changes in the brain. According to an article in Phytotherapy Research, some less well-studied natural antidepressants include:

These supplements are generally safe if a person takes a formula that meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements.

However, because scientists have not carried out much research, it remains unclear how well they work, their long-term side effects, and the extent to which they may interact with other drugs.

Any medication, even natural supplements, can cause side effects that range from inconvenient to life-threatening. Moreover, if a person delays seeking clinical treatment because they are trying natural remedies, their symptoms could worsen.

In addition to drug-specific side effects, a person may also experience:

  • worsening of depression symptoms
  • allergic reactions
  • interactions with other drugs

Depression is a treatable medical condition. While some natural depression remedies offer relief, a multi-faceted treatment approach works best. Therapy can be highly effective, even when a person gets some relief from supplements.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America indicate that a person should consider seeing a therapist or asking a doctor if:

  • they do not experience complete relief within a few weeks
  • depression is so severe that they cannot work, go to school, or get out of bed
  • experience thoughts of suicide
  • try antidepressants, and they do not work or cause severe side effects
  • they experience any side effects associated with natural antidepressants

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.

Click here for more links and local resources.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) state that depression is a complex medical condition with genetic, psychological, and sociological risk factors. Because of this, researchers have not identified a strategy of preventing depression that works in everyone.

Some strategies that may help reduce the risk of depression include:

  • Seeking early treatment: Speaking with a doctor about early treatment can prevent depression from getting worse.
  • Exercising: Exercise may help both prevent and treat depression.
  • Seeking social support: Friendships, support from loved ones, and regular social interaction may prevent depression.

Learn more about healthful diets that could alleviate and prevent symptoms of depression.

Depression is more than just feeling sad. It can affect a person’s health, relationships, and ability to think about or plan for the future.

The hopelessness that depression causes may also make a person think treatment will inevitably fail. However, in most situations, treatment does work; it just takes time and persistence.

Ask a doctor or mental health clinician about treatment options. If the first treatment is not successful, continue seeking help until symptoms improve.