Natural Remedies for Depression

woman feeling depressed

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According to the World Health Organization, approximately 280 million people experience depression. Although children and adults can both have depression, it is more common among adults. In the U.S., an estimated 1 in 6 U.S. adults will experience depression at some point in their lifetime.

Depression is defined as a feeling of sadness, anxiety, or hopelessness that impairs your mood and ability to function. Signs of depression include irritability, difficulty with sleep, pessimism, feelings of guilt, feelings of worthlessness, and feelings of helplessness. Sometimes depression isn’t sadness or anxiety but a feeling of emptiness. Depression can even cause aches or indigestion.

Like many other mental illnesses, depression is extraordinarily complex. Although everyone experiences the condition differently, there are some natural remedies that have been studied for their impact on depression. You may have to experiment—with your healthcare provider's guidance—to determine what works for you.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Causes of Depression

Depression is a medical condition with many different, more specific, diagnoses. Depending on the type of depressive disorder and the person experiencing it, depression can last differing amounts of time.

Although the specific causes of depression are not fully understood, there are some things that contribute to it. Here are some reasons why you may be experiencing depression:

Hormonal Disruptions

Hormones are responsible for many processes in the body, including your mood. The endocrine system in your body is responsible for the production, balancing, and transmission of hormones. Sometimes people have endocrine conditions, such as thyroid or adrenal disorders, which impair endocrine function.

Too much, or too little, of a hormone in the body, can affect your mood and other bodily functions. It is theorized that an excess of certain hormones could be a new diagnostic method for depressive disorders, though more research is needed.

Environment and Life Events

Environment sometimes plays a role in the development of depression. For instance, your interactions with the people around you, a lack of food or water, or even an intense work schedule can all have an impact on mood. Isolation or lack of support can also cause depression.

How you experience the world around you is unique and any environmental factor could lead to depression, depending on how it affects you, personally.

Life events also can impact your mood. Whether you move to a new city, end a long-term relationship, or experience the death of a loved one, events can lead to depressive symptoms. Other life events that can contribute to depression are being in an accident, losing a job, and receiving the diagnosis of an illness.

Additionally, a medical condition can be very taxing on the mind. Most medical conditions impair function in some way, which can lead to frustration or sadness. Feeling this way a majority of the time can develop into a depressive disorder. People often develop depression after being diagnosed with severe medical conditions, such as cancer or Parkinson’s disease.

Keep in mind that life events do not have to be significant or traumatic to cause depression. Any significant change—including positive changes—can lead to depressive symptoms.

Genetics

If one of your close family members is diagnosed with depression, you are more likely to be diagnosed with depression—genetics is a known factor for depression.


Those predisposed to depression may try to find a logical reason for their depression, but there is not always one specific reason.

There are many factors for depression. Rather than trying to find its source, it is most important to seek help when you need it.

Season

The time of year also can significantly affect your mood. For example, many people experience depression during the short, dark, and cold days of winter. This is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD generally lifts during the spring and summer seasons, and even though SAD is called a disorder, it is still a type of depression.

Roughly 5% of adults are affected by SAD. Studies show SAD typically begins around early adulthood and increases with age. Additionally, women are more likely to experience SAD than men.

Medical experts have not identified the exact cause of the disorder, but many suspect the decrease in sunlight during the colder seasons negatively impacts your body’s circadian rhythm. When your body’s circadian rhythm is thrown off course, feelings of depression can arise because your serotonin and melatonin levels are affected.

Signs of Depression

Depression can appear in more forms than many realize. It is essential to recognize the symptoms of depression and talk to a healthcare provider right away regarding the challenges you are experiencing. Here are some potential signs and symptoms of depression:

  • Feeling persistently sad or anxious 
  • Having an empty feeling
  • Experiencing hopelessness or pessimism
  • Struggling with irritability
  • Having feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Lacking interest in activities or hobbies you once enjoyed
  • Having little to no energy of feeling fatigued
  • Moving slowly or having slower speech
  • Experiencing restlessness or having trouble sitting still
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Struggling with self-esteem or not feeling valuable 
  • Experiencing disruptions in sleep like insomnia, early morning waking, or oversleeping
  • Noticing changes in appetite or weight
  • Having thoughts of death or suicide
  • Experiencing physical pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive issues


Natural Remedies for Depression

In some cases, natural remedies can work alongside your treatment plan. But you should always talk to a healthcare provider before trying anything new.

For instance, some supplements can negatively interact with your medications, specifically, if you are taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, or Lexapro. These drugs, when combined with supplements, can sometimes lead to a condition known as serotonin syndrome, which is potentially life-threatening.

Overall, natural remedies should complement your current treatment plan and help make your everyday life better. Here are some natural remedies for depression you may want to consider after discussing them a healthcare provider.

Make Dietary Changes

Incorporating fresh, whole foods and limiting processed, fried, or high-sugar foods have been shown to combat depression. For instance, a study found an improved diet helped reduce symptoms of depression. In particular, 30% of the participants experienced remission of their symptoms with a change in their eating plan.

Generally, a balanced diet consists of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and healthy oils. By eating nutrient-dense foods consistently, your body will receive many important vitamins and minerals including vitamin B, C, and D as well zinc and magnesium. These vitamins and minerals are critical as deficiencies in them have been linked to depression.

Limit Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol intake is known to cause or worsen depression symptoms. They are not always correlated, but if you are already depressed, you may want to experiment with limiting your intake.

Additionally, there are links between being depressed and drinking alcohol. Likewise, choosing to drink alcohol also can lead to depression. Similarly, high caffeine intake is correlated with the development of depression symptoms.

This means that, while people who are depressed are more likely to drink caffeine or alcohol, people who are not depressed who drink excessively may also develop depression. 

Increase Your Vitamin D

According to functional psychiatrist James Greenblatt, MD, measuring nutrient levels and treating deficiencies is often key to resolving symptoms. For example, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to depression.

Studies have found that vitamin D supplements can lessen depressive symptoms.

One natural source of vitamin D is the sun, though you can also get it through foods, too. You can find vitamin D in foods like beef liver, egg yolk, salmon, sardines, Swiss cheese, swordfish, and tuna. You also can try fortified foods like cereal, margarine, milk, plant-based milks, orange juice, and yogurt.

A vitamin D supplement is another option. But you should discuss the proper dosage with your healthcare provider. Often, a doctor can look at bloodwork to determine how much vitamin D you need. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it builds up in your system—getting too much can be toxic.

Use a Supplement

Omega-3 fatty acids support the cardiovascular system, fight against inflammation, and are critical to proper brain functioning. Specifically, the introduction of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are beneficial to those with depression. Researchers suggest those suffering from depression may lack these acids.

Harvard Health examined more than 30 clinical trials involving omega-3s and found participants showed improvement in symptoms after introducing omega-3s.

However, it is unclear which exact doses, ratios, and other factors will properly treat depression, so more studies need to be conducted to fully appreciate the power of these fatty acids.

Another potential supplement is S-adenosyl-L-methionine, also known as SAM-e, which is found naturally in the body and has many benefits, including producing hormones, regulating hormones, and maintaining cell membranes.

According to researchers, SAM-e has the potential to activate the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Even so, the substance should not be used in conjunction with antidepressants as harmful side effects can occur.

Another potential option is St. John’s Wort, a plant sold in the U.S. as a dietary supplement that can potentially help lessen depressive symptoms. It is often an option for those who do not want to take conventional medicine. However, you should always talk to a healthcare provider before trying this supplement.

St. John’s Wort is known to mix badly with some antidepressant medications—the combination can can be life-threatening. Similarly, the increase in serotonin can be dangerous if you take anything else that further increases your serotonin.

Experiment With Light Therapy

Bright Light Therapy (BLT) is a treatment often used for people with SAD, but people suffering from other types of depression have found it useful as well. This particular type of therapy consists of sitting near or working near a lightbox, whether you are at home or in the office.

Researchers theorize that by indirectly exposing your eyes to the light emitted from the lightbox, you will not only experience improved energy levels but also find relief from depression symptoms. The key to using this type of therapy is to use it consistently.

Talk to a mental health professional experienced in using light therapy to determine the appropriate light intensity, session lengths, and schedule needed to meet your needs. 

Try Meditation and Journaling

Using meditation and journaling as a way to focus, release your emotions, or analyze your thoughts can be very therapeutic. You also can use these tools to redirect your thoughts toward something positive. Some people find that writing down at least one thing they are thankful for each day is helpful in reframing their thinking.

Caroline Leaf, PhD

By becoming a 'thought detective,' we can learn to tune into these signals through embracing and processing them, down to the origin or root cause(s).

— Caroline Leaf, PhD

“Our behaviors, our bodily reactions, and our perspectives or worldview of life [can cause depression]," says Caroline Leaf, PhD, a neuroscientist, best-selling author, and mental health expert. "By becoming a ‘thought detective,’ we can learn to tune into these signals through embracing and processing them, down to the origin or root cause(s)."

Dr. Leaf believes that by processing your thoughts, you may redirect them toward something more positive. Or at the very least, you can come to understand yourself better. 

Exercise Consistently

Exercise is one of the best ways to combat depression. In fact, Melissa Shepard, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, recommends exercise to treat depression. Dr. Shepard suggests doing “anything that you enjoy that will get your heart rate up.”

This could be walking, swimming, bicycling, jogging, playing beat saber in VR, or even playing with your pet. Getting up and getting exercise should help you feel better. Studies have concluded that exercise is effective enough that it can even become a primary form of treatment for depression in some cases.

Participate in Therapy

Depression is not cured simply by taking medication. Often these medications help relieve the symptoms so that you can discover the causes of your depression, learn coping strategies, and change behaviors.

Jesse Hanson, PhD

Often, through therapy and personal development, we can understand and recognize the depressed feelings.

— Jesse Hanson, PhD

Jesse Hanson, PhD, a psychotherapist, and advisor at Rehab.com, indicates that therapy allows you to look internally at your mental health. You can use therapy to not only recognize emotions but also discover how these emotions impact your mood.

"Often, through therapy and personal development, we can understand and recognize the depressed feelings," Dr. Hanson says.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

If your symptoms are interfering with your daily life, your relationships, your work, or your schooling, contact a healthcare provider. A medical or mental health professional can evaluate your symptoms and recommend a treatment plan.

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, seek help immediately by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. With proper treatment, you will soon begin to feel better. Remember, there is no shame in acknowledging you need help. It shows a great deal of courage and strength to reach out for assistance.

A Word From Verywell

Natural remedies can lessen the everyday symptoms of depression, but they should never be used in place of a medical diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to a healthcare provider about the best treatment for you.

If you want to try any natural remedies, talk to a healthcare provider beforehand to ensure that they are right for you, especially regarding any supplements you are considering. Supplements can interfere with certain medications. A medical professional can help you choose the right options for you, as well as manage doses of medications and supplements.

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16 Sources
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