Depression is a devastating and increasingly common illness, with 1 in 4 Americans suffering from major depression at some time in their lives. The use of antidepressants is at an all time high, yet many sufferers are not happy with the results. Antidepressants work for less than half of the people who try them and even when they do help, the side effects are often bad enough that people stop taking them. And even worse, they are extremely addictive.
Many studies have shown that natural treatments for depression can be as effective as or more effective than antidepressants, with far less side effects. But, with so many different natural treatments available, how do you know which ones to take? We discuss 10 of the best natural treatments for depression, including information on what type of depression each remedy is used for.
Amino Acids for Depression
Amino acids are some of nature’s most effective weapons against depression. They are found in protein foods and are used by the body to produce neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that allow your brain cells to communicate with each other. There are 3 main amino acids used to treat depression – 5-HTP, L-Tyrosine and DL-Phenylalanine. Don’t let the long, chemical sounding names fool you. Amino acids are natural components of the food we eat, just like vitamins and minerals.
5-HTP is an amino acid used by the body to produce serotonin, one of the brain’s most important “happiness chemicals”. Serotonin regulates mood, sleep and appetite. Low levels of serotonin are a common cause of depression.
Symptoms of serotonin deficiency include depression, anxiety, insomnia, repetitive negative thoughts, obsessive behavior, winter depression and cravings for sugar or carbohydrates. 5-HTP increases serotonin levels naturally by providing the body with more of the building blocks it needs for serotonin production.
L-tyrosine is an amino acid used by the body to produce dopamine, another important happiness chemical. Dopamine plays a major role in the reward centers of the brain and is involved in concentration and learning.
Dopamine deficiency depression is very different to serotonin deficiency depression. Common symptoms of low dopamine levels include depression, difficulty dragging yourself out of bed, feeling flat, dull and sluggish, poor motivation and brain fog. If your depression is caused by dopamine deficiency, l-tyrosine can be used to quickly boost your dopamine levels and restore your energy and zest for life.
DLPA is a combination of 2 different amino acids called D-phenylalanine and L-phenylalanine, both of which can increase endorphin levels in the brain. The endorphins are a group of chemicals responsible for our feelings of joy and pleasure.
People who are low in endorphins have a very teary kind of depression. They cry easily over the smallest of things, are very sensitive to emotional and physical pain, find it difficult to get over losses and tend to use reward foods for comfort and pleasure.
DLPA increases endorphin levels in 2 different ways. L-Phenylalanine is used by the body to produce endorphins, while D-Phenylalanine helps to stop an enzyme that destroys endorphins in the body. If your depression is due to endorphin deficiency, DLPA can be used to bring back your sense of joy and reduce your sensitivity to pain.
Herbal Remedies for Depression
Herbal remedies have been used for depression for thousands of years in many different cultures around the world. Three of the most commonly used herbal remedies for depression are St John’s Wort, Rhodiola and Mucuna.
St John’s Wort
St John’s Wort is the most well known and widely researched for depression. It is thought to work by increasing levels of three different brain chemicals involved in depression and anxiety – dopamine, serotonin and nor-adrenaline.
St John’s Wort is very effective for people who are low in both serotonin and dopamine. Some commonly reported effects include improvements in depression and anxiety, improved sleep, improved concentration and elimination of PMS symptoms.
Rhodiola is an Ayurvedic herb traditionally used for depression, anxiety and fatigue. It is thought to work by increasing levels of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins.
Probably the most commonly reported effect of Rhodiola is a major improvement in energy and motivation. It can be used for depression and anxiety, to improve concentration, to help with sleep and to reduce food cravings.
Mucuna is an Ayurvedic herb used in the treatment of depression, low libido and Parkinson’s disease. It contains l-dopa, a substance used by the brain to produce dopamine. Commonly reported effects include improvements in mood, energy, motivation and libido.
Mucuna can be used as an alternative to l-tyrosine for people who are low in dopamine.
Other Natural Treatments for Depression
Nearly 60 % of the brain is made from fat and omega 3 fats are particularly important for brain function. Many studies have shown a link between omega 3 deficiency and depression. With the average intake of omega 3 fats dropping by 80% in the last 75 years, most of us can benefit from increasing the omega 3 in our diets.
There are 3 main types of omega 3 fats, called EPA, DHA and ALA, but only EPA and DHA are involved in depression. The best source of these 2 vital fatty acids is oily fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines. If you don’t like to eat a lot of fish, fish oil capsules are a convenient way to increase your omega 3 levels.
SAM-e is a chemical found in every cell in our bodies, and is required for the conversion of amino acids to serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. If amino acids don’t work for you, you could be low in SAM-e and unable to use the amino acids. SAM-e supplements are widely used in Europe for depression.
The B vitamins assist in the production of serotonin, dopamine and the endorphins. A vitamin B tablet is often taken together with amino acids to improve their effect.
Vitamin B is one of the first vitamins to become depleted when we are under stress and vitamin B deficiencies are very common in people with depression.
Last but not least is the humble multivitamin. Deficiencies of many different vitamins and minerals can cause or contribute to depression. A good quality multivitamin can help cover your bases and build up the levels of any vitamins or minerals you are low in.
Natural treatments for depression can be extremely effective. The important thing when using natural remedies is to choose the correct remedy for your type of depression.