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  • Writer's pictureMaureen

Natural Drug Alternatives - Depression

If prescriptions aren't feeling like the right fit at the moment, you may consider some of the following. Keep in mind that this is not medical advice, and any diet or lifestyle changes should be discussed with your physician:

Diet and lifestyle

  • Omega-3 fatty acids can be consumed through cold-water fish (salmon, sardines, and low-mercury tuna), almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds. Imbalance between Omega-3s and Omega-6’s (which are abundant in our American diets in thinks like vegetable oil, soy, red meat and dairy products) is associated with symptoms of depression.

  • Reduce simple sugars, as they may worsen depression. Artificial sugars may aggravate depression.

  • Eat regular meals to avoid blood sugar swings, which affect mood.

  • 3+ hours (per week) of routine exercise can profoundly reduce depression.

St. John’s Wort

  • Popular and effective for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Can improve mood, reduce anxiety and insomnia related to mild to severe major depression.

  • Constituents in this herbal extract increase levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.

Dosage: Take 900 to 1,200 mg daily of a product standardized to 0.3 hypericin or 5% hyperforin.


  • Do not combine with the drug digitalis or with pharmaceutical antidepressants or other medications that affect neurotransmitter levels.

  • It may make skin more sensitive to sunlight and therefore more susceptible to rash or burning. Not a common side effect.

  • May also cause stomach upset, fatigue, itching and sleep disturbance.

  • Should be avoided by those with bipolar disorder or those taking antiviral drugs to treat HIV.

  • Should not be combined with cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune, Sancya), fexofenadine (Allegra), oral contraceptives, theophylline or aminophylline, omeprazole (Prilosec) or warfarin (Coumadin). Should not be taken by those undergoing chemotherapy.

S-adenosylmethionine (“SAM-e”)

  • SAMe is a normal substance found in the body, including the brain. Makes biochemical reactions possible for the formation of mood-elevating neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Comparable to a tricyclic antidepressant for their treatment of depression.

  • Dosage: Most studies suggest 1,600 mg daily, though people have noted efficacy between 600 and 1,200 mg daily. Requires B12 and folic acid for proper metabolism. Can be taken as part of high-potency multivitamin or B complex formulation.

  • Safety:

  • It is very safe, even in high doses intravenously. Users rarely notice digestive upset such as loose stool, gas, or other digestive symptoms.

  • Should not be taken with pharmaceutical antidepressants or Parkinson’s medications unless a doctor instructs one to do so. Recommended not to be taken by those with bipolar disorder.

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)

  • Effective for mild to moderate depression.

  • Dosage: Take 150 to 300 mg daily in divided doses. Allow three weeks to achieve maximum result. 5-HTP should be taken on an empty stomach.

  • Safety: Should not be comebined with antidepressants or other seratnonin-enhancing medications. It may cause digestive upset and should be avoided for anyone with Down’s Syndrome.

Fish Oil

  • Fish oil has Omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for the prevention and treatment of depression. Can also be effective in the treatment of postpartum depression.

  • Dosage: Take 1 to 7 grams of combined EPA and DHA as found in fish oil.

  • Safety: Digestive upset such as burping, heartburn or loose stool may occur from fish oil supplements. This may be improved by taking them with meals or using a hard-coated fish oil capsule. It has a blood-thinning effect, so check with your doctor before using it if you are on a blood-thinning medications.

Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid

  • Deficiencies of these nutrients may cause symptoms of depression. Vegetarians and seniors are more prone to this.

  • Dosage: Follow recommended dosage on container.

  • No safety issues noted in the literature.

Reference: Prescription for Drugs Alternatives (2008). Balch, James F., Stengler, Mark, and Young Balch, Robin.

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