Natural Alternatives for Treating Depression: Part One

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Preface and Personal Disclaimer:

No, I won't be demonizing the pharmaceutical industry.   No, I am not a dupe of the antidepressant manufacturers.   No, I won't be telling someone that they are wrong to choose prescription antidepressants nor will I tell someone they are wrong for taking no medications at all.   No, I am not on your "side" to denounce antidepressants just because I choose to use supplements to help me with my depression.

I think that what sometimes happens on health sites is that an individual is pegged for believing certain things based upon the choices they currently make.   Right now I am choosing to take SAM-e to treat my depression.   Although this is considered to be a more "natural" treatment this does not mean that I do not recognize and value how prescription antidepressants are helping many sufferers of depression to survive.

I am not anti-meds.   My teen-age son is taking Prozac and I have witnessed firsthand how this particular medication has changed his life for the better.   I have friends who probably would not be here today if it were not for their taking an antidepressant.   I had also worked in the field of mental health for many years and I saw how medications can work for some individuals in order to overcome obstacles that they could not have otherwise.

I am making this point because whether we are treating a mood disorder or a physical illness, these types of all or nothing arguments come up frequently when we discuss health care.   I have made my choices regarding the treatment of my depression.     But this does not mean that I will ever repudiate another's choice just to validate my own.

As a writer here I strongly wish to maintain a sense of integrity and fairness.    Depression is a very complex thing.   There are no right or wrong answers.   There are just a multitude of choices.   I will try to give you information so that you can make your own choices regarding your treatment.   Remember that this is your life and you call the shots.   Don't let anyone tell you differently.

And now back to your regularly scheduled program...

There are many choices regarding natural supplements to help treat depression.   The choices can seem overwhelming.   You might hear about some natural remedies to treat depression from friends or from health forums on the internet.   You might also read scientific studies where the efficacy of certain supplements has been tested.   You may also be besieged with advertising where a natural product is being touted as the newest cure for depression as well as other ailments.  A person can get lost in this mess.   Wouldn't it just be easier for someone to tell you what to take?   In some cases yes.   But I feel that as a consumer of your mental health care and treatment, it is a good practice to do your own research of possible treatments.

In this introductory post I am going to tell you some of the precautions to think about before thinking about taking natural supplements to treat your depression.   And at the end of this post I am going to list some of those herbs and supplements which have been reported to help with mood disorders.   I will then ask for your feedback as to which ones you would like me to research and provide information about in subsequent posts.

I do think that the medical community is changing in that it is more accepting of the use of supplements and complementary alternative medicine.   Folate is an example of a supplement which is now being given to depression sufferers as something which will boost the effectiveness of their antidepressant.   Health Central's Doctor Chris Ballas discusses the use of folate here.

In many ways the medical world finally acknowledges that some alternative treatments have their place right alongside prescription drugs.   It is no longer an either/or scenario where patients must choose between natural methods and chemical ones.   And I believe that this is to our benefit.

Precautions when taking natural supplements to treat depression:

I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that there are some reasons to proceed with caution when choosing alternative treatments for depression.   Here are some things to think about.

  • Just because it is natural doesn't mean there won't be any side effects. And one of the problems with the natural supplements is that you do not get a list on the bottle of any possible side effects primarily because they may be unknown.

  • Most natural supplements are not FDA approved and this means that sometimes fillers are used which may be useless or even harmful additives. Unlike prescription medications that go through a rigorous safety and effectiveness evaluation, herbal remedies and supplements have no such evaluation. The safety and effectiveness is left up to the manufacturer.

  • Due to the lack of scientific studies on many of these supplements, the possibility of drug interactions may be unknown. If you are taking multiple prescription drugs as well as supplements you may be brewing a dangerous cocktail of substances without knowing.

  • The lack of regulations for supplements also might mean that the herbal product does not contain enough of the active ingredient to make it effective.

  • Natural supplements may not be strong enough to help with an entrenched depression and you could be losing valuable time when you could be taking something more effective for you.

  • If you have Bipolar Disorder some supplements designed to help with depression could kick a person with Bipolar Disorder into mania.

How to protect yourself when going through the process of choosing a natural supplement:

  • Always tell your doctor about any herbal or vitamin supplements you take. Your doctor will be best to advise you on possible dangers or interactions between your supplements and any prescribed medicine you are taking. There are also a good many websites such as this one  to tell you about the possible interactions of certain supplements and medications.

  • Purchase products from reputable companies. Stay clear of companies who promote cures and have too good to be true advertising on-line. I try to buy my supplements from my local health food store where I can talk to people there about the products they sell.

  • Research the efficacy of your supplement by finding reputable studies written up in scientific journals. Beware of any "studies" reported by the people selling the product. If you need help with this, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has a clearinghouse where they will search through Federal databases of scientific and medical literature about your supplement or treatment. Their toll free number is:   1-888-644-6226

  • And of course there is always the trusty and reliable Quackwatch web site to look for fraudulent claims when it comes to Complimentary and Alternative Medicine.

Last but not least I am going to give you a list of supplements which have been reported to help in the treatment of depression.   I will ask you to tell me which ones you most want to hear about in future posts and informational articles.   This will better guide us as to what our members most want to hear about.  Would you like me to write about:

SAM-e, 5-HTP, St. John's Wort, B Vitamins, Fish oil, Tryptophan, or Rhodiola   Rosea?   If you have any other natural supplements you wish to add or for us to discuss just please let us know here.

Please feel free to share your stories and experiences using natural methods to help your depression.   At Health Central we welcome a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives.   We just always ask you to be polite in the expression of your views.   As I have stated early on in my post, it never validates your own convictions to demonize someone else's choices or experiences.   I believe we are all here on the planet to help each other regardless of our personal choices.   Help someone today by sharing your experience here with us.