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Natural Remedies for Depression

Kristin Hall, FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 9/22/2021

It’s completely normal to occasionally feel anxious or sad. However, if you’re constantly affected by these emotions, you may have a mood disorder or a form of depression. 

Anxiety and depression are both common mental health problems.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 264 million people worldwide are affected by depression.

Similarly, approximately 16.1 million American adults are affected by major depressive disorder (MDD, or major depression) every year.

For most people, the most effective treatments for symptoms of depression are medications such as antidepressants and options such as psychotherapy.

Natural remedies, including herbal products, supplements, and lifestyle changes may also make depression less severe, especially when combined with science-based treatments.

Below, we’ve shared the best natural and home remedies for depression, from herbal products to supplements, stress management techniques, habits and more.

For each option, you’ll find the latest research that explains how it may help make depression easier to control and live with. 

Herbs and Supplements for Depression

Over the years, herbal remedies and supplements have been studied as natural options for treating depression without medication. 

And while these products shouldn’t be viewed as replacements for medication or therapy, research has found that many offer benefits for your mood, feelings and thoughts.

Make sure to consult with a  healthcare provider before using any of these products, especially if you’re already taking prescription medication for anxiety or depression.

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s wort, or Hypericum perforatum, is an herbal supplement often used as a natural treatment for depression. 

Research shows that St. John’s wort can be effective for people with depression. For example, a systematic review of 35 studies published in 2016 concluded that St. John’s wort was roughly as effective as medication in treating mild to moderate depression.

However, other research into St. John’s wort — particularly for severe depression — has produced mixed results.

Because St. John’s wort affects the levels of certain neurotransmitters in your brain and body, it can interact with some other medications — including many common antidepressants.

Some of these interactions may be life-threatening, making it important to talk to your healthcare provider before using this supplement.

Saffron

Saffron is a spice that’s produced from the flowers of the Crocus sativus plant. It’s a well-known cooking ingredient that also has a long history as a natural treatment for various ailments.

Although there are only a few studies on saffron’s mental effects,  research published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences has found that it may reduce the severity of symptoms in people with depression.

Experts also believe that saffron extract may inhibit serotonin reuptake — a similar effect to that of modern antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Interestingly, a 2013 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine found that saffron supplements provided similar benefits to several prescription antidepressants in controlled trials.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that research on saffron is limited and that the supplement should not be viewed as a replacement for depression medication. 

Creatine

Creatine is a supplement best known for its effects on strength, muscle mass and sports performance. 

Interestingly, studies show it may also be a good natural remedy for major depressive disorder, or MDD.

Research published in Experimental Gerontologyshows that creatine may have a positive effect on aspects of brain function, including short-term memory and intelligence. 

Creatine may produce an antidepressant effect in people with depressive disorders, according to a study published in the Biomolecules journal.

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Zinc

Zinc is one of several essential minerals your body needs in order to function optimally. 

It’s found in many common foods and plays a key role in cellular metabolism, protein synthesis, healing and other essential body processes, such as immune system function.

Research, such as the study published in MDPI, has found that zinc deficiency may be linked with depression in both animals and humans.

Other research has found that zinc supplementation may offer benefits as a treatment for some mental health conditions, including depression. 

For example, a review published in the Journal of Affective Disorders concluded that zinc may offer benefits as a standalone treatment for depression, or as an adjunct to medications such as antidepressants. However further research is required. 

Magnesium

Another essential mineral, magnesium plays a role in nerve and muscle function, protein synthesis, blood sugar regulation and other vital functions within your body.

In fact, the benefits may be even more far-reaching. Research published in Pharmacological Reports shows that magnesium deficiency has several negative effects on health, including a link with different types of depression.

Other research published by the University of Adelaide Press has found that magnesium supplementation appears to improve mood in those suffering from depression. 

As with other dietary supplements, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before you use magnesium to treat depression or any other mental health condition.  

Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola rosea is a plant native to the Arctic regions of Europe, North America and Asia that’s long been used in natural and alternative medicine.

Although there isn’t a large amount of research on the mental effects of Rhodiola rosea, one study published in the journal Phytomedicine found that Rhodiola rosea produced a small antidepressant effect in people with mild to moderate major depressive disorder.

While these studies are certainly interesting, it’s important to note that they were small in scale and generally conducted over short periods of time. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s largely produced within your body when ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight come into contact with your skin.

As one of several essential vitamins, vitamin D plays a key role in bone growth, cell growth and other important processes such as managing immune function and inflammation.

According to research published in Issues in Mental Health Nursing, many people at risk of vitamin D deficiency also have an elevated risk of developing depression.

One study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging concluded that vitamin D may be helpful as a treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects some people during specific seasons, such as winter.

However, studies of vitamin D’s effects on depression are mixed, with the scientific evidence not yet strong enough for experts to recommend it as a natural treatment for depression.

S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe)

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is a naturally occurring chemical used within your body to create energy. It’s available as a dietary supplement — usually in tablet form. 

While research is mixed on the B benefits of SAMe, some studies have noted that it shows “encouraging and generally positive results” as a natural treatment for depression when used on its own or in combination with antidepressants.

Other research has revealed that the quality of evidence for SAMe as a remedy for depression is low, meaning it’s hard to currently draw firm conclusions on its efficacy.

Essential Oils

From topical use to aromatherapy to consumption via herbal teas, some essential oils have a calming effect, acting as a treatment you can purchase over the counter. Look for the following essential oils:

  • lavender

  • valerian

  • jasmine

  • chamomile or chamomile tea

  • bergamot

  • holy or sweet basil 

  • rose 

  • lemon balm

  • geranium 

Ashwagandha 

Ashwagandha, native to areas in India, Africa and the Middle East, may help to treat depression and reduce stress hormones. In a limited study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, ashwagandha was found to reduce symptoms of severe depression in nearly 80% of participants taking the herb.

Because the effectiveness is not thoroughly studied and there may be minimal side effects of this plant, it is important to consult a healthcare provider before trying ashwagandha as a natural remedy for depression.

Mood-Boosting Habits and Lifestyle Changes

In addition to herbal remedies and dietary supplements, many habits and lifestyle changes can help reduce the severity of depression. 

If you’re prescribed medication or take part in therapy for a mental health issue, making certain changes to your lifestyle may improve your results and help you make faster progress toward healing.

Try the following techniques, habits and lifestyle changes to gain control over depression. 

Healthy Eating

Research has shown that eating a balanced diet may help lower your risk of being affected by depression. 

In a meta-analysis published in Psychiatry Research, a team of scientists found a clear association between a diet characterized by fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish and low-fat dairy and a decreased risk of depression. 

The researchers also found that diets characterized by a high intake of processed meat, potatoes, high-fat dairy, refined grains and sugar-rich foods were linked with an increased risk of depression.

Other research has found that omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds and some plant oils, may help to treat depression and have positive effects on blood pressure.

If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, making changes to your diet may help you improve your mood, feelings, outlook and general mental health. 

Eating a healthy diet also has countless other benefits, from a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes to more durable bones, stronger muscles and a better-functioning immune system.

Regular Exercise

Physical activity is one of the most effective all-natural treatments for depression, with several studies showing it can produce real, sustained health benefits and improvements in mood and outlook.

In a review published in 2004, researchers looked at a large variety of studies on the effects of physical exercise in people with depression. 

They concluded that regular exercise has proven, well-established benefits as a way to decrease the severity of depression symptoms.

Although researchers aren’t yet fully aware of how exercise treats depression, many think that the improvement in mood caused by exercise is related to the release of molecules referred to as neurotrophic factors, which aid in the growth of nerve cells. 

Experts suggest starting small when it comes to exercise — for example, with a 10 to 15-minute jog, bike ride or another moderately intense cardio session — is a good way to begin.

Over time, you might find yourself working out more often or for longer periods of time as your mental and physical health improves.

Stress Management

Stress and mental health issues such as depression tend to go hand in hand, with research published in Zdravstveno Varstvo finding a clear link between these issues in students.

If you’re feeling stressed, taking steps to stay in control of your stress may also assist in the treatment of depression. 

Simple things such as writing down stressful thoughts, meditating, practicing mindfulness and deep breathing can all help to relieve stress. 

If you have chronic, ongoing stress due to a problem in your personal or professional life, you may also want to make changes to limit your stress exposure.

Plenty of Sleep

Insomnia, a sleep disorder that involves difficulty with falling or staying asleep is a common issue for people with depression. 

This issue can turn into a vicious cycle, as Oxford Academic research has found that chronic lack of sleep is likely a risk factor for depression.

If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, one thing that may ease your symptoms is maintaining a regular bedtime and making sure that you get sufficient sleep.

The CDC recommends that adults between 18 and 60 years of age get at least seven hours of sleep per night. 

If you find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep during the night due to depressive symptoms, it’s best to seek medical advice from your healthcare provider. 

They may suggest making changes to your habits or prescribe medication to help you maintain a normal sleep schedule.

Combined with a healthy diet, regular exercise and stress management, healthy sleep can have a noticeable positive impact on your feelings, thoughts, physical health and overall wellness.

Friends and Family

It’s easy to spend time by yourself when you’re feeling anxious or depressed. However, one of the best things you can do to relieve your symptoms and make progress toward healing is to spend more time around people you trust and care about.

If you’ve spent a lot of time alone recently, try to schedule some time with family members and friends.

Simple things such as going on a walk or eating dinner with family can have a positive impact on your mood, feelings and general well-being.

If you can’t spend time with friends or family in person, options like online support groups allow you to spend time with people who have concerns similar to yours from the comfort of your living room.

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Embracing Holistic Treatment for Depression

Depression is a common mental health issue that affects tens of millions of people of all ages and backgrounds every year. 

And while natural remedies can help alleviate the symptoms of depression, it’s best to talk to an expert about your treatment options.

You can do this by contacting your primary care provider, reaching out to a mental healthcare professional locally or making use of mental health such as online counseling and online psychiatry

You can also find out more about FDA-approved medications for depression in this guide to science-based antidepressants

The bottom line is that help is available and healing is possible — and you have plenty of options to find what can work best for you.

23 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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