Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders have become an ever-increasing problem in our world. While we are still not entirely sure what causes these disorders and why some people get them and others do not, we have developed a multitude of treatments. Some treatments are pharmaceutically based, others focus on behavioral habits, and some require more extensive treatments such as exposure therapy or shock therapy. In recent years, researchers have begun looking into natural treatments that can stand alone or work together with other treatments to help improve mood in disorders such as depression.
1. Turmeric / Curcumin
Turmeric is a spice that has been used for thousands of years in a variety of forms. Its main component curcumin is purported to have a range of benefits including acting as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent. In recent years, research has been done that shows curcumin as having an antidepressant effect on animal models and in some clinical trials (Ramaholimihaso, Bouazzaoui, and Kaladjian, 2020). It is believed that turmeric’s antidepressant nature may be do to its anti-inflammatory nature as research suggests there may be a link between inflammation and depression. It is also purported that curcumin may play a role in increasing monoamines available within the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine (Ramaholimihaso et al, 2020).
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Around the world, most people get their omega-3 fatty acids from eating fish while others take fish oil supplements. There are two of these fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), that are purported to have benefits regarding mood disorders. While most research is done at different doses and with the two fatty acids separated, there does seem to be some benefit when used in tandem with other treatments, and to an extent when used alone. More research is needed to know the full benefits but overweight individuals with inflammation and depression may benefit from EPA treatment and DHA has the potential effect to protect against suicide (Mischoulon, 2020).
Saffron is another long-used spice with a component called crocin which acts as an antioxidant property. This component is purported to increase the effects produced by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which are a common treatment for depression (Siddiqui et al, 2018). While more studies are needed, saffron may help in depression management.
L-theanine is an amino acid that can be found within green tea, recent studies have begun to look into it as a treatment option or supplemental treatment for depression. One study found an improvement in psychiatric and cognitive functions in patients with Major Depressive Disorder who had been administered L-theanine (Hidese, Shinsuke, et al, 2016). While it is unsure how well it works as a stand-alone treatment, L-theanine may find use as a supplementary treatment for depression. Based on its chemical structure, L-theanine may find its place of work in the glutamatergic pathway which is often a target for therapeutic depression treatments (Hides, Shinsuke, et al, 2016).
5. St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is a native flowering shrub found in Europe that might be lesser known to most people. It is often found in teas but can be taken in a tablet or topical solution. While studies have shown it to be beneficial in treating mild to moderate depression, potentially as well as some prescription medications, it is unknown how it effects severe depression (St. John’s Wort, 2021). It is recommended that you talk to your doctor before taking St. Jon’s Wort as it interacts with many medications which can result in serious side effects.
Ashwagandha is native to Asia and Africa and is cultivated for its roots, leaves, fruits, and seeds as they can be used in a number of medicinal ways. The roots have been found in some research to have an effect similar to GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain, and has shown an antidepressant effect similar to imipramine as well as reducing anxiety (Stuart). It is recommended to talk to your doctor before starting ashwagandha while pregnant, as with any supplement.
Hidese, Shinsuke, et al. “Effects of Chronic L-Theanine Administration in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder: An Open-Label Study: Acta Neuropsychiatrica.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 11 July 2016, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/acta-neuropsychiatrica/article/effects-of-chronic-ltheanine-administration-in-patients-with-major-depressive-disorder-an-openlabel-study/0373674887BEA9598D911C7B274A3432.
Mischoulon, David. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Mood Disorders.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publishing, 27 Oct. 2020, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/omega-3-fatty-acids-for-mood-disorders-2018080314414.
Ramaholimihaso T, Bouazzaoui F, Kaladjian A. Curcumin in Depression: Potential Mechanisms of Action and Current Evidence-A Narrative Review. Front Psychiatry. 2020 Nov 27;11:572533. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.572533. PMID: 33329109; PMCID: PMC7728608.
Siddiqui MJ, Saleh MSM, Basharuddin SNBB, Zamri SHB, Mohd Najib MHB, Che Ibrahim MZB, Binti Mohd Noor NA, Binti Mazha HN, Mohd Hassan N, Khatib A. Saffron (Crocus sativus L.): As an Antidepressant. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2018 Oct-Dec;10(4):173-180. doi: 10.4103/JPBS.JPBS_83_18. PMID: 30568374; PMCID: PMC6266642.
“St. John’s Wort.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 13 Feb. 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-st-johns-wort/art-20362212.
Stuart, Armando G. “Herbal Safety.” UTEP, UTEP, https://www.utep.edu/herbal-safety/herbal-facts/herbal%20facts%20sheet/ashwagandha.html#:~:text=With%20regard%20to%20its%20antidepressant,treatment%20of%20depression%20and%20anxiety.