Our mental health is something that many of us easily take for granted. When things are going well, we don’t even think about it. But about 10% of us will struggle with major depression at some point in our lives (1). In addition, situational depression based on life events (the loss of a job or loved one, etc.) is common. Many people are reluctant to try prescribed medications due to stigma, side effects or cost. Some feel they do not need to be on medication long term—that they can just tough it out.
A certain amount of low mood is to be expected as we engage with life’s stressors. It is not about trying to avoid the human experience. The issue is when our depressed mood begins to affect our functioning. Making it difficult to work, interact with our children, enjoy intimacy with our partner or even wake up in the morning.
There is more and more research pointing to natural remedies to help deal with mild to moderate depression. This may be an effective option for those wanting to try something natural before attempting a prescribed medication or for those who are wanting to transition from an anti-depressant to something more natural. However, please be aware that if you are experiencing moderate to severe depression, that you should see an MD for a complete medical evaluation.
Omega-3 Fish Oil
Turns out fish oil isn’t only good for cardiovascular health. Research in the 1990’s began to point to the importance of fish oil in brain function. Studies have shown that many people with depression have low levels of omega-3s. Omega-3s work to stabilize the walls of the nerve cells. Taking a good omega-3 fish oil supplement makes more sense than trying to eat six 32 ounce cans of tuna, which is the quantity it would take in food to stabilize mood (2).
Studies have suggested that deficient folic acid levels are a risk factor for depression. Folic acid affects the production of neurotransmitters, which send messages to the brain. In addition, when folate levels are low it can negatively affect the absorption of prescribed anti-depressants, rendering them less effective (3).
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is actually a noxious weed that herbalists realized had medicinal properties all the way back to the 1500’s. Science has now shown that it can be an effective option for some mild to moderate depression—even as effective as some SSRIs but with fewer side effects (4).
There is a relatively high incidence of depression in older adults—about 13%. Researchers found that vitamin D levels were 14% lower in subjects over the age of 65 with major and minor depression, compared to non-depressed individuals. Likewise, parathyroid hormone levels were significantly higher in people with minor and major depression, compared to individuals without mood issues. Given the prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency, supplementation may make a big difference (5).
The B-complex vitamins folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 lower homocysteine levels. One reason that this is important is that research shows high homocysteine levels (as well as low folic acid and B12 levels) can be related to depression, particularly in elderly people. Taking a B-complex supplement can provide a good level of these nutrients (6, 7).
Overall Mood Supplements
Taking a supplement that incorporates several of the above mentioned substances might be the best well-rounded option. Fish oil and other amino acids may help to address several deficiencies at once.
Dr. Kat Van Kirk is currently serving as an expert consultant to Twinlab, and recommends looking for trusted products and brands such as Twinlab nutritional supplements and Alvita single-herb teas where you can find many of these recommendations. She is a clinical sexologist/marriage and family therapist, yoga therapist, author and media host. You can find out more about Dr. Kat by visiting www.drkat.com.
*Dr. Kat is not a medical physician. Please consult your doctor before you begin any new health regimen.
1. Andrade L, Caraveo-A. Epidemiology of major depressive episodes: Results from the International Consortium of Psychiatric Epidemiology (ICPE) Surveys . Int J Methods Psychiatr Res. 2003;12(1):3–21. doi:10.1002/mpr.138. PMID 12830306
5. Hoogendijk WJG, Lips P, Dik MG, Deeg DJH, Beekman ATF, Penninx BWJH. Depression Is Associated With Decreased 25-Hydroxyvitamin D and Increased Parathyroid Hormone Levels in Older Adults. Archives of General Psychiatry 2008; 65(5):495.
6. Bailey, L. B. Do low doses of folic acid result in maximum lowering of homocysteine? Am.J Clin.Nutr 2005;82(4):717-718.
7. Tiemeier H, van Tuijl HR, Hofman A, et al. Vitamin B12, Folate, and Homocysteine in Depression: The Rotterdam Study. Am J Psychiatry 2002;159:2099–2101.
Posted November 11, 2014