Depression is a chronic illness that can affect your job performance, your relationship with family and friends, and your overall quality of life. Unfortunately, when people seek professional help for their depression, they are usually given prescription SSRI medications, like Prozac and Zoloft, that often have severe side effects.
Moreover, they are often stigmatized when others find out they are being treated for depression. Fortunately, there are several over the counter alternative treatments for depression. You will find a discussion of some of the most popular alternative depression treatments below.
Serotonin is one of the key neurotransmitters in regulating mood. Most people who are clinically depressed are low in serotonin levels in the brain. However, because of the protective blood-brain barrier, it is not possible to take serotonin orally, or even intravenously, and get it into the brain.
This is why serotonin supplements do not contain serotonin but rather a precursor to serotonin that can cross the blood-brain barrier. Once inside the brain, these precursors can then be converted to serotonin.
The best type of serotonin supplement to take is 5-HTP, known in the scientific world as 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan. Unlike other serotonin supplements like L-Tryptophan, 5-HTP crosses the blood-brain barrier with ease so the conversion to serotonin is nearly 100 percent.
5-HTP supplements are made from the seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia, a plant native to Africa. Beides depression, 5-HTP supplements can also significantly improve other conditions closely associated with depression including anxiety, binge eating, ADHD, insomnia, pain sensitivity, irritability, PMS, and poor concentration.
The most well-known herbal mood enhancer is Hypericum perforatum, more commonly known as St. John’s Wort. Used extensively since the time of the great Greek Empire, it is commonly prescribed by doctors across Europe, especially in Germany. It works by blocking the uptake of serotonin by nerve cells, thus leaving more serotonin available for the brain.
Even though it is an herbal supplement, St. John’s Wort should be considered a strong herbal supplement. It should not be taken with prescription drugs without checking with the doctor first as it is known to interact with prescription drugs. People who sunburn easily and/or have sun allergies should also exercise caution in using St. John’s Wart since it is known to cause individuals to become more sensitive to the sun.
SAM-e, also known as S-adenosyl-methionine, is another well known mood enhancer that can be bought over the counter in the United States. However, SAM-e is regulated as a prescription drug in other countries. SAM-e is a precursor to several brain chemicals involved in regulating mood including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
For best results with SAM-e, it should be taken with the B complex vitamins, especially B6, B12, and folic acid. B vitamins prevent SAM-e from being converted to homocysteine, an amino acid, and instead converted to mood enhancing brain chemicals.
Additional Supplements and Other Help
One of the best supplements one can take to combat depression is omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 comes in found in three distinct forms: EPA, DHA and ALA. The human body can directly utilize both EPA and DHA. However, ALA must be converted to EPA or DHA before it can be used.
Unfortunately, the conversion rate in a healthy young adult is only about 15 to 20 percent and much lower for older adults or individuals whose health is not superior. EPA and DHA are found in meat and seafood sources such as fish, shrimp, crab, and pasture raised beef. However, they are not found in vegetarian sources.
Although flax seed and walnuts are often promoted as rich sources of omega-3, they contain the ALA form, not DHA or EPA. The only known vegetarian source for EPA and DHA is Spirulina, a cyanobacteria (blue green algae) sold as a supplement in powder or pill form. The best omega-3 supplements for non-vegetarians are salmon oil and krill oil.
Sipping on herbal teas containing soothing herbs such as chamomile, kava kava, licorice, spearmint, peppermint, and catnip can also help smooth out the peaks and valleys of those suffering from depression. Some of these, such as kava kava, are also sold as oral supplements.
Alternative treatments for depression work well for the majority of people who experience mild to moderate depression. However, if you are experiencing more severe depression, have any thoughts of suicide, and/or you have any negative effects from the alternative treatments, it would be best to seek professional help immediately.