5 Natural Treatments for Depression

Plants are getting serious attention as the source of effective therapies for depression and may help to alleviate problems of anxiety, stress, agitation and sleeplessness that accompany low moods. 

Promising remedies for mood disorders:

St. John’s wort: 

Generally used for anxiety, mild to moderate depression, and seasonal affective disorder, St. John’s wort is an affordable antidepressant that some research suggests is as effective as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in treating mild to moderate clinical depression (5).  Most studies are short-term use of St. John’s wort (2).  Side effects, which are mild, include dizziness, headache, dry mouth, confusion and nausea.  Dosages range from 900 to 1,800 mg per day.  Caution:  St. John’s wort interacts with SSRI’s, anticoagulants, oral contraceptives and a number of other drugs (1, 5).  Just to be safe, do not take with ANY other medications.


This mild sedative is made from roots of the kava kava tree.  Studies show it can relieve clinical anxiety, stress, insomnia and restlessness without causing drug dependency, and it has been suggested as a viable alternative to tranquilizers and sleeping pills (3).  Side effects are generally mild, and include fatigue, impaired reflexes, headache, stomach problems and tremor.  Serious liver problems, although rare, have also been reported.  Kava—which interacts with alcohol, sedatives, barbiturates and benzodiazepines—should be used with care, particularly among those with liver disease.  Dosage is 60 to 300 mg per day.


This mild tranquilizer and sedative is made from the root of the valerian plant.  It helps relieve anxiety, sleep problems, and restlessness.  Side effects are mild, and include headaches and possible morning drowsiness.  Valerian’s effects are compounded when used with barbiturates, sleeping pills, tranquilizers or sedatives.  Take it 30 minutes before bedtime as a tea made of 1 tsp. dried root steeped in 1 cup boiling water, or as one 600 mg capsule containing 0.8% valerenic acid (4). 

S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe):  

A naturally occurring molecule present in all human cells.  People with depression have low levels of serum and cerebral spinal fluid SAMe, and supplementation raises levels of SAMe, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters in the brain.  SAMe is associated with a significant improvement in depression.  Although it's one of the more expensive supplements, it remains popular as a remedy for depression.  Typical daily dose are 800-1,600mg (2, 5).  Avoid if you suffer from bipolar.

Nutrition for Depression:  

The goal is to eat optimal amounts of essential nutrients while avoiding or minimizing intake of toxic substances. 

Here are some important Nutrition Tips:

--Promote stable blood sugar by eating foods with a low glycemic index such as proteins, complex carbohydrates, and other high fiber foods.

--Always eat breakfast and include protein to promote stable blood sugar throughout the day.

--Drink plenty of pure, filtered water.

--Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, beans & legumes, whole grains, and fish.

--If you eat dairy and meat, choose organic, locally raised products whenever possible.  

--Minimize the use of processed foods.

--Avoid sweetened beverages, processed foods, fatty foods, fried foods and junk food (6-9).

Before proceeding, caution is in order.  Botanicals are Drugs, too!

Many consumers view herbal supplements as “natural” and therefore harmless, but experts warn this is far from true.  Botanical remedies contain a variety of chemical ingredients that can cause unwanted side effects.  Just as with manufactured drugs, it is possible to overdose on herbal supplements.  They may also aggravate existing health problems or interact negatively with other drugs you are taking.  The long-term safety of many remedies is unknown and herbal supplements typically aren’t safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

More investigating needs to be done to learn who responds to botanicals, how effective and safe they are, and potential toxic reactions and interactions with other drugs.  For this reason, I do not recommend combining any botanicals or herbs with prescription anti-depressants! Use natural remedies at their recommended doses, and always talk to your health care provider before introducing a new supplement.

Bottom Line:

  If you haven't noticed, depression is hard to sort out.  Please do not try to on your own.  Talk to your health care provider about your interest in trying a natural remedy and start slowly.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RD

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods



1.  Rahimi R, Abdollahi M.  An update on the ability of St. John’s wort ot affect the metabolism of other drugs.  Expert Opin Drug Metab Toxicol.  2012 Jun;8(6):691-708.

2.  Nahas R.  Complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of major depressive disorder.  Canadian Family Physician.  2011 Jun;57(6):659-663.

3.  Lakhan S, Vieira K.  Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review.  Nutr J. 2010;9:42

4.  Donath F, et al.  Critical evaluation of the effect of valerian extract on sleep structure and sleep quality.  Pharmacopsychiatry.  2000 Mar;33(2):47-53. 

5.  Kemper K.  CAM Therapies to Promote Healthy Moods.  Pediatr Clin North Am.  2007 Dec: 54(6): 901-x. 

6.  Ludwig DS. Clinical update: the low-glycaemic-index diet. Lancet. 2007 Mar 17;369(9565):890–892. 

7.  Kleinman RE, Hall S, Green H, et al. Diet, breakfast, and academic performance in children. Ann Nutr Metab. 2002;46 (Suppl 1):24–30.   

8.  Fulkerson JA, Sherwood NE, Perry CL, Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M. Depressive symptoms and adolescent eating and health behaviors: a multifaceted view in a population-based sample.  Prev Med. 2004 Jun;38(6):865–875.  

9.  Allgower A, Wardle J, Steptoe A.  Depressive symptoms, social support, and personal health behaviors in young men and women. Health Psychol. 2001 May;20(3):223–227. 

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