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What are some natural treatments for depression?

St. John's Wort, acupuncture, massage, yoga and biofeedback have gained popularity in recent years, as alternatives for treating depression.

Some scientific studies found that St. John's Wort proved to be effective for mild depression, but it was no more effective than a placebo when treating major depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

None of these treatments have been approved by the FDA for treatment of depression.

Antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, or combinations of the two represent the most common treatment for depressive illness. However, a variety of self-care approaches also can be used to help alleviate depression. These include:

  • acupuncture
  • exercise
  • light therapy or phototherapy
  • massage therapy
  • relaxation

Some of these self-care approaches may be used as an adjunct to pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatments, while others are used alone. Scientific evidence supports several nonpharmacological approaches for reduction of depressive symptoms, such as exercise (both aerobic and anaerobic), relaxation techniques and at least one herbal remedy. It is important to consult your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program. It also is important to inform your doctor about any nutritional supplements or herbs that you are taking so as to avoid harmful drug interactions.

In addition to therapy and medications, traditional or alternative healing methods and self-help techniques are used in many parts of the world to help reduce the symptoms of depression. Many of these methods are currently under study, and include:

  • Establishing regular exercise patterns. Exercise can affect the physiological factors that underlie depression, and can increase the levels of certain chemicals in the brain that can make you feel better. Research studies have found regular exercise at a dose level consistent with public health recommendations to be an effective treatment for people with mild to moderate depression.
  • Increasing exposure to light is a therapy often used for seasonal affective disorder, or what some call winter depression.
  • Nutritional supplements. Studies have shown that daily supplements of vital nutrients can reduce symptoms of depression. For example, supplements that contain amino acids are converted to neurotransmitters that alleviate depression and other mental disorders.
  • Relaxation exercises and meditation. Deep relaxation or meditation, a state of concentrated attention on some object of thought or awareness, can also be considered for some of the symptoms of depression, such as difficulty sleeping.
  • Acupuncture has been used for depression across many cultures. Research has not proven it to be an effective treatment alone. However, one recent study acknowledged that the research setting of the treatment, as compared to traditional settings, may influence these findings.

Researchers are studying many of these traditional and alternative methods for treating depression. Current studies indicate many may be useful, not alone, but in concert with more conventional treatments. Relying on these methods alone in treating depression is not recommended.

Dr. Peter Bongiorno, ND
Naturopathic Medicine Specialist

Watch as Naturopathic Doctor and Licensed Acupuncturist Dr. Peter Bongiorno suggests some natural treatments for depression.

Dr. Joseph M. Mercola, DO
Family Practitioner

Family Physician and Integrative Health Specialist Dr. Joe Mercola suggests some natural remedies for depression. Watch Dr. Mercola's video for tips on overall health and wellness.

There are many natural treatments for depression, including eating a well-balanced diet and cutting back on caffeine and alcohol.

Dr. Sudeepta Varma, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

Some natural treatments for depression include good sleep hygiene, exercise, social support, breathing/meditation and some herbal supplements. In this video, I will share my favorite natural solutions for depression.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.