3 Supplements to Combat Depression Naturally

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Depression is more than the normal feelings of sadness or grief that we all deal with from time to time. Depression is the most common mental disorder in the United States. (Depression among adults) About 7% of the population in the United States has had at least one depressive episode, with depression affecting women twice as much as men.

A diagnosis of depression is made when symptoms persist for at least two weeks. Symptoms include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Decreased energy
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Aches, cramps, headaches, digestive problems without a clear cause
  • Thoughts of suicide

Depression most commonly presents in adulthood but has been on the rise in younger populations. From 2005-2015 depression rose significantly among Americans age 12 and older from 6.6% to 7.3% (Science Daily)

While depression can leave people feeling absolutely hopeless, it’s important to understand that even the severe cases can be treated. Treatment normally begins with medications. There are many medications on the market that act according to different mechanisms. The purpose of this article is not to break down the various medications or discuss the pros and cons, but to discuss some natural supplements on the market that have been shown to improve symptoms of depression.

There are 3 supplements I’m going to focus on, but there are more worth investigating further. The five supplements are:

  • Omega-3 Fish Oil
  • 5-HTP
  • L-Theanine

Omega-3 Fish Oil

The two main types of Omega-3 fatty acids are long-chain and short-chain. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These acids are present in high amounts in fish and shellfish. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is a short-chain omega-3 found in plants like flaxseed. To get the same health benefits as EPA and DHA you would have to consume a tremendous amount of ALA (WebMD).

People with depression may have lower levels of DHA and EPA than the average person. There are studies that suggest fish oil supplements may improve depression symptoms. One thought is that a reduction in inflammation resulting from omega-3 supplementation is what leads to improvement in depression symptoms (Omega 3)

The best source of omega-3 comes from fatty fish like salmon, sardines and tuna. Americans face two problems - the quality of the fish that makes it to the plate, even in high-end restaurants is often subpar (NY Times), and you need to eat A LOT of fish to get the health benefits of EPA and DHA. 

The best way for most people to get the appropriate amount of Omega-3 is through fish oil supplementation. The following video discusses some other benefits of taking fish oil.

5-HTP

This is one of my favorite supplements that few people know about. 5-HTP has been used for quite some time as an appetite suppressant, and for good reason, it’s very effective. 5-HTP is a chemical that the body naturally produces from the tryptophan we take in from our diet. After tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP, it is then converted into serotonin. Most of you are aware that serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with positive mood and sleep (UMM)

Studies indicate that 5-HTP may actually work as well as antidepressant drugs for patients with mild-moderate depression. 5-HTP increases the levels of serotonin in the brain. By doing so, it has a similar effect as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which limit reabsorption of serotonin. Patients who suffer from insomnia, fibromyalgia, and migraines have also shown improvement with 5-HTP.

L-Theanine

L-Theanine is a non-essential amino acid that can be extracted from green tea. In fact, the calming effects of L-theanine are thought to counteract the otherwise stimulant effect of the caffeine in green tea. L-Theanine leads to an increased production of GABA which leads to an increase in levels of dopamine in the brain. This change results in calm feeling. Unlike benzodiazepines which are taken for anxiety, L-theanine typically doesn’t cause drowsiness or impaired concentration (Psychology Today)

In a study published in 2008, EEG studies were performed on patients supplementing with L-theanine and compared with a control group that took a placebo. In the group that took L-theanine, there was an increase in alpha brain wave activity. The results of the study indicated that L-theanine has a signifycant effect on the mental alertness (Theanine)

For people who suffer from depression, it can often be a difficult and frustrating journey to find a solution. Often times people are further troubled by the side-effects of the medications they begin taking. The three supplements mentioned above have shown promise in the natural treatment of depression. If you’re interested in pursuing a more natural route, I would recommend discussing all your alternatives with your doctor. 

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