By Sayer Ji
Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
In the U.S., 21 million people, which represents 8.4% of U.S. adults, suffered from at least one major depressive episode in the past year.[i] This describes a period of at least two weeks, during which you experience a depressed mood, lose interest in daily activities or experience a combination of other symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, problems eating or diminished energy, concentration or feelings of self-worth.[ii]
Countless others experience feelings of sadness and melancholy regularly, which can also interfere with productivity, relationships and overall well-being. If you struggle with severe depression, you should seek professional help, as cognitive behavioral therapy is often effective.[iii] However, there are also a wealth of compounds in nature that have antidepressive activities.[iv]
At GreenMedInfo.com, you can browse through nearly 300 substances that have been researched as natural antidepressive agents. We’ve compiled some of the most intriguing here.
6 Natural Antidepressive Agents
When you need natural mood support, the following natural compounds may be beneficial.
This ancient spice — valued for its medicinal properties for more than 4,000 years — contains compounds known to alter neurobiological mechanisms, including modulating pathways related to neurotransmitters and affecting immune system regulation, inflammation, oxidative stress, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and neurotrophins,[v] which mediate neuronal survival and regeneration.
When compared with placebo, saffron works better for improving depressive symptoms in people with mild to moderate depression. It also worked as well as synthetic antidepressants, such that researchers writing in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease concluded, “[S]affron could be considered as an alternative to synthetic antidepressants in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.”[vi]
2. Green Tea
Catechins in green tea have been found to decrease depressive symptoms in animal studies, possibly by inhibiting monoamine oxidase,[vii] an enzyme that removes the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.[viii]
Green tea catechins may increase levels of noradrenaline and dopamine, helping to combat depression, while theanine, an amino acid in green tea, has anti-stress effects, further helping to reduce depressive symptoms. In a systematic review and meta-analysis, high green tea consumption was associated with a lower risk of depression symptoms.[ix]
3. Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender essential oil, which is extracted from the flowers and stalks of the lavender plant, contains more than 160 substances. In Germany, a proprietary lavender essential oil known as Silexan® is approved for the oral treatment of anxiety and, in patients with both anxiety and depressive symptoms, Silexan has exhibited antidepressant-like properties.[x]
Lavender aromatherapy also reduced symptoms of depression in a systematic review and meta-analysis,[xi] while researchers from Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences in Iran called aromatherapy with lavender essential oil “a complementary, simple, and inexpensive method to improve mild and moderate depression.”[xii]
4. Cocoa and Dark Chocolate
Consuming cocoa-rich products may improve mood in the short-term,[xiii] while eating dark chocolate is also associated with reduced odds of depressive symptoms.[xiv] In 2012, researchers found that eating 50 grams (about 1.76 ounces) of dark chocolate, containing 70% cocoa, for three days was associated with significant improvement in depressed mood.[xv]
Cocoa and dark chocolate are rich in polyphenols, which may affect behavior and mood due to their antidepressant-like properties, as well as their ability to attenuate oxidative stress and inflammation, which may play a role in the onset and progression of depression.[xvi]
5. Omega-3 Fats
Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), may effectively reduce symptoms of depression.[xvii] Moderate consumption of fish rich in omega-3 fats or omega-3 fats is also associated with a lower prevalence of depression.[xviii]
The anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3s are likely involved in their antidepressant-like actions, as up to 50% of people with depression have higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines that may be involved in HPA axis regulation, neurotransmitter metabolism or the makeup of gut microbiota.[xix]
Your gut microbiota and central nervous system communicate via the brain-gut-microbiome axis, and a number of studies support the notion that modifying your gut microbiome with beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, may improve your mood.
In a study of 10 patients with a current episode of major depressive disorder (MDD), supplementation with probiotics for eight weeks reduced depressive symptoms and anxiety while increasing overall mood and sleep quality.[xx] In another example, 40 people with MDD who took probiotics for 90 days had a reduction in clinical symptoms of depression along with an increase in sleep quality.[xxi]
In a 2021 study published in Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, researchers from Tabriz University of Medical Sciences in Iran concluded, “Probiotic and prebiotics might improve mental function via several mechanisms … Pro and prebiotics can improve mental health and psychological function and can be offered as new medicines for common mental disorders.”[xxii]
Remember, these are just six examples of the mood-boosting compounds found in nature. For more options, including therapeutic actions like yoga, acupuncture and mindfulness training, see GreenMedInfo.com’s full depression research database.
[i] National Institute of Mental Health, Major Depression https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression
[ii] National Institute of Mental Health, Major Depression https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression
[iv] Nutr Neurosci. 2017 Apr;20(3):180-194. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2015.1103461. Epub 2015 Nov 27. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26613119/
[v] Nutrition Reviews, Volume 77, Issue 8, August 2019, Pages 557-571, https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuz023 https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/77/8/557/5499264?login=false
[vi] J Nerv Ment Dis. 2020 Apr ;208(4):269-276. PMID: 32221179 www.greenmedinfo.com/article/saffron-could-be-considered-alternative-synthetic-antidepressants-treatment–0
[vii] Nutr Neurosci. 2017 Apr;20(3):180-194. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2015.1103461. Epub 2015 Nov 27. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26613119/
[viii] Mayo Clinic, Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/maois/art-20043992
[ix] J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2022 ;68(3):155-161. PMID: 35768246 https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jnsv/68/3/68_155/_pdf/-char/en
[x] Asian Nurs Res (Korean Soc Nurs Sci). 2021 Dec ;15(5):279-290. Epub 2021 Nov 12. PMID: 34775136 www.greenmedinfo.com/article/effects-lavender-anxiety-depression-and-physiological-parameters
[xi] Asian Nurs Res (Korean Soc Nurs Sci). 2021 Dec ;15(5):279-290. Epub 2021 Nov 12. PMID: 34775136 www.greenmedinfo.com/article/effects-lavender-anxiety-depression-and-physiological-parameters
[xii] Cent Asian J Glob Health. 2020; 9(1): e442. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9295849/
[xiii] Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2021 May 10;1-13. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2021.1920570. Online ahead of print. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33970709/
[xiv] Depress Anxiety. 2019 Oct;36(10):987-995. doi: 10.1002/da.22950. Epub 2019 Jul 29. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31356717/
[xv] Nutrients. 2020 Aug; 12(8): 2445. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7469043/
[xvi] Nutrients. 2020 Aug; 12(8): 2445. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7469043/
[xvii] Transl Psychiatry. 2019; 9: 190. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683166/
[xviii] Nutrients. 2018 Dec; 10(12): 2000. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6315981/
[xix] Nutrients. 2018 Dec; 10(12): 2000. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6315981/
[xxii] Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2020;21(7):555-565. doi: 10.2174/1389201021666200107113812. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31914909/
About the author:
Sayer Ji is the founder of Greenmedinfo.com, a reviewer at the International Journal of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, Co-founder and CEO of Systome Biomed, Vice Chairman of the Board of the National Health Federation, and Steering Committee Member of the Global Non-GMO Foundation.