Make sure you understand the risks as well as possible benefits if you pursue alternative or complementary therapy. Don't replace conventional medical treatment or psychotherapy with alternative medicine. When it comes to depression, alternative treatments aren't a substitute for professional care.
Herbal remedies and supplements
Examples of herbal remedies and supplements that are sometimes used for depression include:
- St. John's wort. This herb is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat depression in the United States, but it's a popular depression treatment in Europe. It may be helpful if you have mild or moderate depression, but St. John's wort should be used with caution. It can interfere with a number of medications, including antidepressants, HIV/AIDS medications, drugs to prevent organ rejection after an organ transplant, birth control pills, blood-thinning medications and chemotherapy drugs.
- SAMe. Pronounced "sam-EE," this dietary supplement is a synthetic form of a chemical that occurs naturally in the body. The name is short for S-adenosylmethionine (uh-den-o-sul-muh-THIE-o-neen). Like St. John's wort, SAMe isn't approved by the FDA to treat depression in the United States, but it's used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression. SAMe may be helpful, but more research is needed. In higher doses, SAMe can cause nausea and constipation.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats are found in cold-water fish, flaxseed, flax oil, walnuts and some other foods. Omega-3 supplements are being studied as a possible treatment for depression. While considered generally safe, the supplement can have a fishy taste, and in high doses, it may interact with other medications. More research is needed to determine if eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids can help relieve depression.
Because some herbal and dietary supplements can interfere with prescription medications or cause dangerous interactions, talk with your health care provider before taking any supplements.
Complementary and alternative medicine practitioners believe the mind and body must be in harmony for you to stay healthy. Examples of mind-body techniques that may be helpful for depression include:
- Yoga or tai chi
- Guided imagery
- Massage therapy
- Relaxation techniques
- Music or art therapy
Relying solely on these therapies is generally not enough to treat depression. They may be helpful when used in addition to medication and psychotherapy.
Sept. 20, 2012
- O'Keane V, et al. A review of atypical depression in relation to the course of depression and changes in HPA axis organization. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012. In press. Accessed June 19, 2012.
- Atypical features specifier. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR. 4th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2000. http://www.psychiatryonline.com. Accessed June 19, 2012.
- Cizza G, et al. Clinical subtypes of depression are associated with specific metabolic parameters and circadian endocrine profiles in women: The power study. Plos One. 2012. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0028912. Accessed June 19, 2012.
- Pae C, et al. Atypical depression: A comprehensive review. CNS Drugs. 2009;2:1023.
- Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml. Accessed June 19, 2012.
- McPhee SJ, et al. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment. 51st ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=13381. Accessed June 20, 2012.
- Parker G, et al. Will a new genotyping test help the clinician predict response to antidepressant drugs? Australasian Psychiatry. 2010;18:413.
- Deplin (Prescribing information). Covington, La.: Pamlab; 2011. http://www.deplin.com/. Accessed Aug. 27, 2012.
- Kung S (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Aug. 7, 2012.
- Understanding major depression. National Alliance on Mental Health. http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?section=Search&Template=Search/SearchDisplay.cfm. Accessed June 20, 2012.
- Indications for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in unipolar depression and its efficacy. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed June 20, 2012.
- Carpenter DJ. St. John's wort and S-adenosyl amethione as "natural" alternatives to conventional antidepressants in the era of the suicidality boxed warning: What is the evidence for clinically relevant benefit? Alternative Medicine Review. 2011;16:17.
- Lamers F, et al. Stability and transitions of depressive subtypes over a 2-year follow-up. Physiological Medicine. 2012. In press. Accessed June 19, 2012.
- Hourani LL, et al. Influence of spirituality on depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicidality in active duty military personnel. Depression Research and Treatment. 2012;2012:1.
- Depression and complementary health practices: What the science says. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Dec. 2011. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/depression-science.htm. Accessed May 10, 2012.
- Viibryd (prescribing information). St. Louis, Mo.: Forest Pharmaceuticals; 2011. http://www.viibryd.com/. Accessed June 20, 2012.
- SAMe. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/nd/Search.aspx?cs=MAYO&s=ND&pt=100&id=786&ds=adverse&lang=0. Accessed Aug. 3, 2012.
- Papakotas GI, et al. Folates and s-adenosylmethionine for major depressive disorder. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 2012;57:406.
- Marchand WR. Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and Zen meditation for depression. Journal of Psychiatric Practice. 2012;18:233.
- Tanyi RA, et al. The effects of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) based lifestyle intervention in modifying the progression of depression in clinically depressed adults. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. 2011;42:151.
- Wu J, et al. Acupuncture for depression: A review of clinical applications. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 2012;57:397.
- Chi J, et al. Tai chi and reduction of depressive symptoms for older adults: A meta-analysis of randomized trials. Geriatrics & Gerontology International. 2012. In Print. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22680972. Accessed Aug. 28, 2012.
- Chan MF, et al. The effectiveness of music listening in reducing depressive symptoms in adults: A systemic review. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2011;19:332.
- McCaffrey R, et al. Garden walking and art therapy for depression in older adults: A pilot study. Research in Gerontological Nursing. 2011;4:237.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.