Alternative medicine

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Some people are interested in trying alternative medicine (a nonconventional approach instead of conventional medicine) or complementary medicine (a nonconventional approach used along with conventional medicine).

Certain herbal remedies, supplements or mind-body techniques are sometimes used to try to relieve depression symptoms, though it's not clear how effective these treatments are for seasonal affective disorder.

Keep in mind, alternative treatments alone may not be enough to relieve your symptoms. Some alternative treatments may not be safe if you have other health conditions or take certain medications.

Supplements

Some people choose to take a supplement to treat depression, such as:

  • St. John's wort. This herb is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 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-E," this dietary supplement is a synthetic form of a chemical that occurs naturally in the body. The name is short for S-adenosyl–L-methionine (es-uh-den-o-sul-el-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. SAMe may trigger mania in people with bipolar disorder.
  • Melatonin. This dietary supplement is a synthetic form of a hormone occurring naturally in the body that helps regulate mood. A change in the season to less light may change the level of melatonin in your body. Taking melatonin could decrease winter-onset SAD, but more research is needed. Safety in children or with long-term use in adults has not been determined.
  • 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, in high doses, omega-3 supplements may interact with other medications. More research is needed to determine if eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids can help relieve depression.

Keep in mind that nutritional and dietary products aren't monitored by the FDA. You can't always be certain of what you're getting and if it's safe. Also, because some herbal and dietary supplements can interfere with prescription medications or cause dangerous interactions, talk to your health care provider before taking any supplements.

Mind-body therapies that may help relieve depression symptoms include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Guided imagery
  • Massage therapy
Sep. 12, 2014

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