Herbal Remedies to Cure Depression & Anxiety

Herbal remedies have been used to treat depression and anxiety for centuries around the globe. Western societies, in particular, have moved away from traditional herbal treatments towards prescription medications. There are some proven herbal options that may be worth a try.

One in four women in the United States now takes a psychiatric medication.

Here are a few other stand-out statistics from the report on antidepressants:

  • 23% of women in their 40s and 50s take antidepressants, a higher percentage than any other group (by age or sex)

  • Women are 2½ times more likely to be taking an antidepressant than men (click here to read a May 2011 article in the Harvard Mental Health Letter about women and depression)

  • 14% of non-Hispanic white people take antidepressants compared with just 4% of non-Hispanic blacks and 3% of Mexican Americans

  • Less than a third of Americans who are taking a single antidepressant (as opposed to two or more) have seen a mental health professional in the past year

  • Antidepressant use does not vary by income status

So is it a good thing that so many more Americans are taking antidepressants?

Many (perhaps most) mental health professionals would say, yes, because depression has been under-treated and because antidepressants are effective.

But there are also plenty of critics, as shown by this review in the New York Review of Books, who say the benefits have been overstated and that pharmaceutical company marketing is responsible for the surge in prescriptions.

Some experts believe that our modern lifestyle is making us more depressed, while others think that heavy promotion by drug companies and over-prescribing doctors are to blame.

But however you look at it, more people than ever are taking antidepressants, and natural options that work are needed more than ever.

Are Antidepressants Effective?

A meta-analysis of all antidepressant studies from 1990 to 2009 showed that there was significant improvement in depression only in the most severely depressed group, which constitutes only about 13 percent of all depressed patients.

The effect of antidepressants on mild to moderate depression was non-significant. Meaning, the participants were as likely to improve by chance as they were from taking antidepressants.

If you are taking an antidepressant and feel it is benefiting you, by all means keep taking it!

For some, however, antidepressants are not effective and/or have side effects that make taking the drugs undesirable. For those seeking alternative treatments, there are some herbal options that may be worth a try.

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Which Herbs Work for Depression and Anxiety?

1. St. John’s Wort

Probably the best known herb used to treat both anxiety and depression is St. John’s Wort. It is used first-line in Germany for mild to moderate depression and is well-established as an effective antidepressant—equivalent in effectiveness to prescription antidepressants—with fewer side effects. Like the SSRIs, St. John’s Wort also has an anti-anxiety effect.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), St. John’s Wort may help milder forms of depression, although its effects haven’t been conclusively proven either way. A 2008 review of 29 studies on St. John’s wort found that the plant was just as effective for treating mild to moderate depression as antidepressants, yet resulted in fewer side effects. On the other hand, the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health sponsored two separate studies that found it wasn’t better than a placebo for treating depression.

The recommended dose of St. John’s Wort is 450 milligrams twice daily. It is best to start at half dose for a few days and then increase to the full 450 mg. St. John’s Wort takes 4 weeks to achieve full effect, and its major risk involves interactions with other drugs and supplements. If you are taking medications, it should absolutely be monitored by your doctor to be sure that there are no toxic side effects.

I want to emphasize that St. John’s Wort decreases the potency of birth control pills. It can also decrease the potency of hormone-replacement therapy.

It’s important to note that St. John’s wort is known for interacting with lots of medications. This is especially true for blood thinners, birth control pills, and chemotherapy medications. Always check with your doctor before taking this herb.

2. SAM-e

SAM-e is short for S-adenosylmethionine. This supplement is designed to act like a synthetic form of the body’s natural mood-boosting chemicals. According to the Mayo Clinic, SAM-e is regarded as a supplement in the United States — the FDA doesn’t consider it a medication.

SAMe isn’t approved by the FDA to treat depression in the U.S., but it’s used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression.

It is not recommended that you take SAM-e along with antidepressants. You should also be aware that SAM-e can cause health effects such as upset stomach and constipation if you take too much.

3. Lavender oil