Are there any natural remedies for treating depression?
“Natural” or alternative treatments describe any treatment that has not been scientifically documented or identified as safe or effective for a certain medical condition. Examples of alternative treatments include acupuncture, yoga, herbal remedies, aromatherapy, biofeedback, and many others. In considering an alternative treatment, as with any scientifically documented treatment, one should consider the risks versus the benefits of such a treatment. If a particular procedure has no specific, direct risks associated with it, an important risk is potentially delayed treatment of the depression. For a mild depression, this risk may not be too great, but for a more severe depression with suicidal thoughts, it could be a fatal risk.
Other risks include loss of money on an ineffective treatment, the use of a treatment that is not standardized nor required to conform to specific regulations, and frustration when hopes of a unique treatment are not realized.
Herbal remedies are a popular natural choice for treatment of many conditions. A common assumption about these natural treatment choices is that they are safe because they are natural. Although herbs are found in nature, as with man-made chemicals, herbs have a specific chemical structure that also alters the body chemistry. As such, there can be significant side effects from such compounds as well. Some of these side effects can be life threatening. For example, there have been many cases of liver failure from use of kava supplements around the world. In many cases, the problem per se is not that there are side effects; it is that the herbal treatments are not regulated as to either their safety or efficacy. If a specific treatment is known to be effective, one may be willing to take certain risks for relief. Without known efficacy, however, it is not possible to make an informed decision about the risks from exposure. A lack of regulation also means that supplements available in the store are not rigorously tested for purity or quantity of the active compound in question. Individuals who sell these treatments may act as experts but have not necessarily obtained any specialized training or certification either. It is important to keep these issues in mind when undertaking an alternative treatment so that fully informed decisions about treatment can be made. If it is decided an alternative treatment should be tried, it is important to communicate this information with a doctor. Herbal treatments in particular may interact with other medications, making it especially important to do so.