Introduction and Summary
One of modern medicine’s many benefits is the continued development of medication, which can treat hundreds of physical and mental illnesses from malaria to schizophrenia and many more. However, just because medication is available, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best option for you. For instance, if you suffer from mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, you may want to consider the use of herbs and supplements.
Doctors have been using botanicals and herbal remedies for thousands of years. However, like medication, discovering both the right herbs and supplements for anxiety and depression as well as the proper balance can be tricky and should be approved by a medical professional. When it comes to natural supplements for depression and anxiety, there are centuries’ worth of research that can make the search a little easier.
In this article, I’ll explore:
- What Is Anxiety?
- What Is Depression?
- How Do You Treat Anxiety and Depression?
- Common Herbs and Supplements to Treat Anxiety
- Common Herbs and Supplements to Treat Depression
- When to See a Doctor
- How K Health Can Help
What Is Anxiety?
Feeling anxious from time to time is totally normal and generally not a cause for concern. Anxiety usually presents itself when you’re faced with a challenge, but dissipates when the challenge gets resolved. For instance, you may experience anxiety when planning a surprise party or on a flight with turbulence, but the moment the guest of honor walks in or the flight becomes smooth, those feelings of anxiety go away. Common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Having negative or fearful thoughts about the future
- Having a racing heartbeat
- Feeling like you are always in danger
- Feeling nervous or tense
- Being restless
- Difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep
- Rapid breathing
- Having the urge to avoid situations that provoke anxiety
- Difficulty controlling worry
Your anxiety becomes a problem when it feels either unbearable or constant, in which case, you may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are typically accompanied by frequent feelings of fear, worry, or distress. To determine whether you suffer from a disorder, your anxiety must check off two criteria: your nervousness is out of proportion to your current situation, and it is a hindrance to your everyday life.
Don’t worry though, anxiety is treatable. When you seek medical help, doctors may prescribe you medication for anxiety or even natural remedies. There are also plenty of ways you can help control your anxiety yourself, such as facing your fears, exercising, and deep breathing, among other options.
What Is Depression?
Like any mental health condition, depression is complex because it’s not a condition you can just turn off or snap out of. It’s a mood disorder that’s associated with the constant feeling of sadness and loss of interest. For some people, these negative feelings can be so intense that they may even feel as though life isn’t worth living.
If you experience any of the following depression symptoms for a prolonged period of time, seek help from a medical professional:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all activities
- Sleep disturbances
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or blame
- Trouble concentrating or remembering
- Thoughts of death and/or suicide
Fortunately, there are many treatment options to help those who suffer from depression, ranging from various types of therapy to medication. In fact, there are even a few things you can do to help treat yourself, such as balancing your perspective, asking yourself questions about your own depression, being active, and many others.
How Do You Treat Anxiety and Depression?
Because anxiety and depression are both mental conditions, they’re not necessarily as easy to treat as a physical illness like the flu or a headache. However, they’re definitely treatable. The two most common treatments for anxiety and depression are medication and therapy.
When it comes to anxiety, there are several classes of medication. One class includes sedatives, which are in the benzodiazepine class of medications. Another class of anti-anxiety treatments are beta-blockers, which block the effects of the hormone epinephrine, which is also known as adrenaline. The effect of beta-blockers is a slower heartbeat. A third medication in a category of its own is buspirone, which works by balancing chemicals in the brain. Finally, many selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) can be effective in treating chronic anxiety. SSRIs work by increasing the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, while SNRIs work by regulating the levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine, which is another neurotransmitter.
There are many types of antidepressants available, but some of them have gradually fallen into disfavor. Currently doctors prefer to prescribe the two types with the smallest risk of side effects: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. These medications can be especially useful because they treat both depression and anxiety, conditions which often accompany one another.
The most effective type of talk therapy for anxiety and depression is psychotherapy, which involves working with a licensed therapist to reduce your anxiety symptoms over time. Psychotherapy is a very broad form of talk therapy that helps you understand why and how you experience your moods, feelings, thoughts and behaviors. You do not need to have a diagnosed mental condition to benefit from psychotherapy.
However, within the realm of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a short-term type of therapy that teaches you specific skills to improve your symptoms and eventually reestablish a more stable mood and approach to life. This kind of therapy is designed for people with specific mental conditions, including mood disorders, anxiety, addiction, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and eating disorders. The main difference between general psychotherapy and CBT is the length of treatment. While you may benefit from psychotherapy for years, CBT is only designed to last a limited number of sessions.
Common Herbs and Supplements to Treat Anxiety
If you’re looking to boost your mood naturally, there are many herbs and supplements, which are products made from plants, that can work. However, though these herbs and supplements may act as natural antidepressants and anti-anxiety remedies for mild to moderate anxiety or depression, most of them have not been FDA-approved.
Health care professionals always encourage those suffering from anxiety to seek professional help as the first step toward recovery. In some cases, a part of their recommended treatment can involve natural remedies. However, most of the following supplements and herbs to treat anxiety are not FDA-approved as medications. Although many people believe these all-natural treatments can be helpful because they have naturally soothing effects, it is important to realize that in most cases these substances have not been conclusively proven to reduce stress and anxiety. For instance, plenty of people keep lavender by their bedside because it has a calming quality to it, but there is little scientific evidence of its actual efficacy.
Before taking any supplements or herbs for anxiety, be sure to consult with your doctor because many of them cannot be taken in conjunction with other medications. Local health food stores are likely to carry these kinds of supplements. So, what are the best natural remedies for anxiety?
Kava is a tropical evergreen shrub whose roots can be used as an herbal remedy. Although the sale of kava has not been formally prohibited by the FDA, kava may cause serious liver damage. However, it has been thought to reduce symptoms of anxiety, specifically stress. Due to its potential side effects, be sure to consult with your doctor before ingesting kava.
Valerian is a type of flower that grows widely throughout both Europe and Asia and, though not FDA-approved, is considered safe in supplement form because there are few potential side effects. However, because so few long-term trials have been conducted, you should avoid taking the supplement for more than a few weeks at a time. While it is generally thought to reduce stress and other symptoms of anxiety, valerian can also cause other side effects such as headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness.
Lavender is a type of plant that’s also famously known for its soothing abilities. Though not FDA-approved as a drug, lavender supplements, and even lavender aromatherapy are thought to reduce anxiety symptoms, although hard scientific proof of this plant’s efficacy is lacking. Side effects of ingesting lavender in supplement form are generally minimal and include:
- Increased appetite
- Increased sedative effect of other medications and supplements
For some people, lavender supplements can cause low blood pressure.
Chamomile is technically an herb from flowers similar in appearance to daisies. Although chamomile has been FDA-approved as a form of food (we have likely all enjoyed a hot cup of chamomile tea), its medicinal purposes have not. For short-term usage, chamomile supplements may lessen feelings of anxiety. However, when used with blood-thinning drugs, chamomile can increase the risk of bleeding.
Lemon balm is a plant that, when taken as a supplement, may help lessen feelings of nervousness and irritability in people with anxiety. However, it is not FDA-approved for medicinal uses. When used short-term, lemon balm is usually well-tolerated with minimal side effects, but it can cause nausea and abdominal pain for some.
Common Herbs and Supplements to Treat Depression
Herbal supplements are monitored by the FDA differently than medications are, which is why doctors encourage patients to consult them before taking any supplements. Even though they’re all natural, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re safe, or even effective. If your doctor recommends a natural supplement to aid in your treatment, the best place to find a good variety of remedies would be your local health food store. So, what are the best natural remedies for depression?
St. John’s wort
St. John’s wort is a yellow plant that grows in Europe and looks very similar to a daffodil. Though not FDA-approved in the U.S., St. John’s wort is widely prescribed to treat depression in other parts of the world, especially in Europe. The plant’s effects were similar to that of a placebo treatment for moderate to severe depression, but in mild cases, St. John’s wort may uplift your mood. However, since St. John’s wort is a stimulant, do not take its supplements if you suffer from anxiety as it may heighten anxious feelings.
It’s generally safe to take between 300-600 mg of St. John’s wort up to three times a day for as many as six weeks. However, you should check with your doctor to make sure you’re taking the appropriate dosage. Keep in mind that St. John’s wort may cause side effects, including:
- Upset stomach
- Dry mouth
- Sexual dysfunction
- Sensitivity to sunlight
- Interactions with other medication
The biggest risk of taking St. John’s wort is the supplement’s interaction with other medications, which, in some cases, can be fatal. If you’re on any blood thinners, birth control pills, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS medications, or drugs to prevent organ rejection after a transplant, do not ingest St. John’s wort because it can either completely block the medication from working or severely limit the efficacy.
Like St. John’s wort, SAMe is not FDA-approved in the U.S., but it is prescribed as an oral supplement in many European countries. The dietary supplement is a synthetic form of a chemical that occurs naturally in your body called S-adenosyl-L-methionine, which is known to promote healthy moods, liver function, and joint function. SAMe should not be taken in conjunction with other antidepressants or if you have bipolar disorder because it may trigger mania. Although it’s been helpful in mild cases of depression and anxiety, there are quite a few potential side effects to watch out for, including:
- Negative changes in mood
- Uncontrollable head, mouth, neck, arm, or leg movements
- Unusual weakness or tiredness
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold-water fish, flaxseed, flax oil, and walnuts, but are also available in supplements. Though these supplements have been FDA-approved to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, some people use them to treat depression and depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder. If taken according to packaging instructions, the supplements are generally safe with little to no side effects.
Short for 5-hydroxytryptophan, 5-HTP is an amino acid that your body uses to produce serotonin, whose nickname is the “happy chemical.” Like serotonin, your body produces 5-HTP naturally. Your body uses it to produce serotonin plays a role in improving serotonin levels, which, in turn, can elevate your mood. However there are serious risks to 5-HTP supplements. Not only are they not FDA-approved, they’re known to cause severe neurological conditions.
DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is a hormone your body produces naturally. Since a drop in DHEA levels has been linked to depression, taking DHEA as a dietary supplement can improve mood. DHEA is approved by the FDA, with minimal possible side effects that range from upset stomach to acne. However, it may increase your risk of hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, and lymphoma.
When to See a Doctor
Depression and anxiety are both easier to treat when addressed earlier rather than later. If you are experiencing persistent feelings of anxiety or depression, don’t wait until they go away on their own. Seek medical help if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Stress, fear, or worry that interferes with everyday life, including relationships, work, and mood
- The inability to control your negative feelings
- Suicidal thoughts
- No motivation to get up in the mornings
How K Health Can Help
Anxiety and depression are among the most under-reported and under-treated diseases in America. Nearly 20% of adults in the US suffer from mental health illness and fewer than half receive treatment. Our mission is to increase access to treatment for those suffering in silence.
You can start controlling your anxiety and depression and get access to the treatment you need with K Health. Starting at $19/month get prescriptions for mental health medications plus unlimited doctor visits through the K Health app. Start your free assessment to see if you’re eligible.