Are Natural Antidepressants Better Than Prescription Antidepressants?
There's something enticing about the term "natural." Who would want something artificial if there's a natural route? But when it comes to treating common medical conditions like depression, natural isn't always enough.
So how do natural antidepressants match up to prescription medications? Are they worth trying, or are they a bunch of baloney?
Commonly Recommended Natural Antidepressants
First, let's define what counts as a natural antidepressant. Many natural antidepressants are lifestyle changes, like:
- Getting consistent exercise.
- Getting enough sunlight to ward off things like seasonal affective disorder.
- Getting between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.
- And eating a healthy diet with lots of whole foods.
Simply taking care of yourself, in addition to building social connections, has been shown to improve mood.
Some natural supplements also are marketed for depression relief. Some people claim St. John's Wort, SAM-e, DHEA, 5-HTP, Omega-3s and even lavender can alleviate depression symptoms.
The effectiveness of each one varies, however, and many of them have not been studied thoroughly enough to receive FDA approval. In short, natural remedies are based on anecdotal evidence rather than scientific trials.
How Do Natural Antidepressants Stack Up in Comparison to Prescription Meds?
The truth is somewhere in the middle. According to one study conducted in 2017, between 40-60 percent of those who take prescription antidepressants notice an improvement in their symptoms within eight weeks.
Only 20-40 percent of those who try alternative remedies can say the same. That's not to say that natural antidepressants are useless. There are pros and cons to both options, and choosing the best one for you depends on a number of factors. The severity of your depression, your lifestyle and your access to a support system are all important considerations.
To help you understand which route is the best choice for you, let's break down the pluses and minuses of natural antidepressants.
Pros of Natural Antidepressants
The biggest benefit of natural antidepressants are that you can try them out whenever you want, as long as they don't interfere with any medication you're already on.
Lifestyle changes like practicing meditation, taking up yoga and cutting out refined sugars may not cure depression, but they're likely to contribute to a better mood overall. Proponents of natural antidepressants also prefer them because:
- You don't need to see a doctor to try them.
- Most natural antidepressants come with fewer side effects than prescription antidepressants.
- There are no stigmas about taking an Omega-3 supplement or trying aromatherapy.
- Some of them are free.
- They sometimes help with depression that doesn't respond to traditional medication.
Cons of Natural Antidepressants
Natural antidepressants can potentially offer relief, but results vary widely. This is also true of prescription antidepressants, but there are a few misconceptions about natural alternatives that few are aware of before they try them.
- Natural doesn't always mean safe. Natural remedies aren't always approved by the FDA, but some supplements can still cause dangerous drug interactions and side effects.
- Natural remedies can be seen as a replacement for seeking a formal diagnosis.
- If a stressful situation or traumatic event occurs, it's unlikely that a natural remedy will keep a depression relapse in check.
Why a Mental Health Professional Should Guide Your Decision
Dietary and herbal supplements do work well for some people, but they should be considered a part of a comprehensive treatment under the supervision of a trained medical professional, not a replacement for it.
Depression is a treatable condition, even if it doesn't feel that way. Seeking early treatment can help prevent depression from spiraling out of control. Everyone feels sad now and again, but if your symptoms are severe enough to impact your daily life, take action.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends seeing a doctor or therapist if you try natural depression remedies and:
- Still experience symptoms after a few weeks.
- Experience side effects.
- Have depression so intense that they can't function at school or work, or even get out of bed.
- Have thoughts of suicide.
Share how you're feeling with your doctor. Often, supplements and lifestyle changes work best in tandem with other treatment options, like therapy and prescription medication.
It might take some trial and error, but the odds are overwhelmingly positive that you will feel better with treatment.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or an emotional crisis of any kind, don't wait. Help is a click or a call away.