Bad moods can come and go throughout our daily grind. It might be a spilled coffee followed by a stubbed toe that sets you off. But sometimes, prolonged high-pressure situations can lead to depression or blues that just aren’t lifting. Can our mood really be positively affected by the use of natural remedies? Are prescription drugs the only option?
If you think a little pick-me-up is right for you, talk with your doctor about the studies below, which suggest certain natural remedies can also put the pep in your step again.
Omega-3s and Postpartum Depression
Omega-3s are well known to support brain health in the young and old alike. Researchers are now broadening the pool of science to include work on postpartum depression.
Many new mothers can suffer from symptoms of postpartum depression such as crying, severe mood swings, loss of concentration and anxiety. In a recent study, 52 pregnant women took either a corn oil placebo or a fish oil capsule containing 300 mg of DHA for fives days during the 24th to 40th weeks of their pregnancies (1). By using the postpartum screening scale to test results, researchers determined that expecting mothers who took fish oil had less depression and anxiety symptoms up to six months after delivery (1). It is important to note that fish oil and other omega-3 products cannot cure or prevent postpartum depression, but the study did show evidence of reducing the risk.
Shoppers may know the neurotransmitter serotonin as the “feel good” mood-boosting chemical in the brain. Without enough of it, we often feel a little off or down. Tryptophan is a building block of serotonin, and depletion in the body can actually lower mood and increase aggression (2). So, it’s a good idea to considering adding foods to your shopping cart that contain this essential amino acid like meat, chicken, nuts and dairy. Supplementation (with a doctor’s approval) is also an option, which sometimes appears as tryptophan or 5-HTP on the shelf. One study found 5-HTP increased serotonin levels in subjects and was linked to fewer symptoms by those taking a prescription antidepressant (3).
Magnesium also plays a large role in the production of serotonin, which means it can also be used as a mood booster. Deficiency symptoms are very similar to depression such as fatigue, confusion, memory loss and even anxiety. Food sources of magnesium are obtained from items such as spinach, nuts, beans or whole grain foods. Supplement forms are also a great option since food sources are often not enough to get all the magnesium we need. In fact, studies found taking 125–300 mg of magnesium daily with meals and at bedtime was “usually effective for treatment of depression in general use” (4).
GABA is a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain. It has calming, anti-anxiety and anti-convulsive effects. Low levels of GABA have been linked with anxiety or mood disorders. A recent study involving 19 participants found that taking a 60-minute yoga class significantly increased levels of GABA within the body. There was a 27% increase in GABA in yoga participants versus the comparative participants who read for 60 minutes (5). GABA is also available in supplement form in your local health food store.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort is said to stop reuptake of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine and support healthy moods (6). A literature review of 14 studies involving 960 adults taking St. John’s wort (500–1,800 mg daily) with mild to moderate depression found a significant benefit for those taking St. John’s wort, with results as effective as antidepressants (6).
SAMe is a natural compound that affects the metabolism of dopamine and serotonin. Studies have shown individuals who suffer from depression have lower levels of SAMe in their spinal fluid. In a 1984 trial, researchers treated nine depressed patients beginning at 200 mg of SAMe twice a day. Patients reporting nausea or insomnia were not increased above 800 mg, while patients with no symptoms could be increased up to 1,600 mg. Seven of nine showed improvements or total resolution of their symptoms (7).
In another trial of 20 patients using SAMe, seven out of 11 patients with no history of having a poor response to antidepressants were completely resolved of depressive symptoms. Two out of nine patients who had failed results with antidepressants had benefits with SAMe (8).
It is important to talk with your doctor before using any natural remedies to address health concerns or even the rainy day blues. Don’t delay if you think you may have symptoms of depression. WF
1. A.M. Llorente and C. Vanderwall, Experimental Biology 2011 meeting, Washington, D.C., April 9-13, 2011.
2. S.N. Young, “The Effect of Raising and Lowering Tryptophan Levels on Human Mood and Social Behaviour,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 368.1615 (2013): 20110375. PMC. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
3. University of Maryland Medical Center, “Tryptophan,” http://umm.
edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/5hydroxytryptophan-5htp, accessed 1/27/16.
4. G.A. Eby and K.L. Eby, “Rapid Recovery From Major Depression Using Magnesium Treatment,”
Med. Hypotheses 67 (2), 362–370 (2006).
5. C.C. Streeter et al., “Yoga Asana Sessions Increase Brain GABA Levels: A Pilot Study,” J. Alter. Complement. Med. 13 (4), 419–426 (2007).
6. “St. John’s Wort for Depression,” Am. Fam. Physician 71 (7), 1375–1376 (2005).
7. J.D. Lipinski, et al. “Open Trial of S-Adenosylmethionine For Treatment of Depression,” Am. J. Psychiatry 141 (3), 448–450 (1984).
8. T.D. Johnson, “SAMe,” Life Extens. Apr. 2007, www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2007/4/report_same/page-01, accessed Jan. 27, 2016.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine March 2016