Reports estimate that over 18 million Americans suffer from depression. Depression is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty with thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies”.
While feeling sad or blue is a symptom we all have on occasion, the person who suffers from depression feels this way for long periods of time and the feelings affect their way of life. While there are many prescription drugs that treat depression, many of those have serious side effects, and for this, as well as other reasons, many people do not seek treatment. An alternative treatment for depression is the use of herbs.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Depression
Symptoms vary from person to person, but many people suffering from depression have many of these symptoms:
• Feelings of hopelessness
• Unexplained sadness
• Loss of interest in daily activities and things you used to enjoy, including sex
• Weight gain, or weight loss
• Neglect of responsibilities and/or appearance
• Avoiding friends/family
• Hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
• Substance abuse (alcohol, drugs)
• Suicidal thoughts
• Loss of memory
• Excessive Gambling
• Loss of energy
• Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
• Erratic behavior
• Aches and pains, such as stomach or back aches
• Trouble concentrating
• Loss of appetite, or overeating
Herbs that Help with Symptoms of Depression:
The following herbs have been found to ease many symptoms of depression:
1. St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is probably the most commonly used herb for the treatment of depression. It is not exactly clear how the herb helps with depression and anxiety, but 2 components of the herb, hypericin and pseudohypericin, seem to be responsible. A study found that St. John’s Wort was as effective as anti-depressant medications, with fewer side effects. This herb is both a mood elevator and a sedative. The dose for treatment of depression is normally 300 mg. (900 mg. daily), taken 3 times daily with meals. This dosage may be increased to 1800 mg. daily. It takes at least 3 weeks of taking St. John’s Wort for it to begin working, and the full effects may not be noticed for up to 2 months.
Note that St. John’s Wort may cause increased sensitivity to sunlight, and other side effects such as dizziness, stomach upset, dry mouth and headache. Also, St. John’s Wort can interact with certain medications and may cause serious side effects. Therefore, it’s important to discuss the use of St. John’s Wort with your doctor if you are taking any medication. Caution should be used in taking St. John’s Wort if you are pregnant or nursing. One study showed lower birth rates with the use of St. John’s Wort during pregnancy.
Valerian was used in ancient times as a medicinal herb. Hippocrates described its therapeutic effects, and Galen prescribed valerian for insomnia. Valerian is effectively used for anxiety, depression and insomnia, as well as other medical conditions. The roots are used to make capsules, tablets, tea, and liquid extracts.
Valerian can cause mild side effects, including headaches, dizziness and stomach upset, but it generally considered safe for short term use (up to 6 weeks). There is no information available on the safety of using valerian for long-term use. Do not use valerian if you are pregnant. Do not breastfeed while using valerian.
Passionflower is used for treatment of anxiety and insomnia. It has tranquilizing effect on the nervous system. Passionflower was first used by the Aztecs. Recommended dosage for passionflower extract is .5 to 1 ml, up to three times daily.
Passionflower is non-habit forming and has found to be safe when taken at the recommended dosages. Because of its sedative effect, it should not be used with prescription sedatives, or with the consumption of alcohol, and it may react with other medications. It’s not recommended for use in pregnant or nursing women.
Skullcap calms the nervous system and induces sleep. Skullcap has also been found to help relieve the the withdrawal effects of anti-depressant.
Skullcap may cause drowsiness. Do not take skullcap when driving or operating any machinery or equipment. Skullcap should not be used by pregnant or nursing women.
Kava is a member of the pepper family and is used to treat anxiety and insomnia, 2 common symptoms of depression. The root and stem are used to make beverages, extracts, capsules and tablets. Kava gives a great sense of relaxation and the user will experience restful sleep. The recommended dosage (standardized to 30-70%) is 45-70 mg three times per day.
Kava may cause a feeling of numbness in the lips and tongue. Kava may cause drowsiness and should not be used by those operating machinery or driving. Kava may cause liver problems if used excessively are long term, and Kava can interact with many drugs; therefore discuss the use of this herb with your doctor. It’s not recommended for use in pregnant women; it has been found to possibly decrease uterine tone, making labor more difficult. It’s not clear whether it is safe to use while nursing, so check with your physician if you are nursing.
Lavender is used for the treatment of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and restlessness, and can also elevate the mood. It’s most common used in aromatherapy, often in herbal sleep pillows, but also is used to make tea or liquid extracts to be taken orally.
Lavender used as aromatherapy is considered safe. Lavender teas and extracts may cause headache or changes in appetite. Not enough is known about the effects of the use of lavender during pregnancy and breast-feeding.
Gingko has been found to be beneficial in treating the symptoms of depression, especially in the elderly. Gingko can improve memory and enhance the mood. Gingko is used in the form of tablets, capsules and tea.
Side effects of gingko can include headache, upset stomach, dizziness and allergic skin reactions. Few people have had more severe allergic reactions to the use of gingko. It is not known whether ginkgo has any negative impact on fetus development, and therefore, is not recommended for use in pregnant women or those who are breast-feeding.
These herbs for depression should help to relieve many of your symptoms. While most herbs are safe at least for short-term use, note that herbs are not regulated by the FDA in the same way prescription drugs are regulated, and occasionally, serious side effects may occur, especially if you are taking other medications.
Also, it’s important to remember that depression is a serious medical condition. If you try herbal remedies and experience little or no change in your symptoms, it’s important to seek the advice of your physician, who may prescribe prescription medication or therapy.
Have You Used Natural Herbs For Depression? If So Please Share Your Experiences Below
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