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6 natural antidepressant options

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SAMeSt. John’s WortLavenderOmega-3 fatty acids5-HTPDHEAOther treatment optionsSpeaking with a doctorSummary
Natural antidepressants, such as omega-3 fatty acids and St. John’s Wort, may help improve depression symptoms. However, they can also make some medications less effective.
Medically reviewed by Yalda Safai, MD, MPH
Updated on

Natural antidepressants are substances that may improve symptoms in people who have depression. These can provide a natural option for treating depression if you don’t want to take medication.

However, if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, consider speaking with a doctor before taking natural antidepressants. This is because they may interact with other medications you take or cause side effects that worsen your symptoms.

Here are six natural antidepressants that may help to decrease depression symptoms.

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)

Close up of vitamin pills to depict natural antidepressant options.
1456233941C Falls/Getty Images

SAMe is a natural compound present in the body. Several studies suggest that SAMe may help treat depression. However, more research is needed to confirm its long-term beneficial effects.

This natural antidepressant may not be safe to take for everyone. SAMe may cause side effects, such as increasing mania symptoms in people with bipolar disorder. It may also cause nausea and upset stomach.

SAMe may not be suitable for people with Parkinson’s disease as it may interact with their treatment, decreasing the effect of levodopa (L-dopa).

People who have HIV should also avoid SAMe since it can promote Pneumocystis infections and cause pneumonia.

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort is a yellow flower shaped like a star. It is often used as a herbal medication. Some research suggests that St. John’s Wort may help treat depression. However, there is a lack of evidence for its long-term effectiveness, so further research is needed.

St. John’s Wort is thought to alter how your brain processes serotonin, acting similarly to antidepressant medications.

However, it can also interact with several medications, making them less effective. Taking St. John’s Wort alongside antidepressants can cause a life threatening accumulation of serotonin in the body. You should always speak with a doctor before taking St. John’s Wort.

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Lavender can help improve the symptoms of several conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Studies have suggested that inhaling lavender can help people relax and sleep without needing sleeping pills.

A 2021 review suggests that lavender has antidepressant properties. However, it also notes additional studies are needed to confirm its long-term efficacy.

Lavender is typically safe for most people and usually does not produce side effects. However, in some cases, people may experience:

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of depression. It can be found in several types of fatty fish and supplements for those who do not eat fish.

A 2017 study stated that omega-3 fatty acids can help adults and children with depression. Researchers think omega-3 fatty acids may help with depression by reducing inflammation and preventing the release of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. However, more research is needed to understand its effectiveness.

Omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods include:

  • salmon
  • mackerel
  • tuna
  • herring
  • sardines
  • flaxseed
  • chia seeds
  • walnuts
  • flaxseed oil
  • soybean oil
  • canola oil

However, having a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids could cause several side effects, including:

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)

5-HTP can change the serotonin levels in your brain, having a similar effect to antidepressant drugs. This natural compound may help improve depression symptoms. However, more research is needed to confirm its efficacy in treating depression long-term.

Taking 5-HTP may cause several side effects, including:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • upset stomach and gastrointestinal problems
  • acute anxiety

5-Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

DHEA is a steroid hormone that may improve the symptoms in people who have mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

However, it may cause several side effects as it can interact with a wide range of medications and can also increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Other side effects you may experience after taking DHEA supplements may include:

  • changes in blood sugar levels
  • fertility issues
  • changes to your menstrual cycle
  • bleeding

You should always speak with a doctor before taking DHEA supplements.

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Other treatment options for depression

If you have depression, several types of treatment may help improve your condition, such as talk therapy and taking antidepressant medications.

Talk therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or counseling, can help people learn new ways of thinking about and coping with their challenges. During these sessions, a therapist may teach you several relaxation techniques and strategies to manage stress and anxiety.

Antidepressants can help treat depression by changing the chemicals in your brain, regulating how they are released and how they interact with your body. There are several types of antidepressant medications, including:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI): These medications can help to ease symptoms of depression. Examples include citalopram (Celexa), paroxetine (Paxil), and escitalopram (Lexapro).
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI). They can work to improve symptoms long-term and may also help with chronic nerve pain. Examples include duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor).
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): They can help to increase serotonin levels in the brain and improve overall mood. Examples include selegiline (Emsam) and phenelzine (Nardil).

If you need help covering the cost of medications, the Optum Perks free Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.

When to speak with a doctor

If you experience symptoms of depression, you should speak with a doctor. Depression is a treatable health condition. A healthcare professional can recommend the most appropriate treatment for improving your symptoms.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests you should consider talking with a therapist if you experience any of the following:

  • ongoing anxiety and depression that does not go away within a few weeks
  • thoughts of suicide
  • severe depression that makes you unable to go to work, school, or get out of your bed
  • side effects linked to the use of natural antidepressants
  • severe side effects or having no benefit from taking antidepressant medications

If you or someone you know is considering suicide or self-harm, please seek support:

While you wait for help to arrive, stay with someone and remove any weapons or substances that can cause harm. You are not alone.


Depression is a treatable mental health condition. There are several treatment options for depression, including taking natural antidepressants, such as:

  • St. John’s Wort
  • lavender
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • SAMe

Talk therapies and antidepressant medications can also help treat symptoms if natural remedies do not provide any benefits.

It can often take time to find the right treatment for your depression. Consider speaking with a healthcare professional if you do not see an improvement or experience side effects after starting a treatment plan. They can help identify an alternative treatment that suits your individual needs.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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