Herbs For Depression
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Characterized by feelings of chronic sadness, melancholy and disinterest, depression is classified as a mental illness that affects sufferers in a variety of debilitating ways. Many individuals suffering from depression experience difficulty carrying out everyday activities, and have trouble coping with life in general.
As symptoms of depression are varied and complex, receiving an accurate diagnosis can be a lengthy process. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), symptoms of depression include frequent feelings of guilt or worthlessness and about past mistakes; recurring thoughts about death and/or suicidal thoughts; fatigue, lack of energy, extreme tiredness, and lack of motivation; irritability, frustration, agitation, and restlessness; indecisiveness, inattentiveness and difficulty concentrating; trouble with memory and thinking. Other common symptoms are decreased libido and sudden bouts of intense crying “out of the blue.” Some people with depression experience unexplained weight gain or loss, and others may develop physical problems with no apparent cause. Symptoms of depression are not the same for everyone, and depend on a number of variables including age, gender, culture, and hereditary factors. People who experience five or more of the above symptoms for over 14 consecutive days may meet the criteria for clinical depression, also referred to as major depression or major depressive disorder.
St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Indigenous to Europe, St. John's wort has a history of use in traditional herbalism as a remedy for various mental and emotional disorders. The herb is available in powder, tea, tincture and capsule form. Used today by practitioners of alternative and naturopathic medicine, St. John's wort has been studied in recent years regarding its effects on brain chemistry.  A number of clinical trials have suggested the effectiveness of St. John's wort as a treatment for mild to moderate depression. According to a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multi-center clinical trial published in a 2006 edition of BMC Medicine, St. John's wort was superior to placebo in treating symptoms of major depression.  As determined by laboratory experimentation, active constituents in St. John's wort prevent reabsorption of serotonin in the brain, and therefore might be used as a natural alternative to pharmaceutical depression medications in the selective-serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) class. 
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) (extracted from seeds of the plant Griffonia simplicifolia)
Derived from tryptophan, an essential amino acid, the chemical 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is required for the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with well-being and happiness. Dietary sources of tryptophan include turkey, chicken, dairy products, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, sunﬂower seeds, and leafy greens including kale and collards. Other tryptophan-rich foods include sea plants such as wakame, kombu, and kelp. In most cases, Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) levels are maintained via regular consumption of tryptophan- containing foods. However, some individuals may lack the ability to absorb tryptophan and thus may beneﬁt from direct supplementation of 5-HTP. Extracted from seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia, a plant native to Africa, 5-HTP supplements are widely available have been tested clinically for their effectiveness in treating depression disorders.  Results from number of small-scale and preliminary trials suggest that 5-HTP meets the criteria for FDA approval as a medication for depression. 
Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum L.)
Also called linseed, ﬂaxseed has a history of use in ancient cultures as a remedy for various ailments, especially digestive disorders such as constipation. Due to their high concentration of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a powerful, health-promoting omego-3 fatty acid, ﬂaxseeds have been tested clinically to determine their potential to help cases of attention deﬁcit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders, addiction, and other disorders affecting the body and mind.  Various studies using animal models have revealed that ﬂaxseed might be effectively used to treat various psychiatric disorders, including depression. In 2009, French scientists found that when compared to placebo, depressive symptoms were signiﬁcantly reduced in rodents treated with ALA from ﬂaxseeds and other omega-rich sources. 
Vervain (Verbena ofﬁcinalis)
Native to eastern Europe, northern Africa and parts of Asia, vervain has a history of use in traditional medicinal systems as a treatment for headaches, respiratory disorders, snake bites, fevers, jaundice, gout, kidney stones, epilepsy, ulcers, and painful menstruation. Mentioned in historical texts as a remedy for feelings of fatigue and ill-will, vervain contains a broad spectrum of active phytochemicals and tannins--including verbenalin, verbenin, and beta-carotene. A precursor to vitamin A, an essential dietary nutrient, beta-carotene is associated with the treatment and prevention of depression and related conditions.  Although its medicinal properties have not been extensively studied, vervain is used by contemporary herbalists as a treatment for various disorders, including mild depression. 
Found in many herbs (as well as other sources), B-vitamins are involved in the maintenance of healthy brain chemistry. Results from clinical trials indicate that B-vitamin deﬁciencies are linked to depression, and even those with healthy, well-balanced diets are at risk. In order to properly diagnose B-vitamin deﬁciencies or imbalances, blood panel analyses are often required.
Herbs that are sources of B- vitamins include catnip, alfalfa, burdock root, yellow dock root, and nettle. 
B-vitamins are categorized as follows: thiamin, riboﬂavin, niacin, folate (also called folic acid), vitamin B6, vitamin B12, biotin and pantothenic acid:
Botanical sources of thiamin (vitamin B1) include leafy green dark-colored vegetables, green peas, lentils, almonds and pecans.
Plants high in vitamin B2 (riboﬂavin) include dark greens (i.e. asparagus and spinach).
B3 (niacin) plant sources include legumes such as peanuts and lentils, and sources of folate (vitamin B1) include dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and collards.
Botanical foods high in vitamin B6 include potatoes, bananas, spinach and other leafy greens.
Sources of vitamin B7 (biotin) include leafy greens (i.e. swiss chard) and legumes (e.g. peanuts).
Vitamin B1 deﬁciencies are characterized by various symptoms of depression including feelings of sadness and disinterest, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, memory problems, insomnia, and--in some cases--suicidal thoughts Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is a necessary component in the production of serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine--all of which are involved in the maintenance of mental health. Deﬁciencies in vitamin B6 include lowered immune function, mental confusion, and inhibited healing of wounds.
Vitamin B12 (also called cobalamin)--perhaps the most important of all B vitamins--is produced by the metabolic systems of all animals, including humans. Vitamin B12 deﬁciencies can be the cause depression symptoms including mood swings, irritability, loss of appetite, and fatigue.  For many, dietary consumption of vitamin B12 is an easy feat. For others--such as those who do not eat meat (including poultry and ﬁsh), eggs, or dairy--dietary absorption of vitamin B12 is a more difﬁcult feat. Strict vegetarians and vegans may need to supplement with synthetic vitamin B12 supplements in order to remain healthy. However, studies show that people of all dietary habits - -including those who eat meat or consume dairy on a regular basis - are at risk for vitamin B12 deﬁciency. To combat vitamin B12 deﬁciencies, experts recommend sublingual tablets, liquids, and also vitamin B12 shots. 
Also known as rose root, arctic root, or golden root, rhodiola rosea is a wonderful herb that shows promising effects in dealing with depression. What makes rhodiola effective in combating depression is its ability to inhibit the activities of monoamine oxidase A and B. When the activities of these substances are prevented, neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin cannot be broken down. In effect, they become more available. According to research, low levels of these neurotransmitters usually lead to depression. 
Some studies claim that depression and stress level are directly related to each. Excessive level of stress hormones like cortisol, is believed to be one of the major factors that trigger depression. According to research, rhodiola rosea is effective in reducing the level of cortisol hormones thereby limiting one’s susceptibility to depression. 
For thousands of years, ginkgo biloba proves to be an excellent herb that treats depression. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center website, intake of ginkgo biloba regularly is effective in eliminating the symptoms of depression. Furthermore, the leaves of this herb contain lipophilic extracts that are believed to have anti-stress and anti-depressant effects. 
For centuries, lavender proves to be an outstanding herb for depression. Though it can be used as oil which can be directly applied onto the skin, lavender is often used in aromatherapy. Experts believe that the scent of lavender helps in promoting relaxation as well as in inducing high quality and longer sleep. This can help in alleviating one’s stress level which is considered as one of the major causes of depression. 
Aside from its natural ability to balance the level of cortisol hormones in the body, lavender also works by slowing down the brain waves. Lavender is believed to have natural sedative effects that are beneficial in calming one’s mind, body, spirit and soul, especially in times of depression and restlessness. 
Today, valerian emerges to be one of the most popular effective herbs that cure depression. Known for its natural sedating effects, valerian is also capable of calming the nerves by reducing one’s anxiety and phobia towards a certain stimulus. 
When taken regularly, this perennial herb brings about promising results in treating depression. In fact, many studies have proved that regular intake of valerian can significantly help in eliminating the most common symptoms of depression which include high blood pressure, insomnia, lack of focus, restlessness, irritability and anxiety. It works because of its valepotriates, which are known to be natural relaxants. Aside from reducing one’s stress level, valepotriates are also effective in relaxing the central nervous system of the body. 
Though widely used to treat toothaches, peppermint never ceases to amaze patients who suffer from depression. Through the years, peppermint has proven itself to be effective in dealing with the symptoms of depression. As mentioned in the University of Maryland Medical Center website, peppermint oil offers soothing and calming effects which make it effective in treating anxiety and depression. 
Herbs For Depression - References:
 Depression (major depression). Alternative Medicine. Article by Mayo Clinic staff. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/DS00175/DSECTION=alternative-medicine
 Siegfried Kasper, Ion-George Anghelescu, Armin Szegedi, Angelika Dienel and Meinhard Kieser. Superior efficacy of St John's wort extract WS® 5570 compared to placebo in patients with major depression: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multi-center trial. BMC Medicine 2006, 4:14
 St. John's Wort and Depression. National Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/stjohnswort/sjw-and-depression.htm
 Byerley WF, et al. 5-Hydroxytryptophan: a review of its antidepressant efﬁcacy and adverse effects. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. 1987;7:127-137.
 5-Hydroxytryptophan. NYU Langone Medical Center. http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21399
 Flaxseed. University of Maryland Medical Center. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/flaxseed-000244.htm
 Nicolas Blondeau, et al. Subchronic Alpha-Linolenic Acid Treatment Enhances Brain Plasticity and Exerts an Antidepressant Effect: A Versatile Potential Therapy for Stroke. Original Article. Neuropsychopharmacology (2009) 34, 2548–2559; doi:10.1038/npp.2009.84; published online 29 July 2009.
 Beta-carotene. Medline Plus. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/999.html
 Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healing: A practical A-Z reference to drug-free remedies using vitamins, minerals, herbs and food supplements, 4th ed. 2006. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
 Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D. What's the relationship between vitamin B-12 and depression? http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vitamin-b12-and-depression/AN01543
 Butler, Christopher C., et al. Oral vitamin B12 versus intramuscular vitamin B12 for vitamin B12 deﬁciency: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Family Practice (2006) 23 (3): 279-285.
Article researched and created by Kelsey Wambold and Elfe Cabanas, © herbs-info.com 2013