St John’s Wort flower
I come from a Nordic culture that really feels seasonal depression. When the weather cools, people get gloomy – it’s a cultural fact, and one that has to do with lessened sunlight. But what if you could combat some of that depression by adjusting your dietary intake and adding a couple of supplements? Well, you can. And these natural antidepressants work even for depression of the non-seasonal variety.
There are essentially three different sides to taking the natural antidepressant road – dietary changes, added supplements, and lifestyle modifications. Following below, I will discuss each in its own category.
Dietary changes to help fight depression:
Stop eating processed foods.
A recent UK study linked a heightened social depression with increased intake of processed food – sweetened desserts, fried foods, certain refined grains and high-fat dairy products. Now, I know that eating seasonally-appropriate local produce in the winter is difficult, but you should always make sure your meal includes carbohydrates as close to unprocessed as possible: quinoa, oatmeal, or even whole wheat. And root vegetables are available throughout the year; use this as an excuse to put onions and carrots in your dishes, and learn to cook with beets and rutabagas. Also incorporate lean meats (if you eat meat) and nuts. Consistently eating whole foods contributes to an overall 26% diminished risk of depression in a lifetime.
Eat foods that are high in omega-3s,
such as fish, walnuts, and sugar beets. This also goes together with the whole foods idea outlined above; the best sources, as always, come from natural unprocessed foods.
Supplements for depression:
This essential nutrient is vital in most of the body’s processes, and studies have found that those who are depressed also often suffer from lower levels of vitamin B6. This alone might contribute to depression. In addition, vitamin B6 is essential to the production of serotonin – a chemical nerve transmitter in the brain. Taking additional whole-food based vitamin B6 in times of depression may assist in overcoming it. In fact, it would be a good idea to take a B complex, as a deficiency of B9 (or folic acid) can also cause depression.
St. John’s Wort.
Long valued for its antidepressant activity, this herbal supplement is as close as you can get to a natural antidepressant on par with prescriptions. As such, the herb is generally found to be more effective than a placebo in the treatment of depression, and with very few side effects. When considering St. John’s Wort, it’s important to discuss any other medication you’re taking – this herb can interact with other drugs.
Lifestyle changes to counter depression:
Cut out drinking.
Alcohol adversely affects the nervous system and causes (among other things) a deficiency in vitamin B. It’s known as a depressant, and can strongly exacerbate an existing tendency to depression. If you’re feeling bummed, chances are high that eliminating alcohol altogether will assist you out of the funk.
Meditation is a little-used tool in western society; however, taking that few minutes to concentrate on your own mind, breathing, and letting go can have wonderful results when you’re depressed. Seek out a meditation class in your area or read a book about it.
Exercise, too, has a tangible effect on the brain – those who move regularly report less depression overall. Exercise releases endorphins that elevate mood – and strengthening and training contributes to positive self-image.
Maria (Niina) Pollari is a poet, editor, writer and translator. She wrote two chapbooks, Fabulous Essential (2009) and Book Four (2011). Pollari’s writing has been featured in numerous literary journals as well as the Brooklyn Rail and Jezebel.com. She has received her Master’s in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.