Some people with depression prefer non-drug approaches to help them manage their symptoms. Research shows that approximately 30-40% of patients with depression have only a partial response to pharmacological and psychotherapeutic interventions.1

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can be used with traditional medicine approaches or on their own to target symptoms of depression. Given a lack of sufficient research (and, in some cases, mixed results) on various natural remedies for depression, it’s a good idea to focus on a team approach to treatment, which can include CAM.

Herbal supplements

Herbal extracts are gaining popularity as natural alternatives to SSRI’s, which can include unpleasant side effects.

  • Curcumin: One study found that curcumin, the primary active ingredient of the spice turmeric, is a safe and effective alternative in patients who do no display suicidal ideation or have a concurrent psychotic disorder.2
  • Saffron: Extracts made from saffron (C. sativus) have also been shown to be effective natural antidepressants. A small study that compared the effects of saffron to the effects of fluoxetine (Prozac) and found that both produced the same improvements.3
  • John’s Wort: The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warns that although St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been used for centuries to treat mental health conditions and is commonly prescribed to treat depression in Europe, it can have some serious side effects. Side effects range from minor inconveniences (upset stomach) to major and life altering (confusion, muscle stiffness, significant drop in body temperature, and psychosis). Results on effectiveness of St. John’s Wort to relieve symptoms of depression are inconclusive and it is not FDA approved to treat depression at this time.4 It can be effective in treating very mild cases of depression.
  • SAM-e: When taken as a supplement, SAM-e (pronounced “Sammy”) affects the manufacture of brain chemicals responsible for mood regulation. Research shows that SAM-e is as effective in relieving symptoms of depression as tricyclic antidepressants.5

Meditation and yoga

By reducing perceived stress an anxiety, yoga practice can modulate stress response systems by reducing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. One study on the benefits of hatha yoga versus health education found that yoga does alleviate symptoms of depression, and the effects were long term.6 Hatha yoga includes physical poses, controlled breathing, and a short period of deep relaxation or meditation.

Meditation is an active training of the mind and involves 30-40 minutes per day of acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment and relaxation of the mind and body. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that meditation can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.7


Daily exercise can help lower stress, increase relaxation, and decrease symptoms of depression. Exercise has the added benefit of improving balance, energy levels, and flexibility.

According to the American Psychological Association, daily exercise eases symptoms of depression by increasing levels of serotonin. It also helps normalize sleep patterns and improves outlook by returning to normal activities.8

While many complementary and alternative treatments require further study to determine the benefits over time, it might help to bring some of these options to your treatment team to help ease your symptoms.

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Last Updated: Feb 16, 2018