Do home remedies for depression work?

Siski Green / 10 August 2016

Eating fish and exercising are two tips recommended if you're trying to control or beat depression. But what's the thinking behind them?



We all tend to assume that ‘natural’ is inherently better and so, when it comes to treatments for depression, it’s also easy to assume that home remedies and natural treatments are at best safe and effective, at worst safe and ineffective. This isn’t the case, however. Some natural remedies and treatments can be harmful.

Find out the science behind some of the most commonly proposed home remedies before you consider trying them.

Please note: anti-depressants can be life-saving and if your GP has recommended you take them, we do not suggest you ignore that advice. Whenever considering new treatments or supplements to treat your depression it is essential to talk to your GP, especially if you are taking medication. Any changes could affect your medication’s effectiveness.

How to spot symptoms of depression

Goal-setting and developing a routine

These types of psychological ‘tricks’ can be effective at helping relieve the feeling of being out of control and getting nowhere.

“Depression can be likened to the feeling of wading through thick mud,” says psychotherapist David Waters, who is also on the faculty at The School of Life.

“Your days feel heavy, without purpose and as though you’re not making much progress. By setting yourself small goals – today I will do the washing up, for example – and developing a routine so that the day has structure, you feel more in control. This will help.”

Exercise

Get outside for even a very short walk in a local park or even down a tree-lined street, and you will feel a difference.

Medication such as Prozac works by maintaining your serotonin at a healthy level but exercise can also help with that.

Research shows that going for a brisk walk, a cycle or a swim helps release endorphins, which can improve mood.

But there are other benefits too, which may have a knock-on effect on your depression: lower blood pressure, protecting against heart disease and boosting self-esteem.

Some small studies have also shown that being in ‘green spaces’ ie with trees and/or grass, flowers or plants, has a positive effect on patients, improving depression symptoms.

While these studies have generally been too small from which to draw concrete conclusions, this is one situation where you can let your body tell you what works and what doesn’t: try it and see. Going for a walk in the park doesn’t have any known negative side effects.

Is your physical health linked to depression?

Eat an anti-depresssion diet

Like exercise, certain nutrients help maintain healthy serotonin levels.

Omega-3s, for example, found in salmon, tuna, mackerel, have been linked with improved depression symptoms in some people. It’s known that omega-3 is essential for healthy brain function and it’s thought that if a person’s depression is related to low blood levels of certain brain chemicals (EPA and DHA), then fish oil supplementation may help.

Folic acid is essential for your body to create serotonin and other neurotransmitters, so taking a supplement, especially if your diet lacks good sources of folate (dark green vegetables, liver, and nuts, for example), could help. If, however, you have a healthy balanced diet, taking a supplement is unlikely to make a big difference to your depression.

Caffeine appears to reduce serotonin levels, so if you can cut it out or cut down, do so.

Herbal remedies for depression

St Johns Wort works by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Recent research indicates that it’s down to a substance called hyperforin and scientists are working on extracting the substance and testing it.

Be aware that taking St Johns Wort is known to have adverse effects on certain medications such as blood-thinners, HIV meds and others. For this reason check with your GP before taking it.

Learn more about St John's Wort

Meditation, mindfulness and yoga

Numerous studies support the benefits on depression of these techniques.

Yoga, for example, has been found to lower stress hormones such as cortisol and corticotropin, and also helps moderate anxiety and depression. And a recent study published in The Lancet, found that people with depression who had 8 group sessions of more than two hours of mindfulness training and cognitive behavior exercises over a period of a year, had the same risk of relapsing into depression as those who took anti-depressants.  

Can your favourite hobby help promote mindfulness?

Talking therapy

This might not be the first thing you think of when you consider ‘home remedies’ but even if your therapy takes place elsewhere, home is where you’ll be as you start to take on board the things you’ve learned during your therapy session. “In a therapy session we devise strategies that might help a client cope better at home,” says Waters. 

“So, for example, if I’m working using cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), we might be looking at how unhelpful thoughts (nobody likes me, I’m rubbish at this, or similar) can create anxiety, low mood and depression. Then we’ll devise strategies to challenge the truth in those thoughts. I might, for example, form a contract with a client that they write down when they notice these negative thoughts coming up, and what the prompts or triggers for them are. We’ll also work on ways to challenge the truth in these negative thoughts.” 

Research published in the British Medical Journal found that CBT was as effective as taking anti-depressants* in terms of improving symptoms.  

*Anti-depressants can be life-saving and if your GP has recommended you take them, we do not suggest you ignore that advice. Whenever considering new treatments or supplements to treat your depression it is essential to talk to your GP, especially if you are taking medication. Any changes could affect your medication’s effectiveness.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.