Can Supplements for Depression Beat Medication?

Most cases of depression are treated with antidepressants in medicine today. But when talking natural depression treatments, St John’s Wort pops up first.

Certainly St. John’s Wort has a pretty good track history when it comes to battling depression, but are there any other supplements that can help?

Before I answer that, let’s cover a little bit on depression first.  Too often we think of it as some kind of “chemical imbalance,” despite the fact that there is absolutely no proof that any such entity exists.  Personally, I think the idea of an imbalance was fostered by the drug companies to increase the acceptance of medication designed to correct such an imbalance.  I mean really–do you think you were built with a shortage of Prosac?  Maybe at your moment of conception the gene that makes Paxil just didn’t make it?

Since we inherently know that this can’t be true, what goes wrong?

Well, there’s a couple of solid theories.  First and foremost is having healthy brain cells so that messages that are supposed to get out and into the cell get to where they are going.  A diet filled with unhealthy fats and devoid of healthy fats is going to leave your brain cells unable to effectively  communicate with its neighbors.  This is why there are numerous studies supporting dietary changes and omega 3 fats on depression have been published.  For a full review, feel free to check out my Depression Risk Factors eBook that can be found by clicking here.

Another bad situation for the brain is inflammation.  Anytime inflammation runs amok (unlike the controlled inflammation associated with something like a sprained ankle) the blood vessels suffer.  Once the blood vessels become inflamed the next stage is worsening brain health.  If your brain cells can’t get the nutrients they need, the same problem with communication mentioned above is going to occur.

Based on this information, what if we used a natural anti-inflammatory to treat depression, a brain cell based problem that is affected by inflammation?  You of course know where I’m going with this one.  In this particular study, researchers compared the natural anti-inflammatory curcumin (which is the most powerful compound found in the spice turmeric) to the popular antidepressant of the SSRI class fluoxetine (Prosac).  Here’s the details:

  1. 60 patients with MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER (important–this is not run of the mill gloomy that we’re talking about here).
  2. They were give fluoxetine (20 mg) and curcumin (1000 mg) individually or in combination for 6 weeks.
  3. Response was rated using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, 17-item version (HAM-D17).
  4.  The response was highest in the combination group (77.8%) than in the fluoxetine (64.7%) and the curcumin (62.5%) groups.
  5. However,  the overall change in HAM-D17 score at the end of six weeks was comparable in all three groups.

Overall, the response to curcumin was equivalent to that of Prosac.  That’s where the similarities end.  The curcumin supplements were well tolerated (which we know that upwards of 38% of patients taking SSRIs experience side effects).  In addition, SSRI are linked to poor bone health and osteoporosis as well as the development of weight gain and diabetes.  Curcumin, on the other hand, has almost the opposite effects.

Seems like a good-brainer to me (get it?  Not a “no-brainer,” but a “good??”  Never mind….).  Anyway…let this be a reminder to avoid the high-fructose corn syrup ketchup and overload your food with mustard.


James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.