Sadness, worry, sleep drought, low libido and negative thoughts…these are all symptoms of depression. Currently, depression affects roughly six percent of men and just over nine percent of women across the globe, which amounts to a staggering 120 million people.  The World Health Organization (WHO) expects that depression will eventually rank 2nd for diseases – with the first being heart disease – when it comes to societal cost due to sickness, medical care and missed work.

Currently, the use of antidepressant medication is out of control.  In fact, it has been estimated that in the last twenty years, antidepressant use has increased by 400 percent. While medication can be very effective after a patient has received a thorough exam, it can also be harmful if not properly prescribed.  Some antidepressants also have side effects, like weight gain, sexual dysfunction and relapse.

Fortunately there are other options for individuals suffering from depression. Here are a few natural ways to ease the symptoms of depression without medication.

Exercise:  It has been suggested that regular aerobic exercise is the best method for immediate symptomatic treatment of depression.  Many studies have found that individuals who regularly exercise experience improved self-confidence, a more positive mood and lower rates of depression.  Most experts recommend at least 45 minutes of daily exercise, five or more days per week.

Fish Oil: Fish oil is a rich source of the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. Research has linked low levels of these fatty acids to emotional and mental disorders that include learning disabilities, violent behavior and depression.  In addition to boosting emotional well-being and preventing depression, fish oil has been beneficial in the treatment of bipolar disorder, ADHD, postpartum depression and seasonal affective disorder.  Here are some guidelines for the consumption of fish oil supplements:

  • Take two to four grams per day of fish oil with EPA and DHA.  Steer clear of products that contain omega-6 or omega-9 fatty acids, as extra amounts of these are not needed.
  • Purchase fish oil that is "molecularly distilled."  This ensures that the product is free of toxic compounds.
  • Take fish oil on a full stomach to minimize upset, or consume capsules in frozen form. Also try purchasing products that guarantee no fish-flavored burps.

Mediterranean Diet:  BDNF is a protein important to brain function. It has been found that low levels of BDNF are linked with certain psychiatric disorders like autism, schizophrenia and depression.  The Mediterranean diet, which is high in flavonols from colorful produce, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin E, can boost levels of BDNF, enhancing mood and cognitive function.

St. John’s Wort:  This is an herb - available as a liquid extract, capsule, or tea - that has proven to be effective for people with low levels of depression.  These are people who can get out of bed and maintain life functions like self-care and work, but suffer from chronic low self-esteem and mood.  In addition to fighting low-level depression, this useful herb also enhances digestion, supports thyroid function and has anti-inflammatory properties.

Fortunately, medication is not the only option for people who suffer from depression.  Physical exercise, diet and natural supplements have all been shown to help to ease symptoms.  In addition to supplements listed above, individuals may also want to investigate SAMe, 5-HTP and saffron.  Always check with a health care provider before engaging in any supplementary regimen.