Harvard Mental Health Letter

Herbal and dietary supplements for depression

In one nationally representative survey, researchers found that 42% of Americans overall — and 54% of those with severe depression — reported using some type of complementary therapy in the previous year. Because herbal and dietary supplements are among the most popular forms of complementary therapies, we're providing a quick review of four supplements that are considered to be safe and effective for some patients.

But three cautions apply. First, most studies of herbal remedies have enrolled patients with mild forms of depression, who tend to respond to many therapies — so the findings are unlikely to apply to patients with major depression. Second, herbal products are not FDA-regulated, so quality and ingredients may vary. Third, patients taking any medication should consult with a clinician before taking an herbal product, to avoid possible interactions.

Folic acid

Background. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, and fortified bread and cereals. Among other functions, folic acid helps the brain produce neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which affects mood. Folate deficiency is common among people who are depressed, and people with low blood levels of folate are less likely to get relief from antidepressant drugs.

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