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Naturopathic Treatment for Depression


Depression is a mental health disorder that affects one’s mood. It causes lingering feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness. Depression also causes a loss of interest in doing activities you once enjoyed. For some people, these feelings can be intense. The feelings may remain constant and can interfere with daily life.

There are many reasons people become depressed, including chemical imbalances, stress, trauma, grief, and more. Poor sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise, and other lifestyle factors can also contribute.  But all types impact how we think, feel, and perform daily activities. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), there are several different types of depression:


  • Major depression: Symptoms are experienced for at least 2 weeks, and they interfere with daily activities.


  • Dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder): Less severe symptoms than major depression, but they last much longer– usually for at least 2 years.


  • Perinatal Depression & Postpartum Depression: Perinatal depression is when a person feels depressed while pregnant. Postpartum is when a woman experiences depression after giving birth. It can last for weeks to months, or longer in some cases.


  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Depression that is felt when the seasons change. It usually starts during the late fall and lasts through winter. Once spring and summer hit, the feelings tend to go away.


  • Depression with symptoms of psychosis: Includes delusions and hallucinations and is considered more serious. 

There are other types of depressive disorders, such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (found in children and adolescents). All psychiatric disorders can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)

According to the CDC, 18.4% of people in the United States suffer from depression. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression affects about 280 million people worldwide. According to the WHO, depression is the fourth most common disease in the world and the leading cause of disability worldwide. 

The good news is, depression can be treated, even in severe cases. Naturopathic and holistic treatments are extremely effective in treating the disorder. A few holistic approaches that are commonly used to treat depression include: 


  • Adjust eating habits 
  • Include dietary and herbal supplements
  • Exercise 
  • Massage 
  • Light exposure 

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Depending on the type of depression, symptoms can vary. Severity, frequency, and duration give us clues about the type of illness a person has and can help figure out diagnosis and treatment. According to The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), symptoms of depression include:


  • Feelings of sadness, anxiousness, or “empty” mood that don’t go away
  • Apathy, or loss of interest in once-enjoyable daily activities
  • Feelings of irritability, frustration‚ or restlessness 
  • Difficulty sleeping, staying asleep, waking early in the morning, or oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite or unplanned weight loss or weight gain.
  • Having pain in your body that doesn’t improve with treatment
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions
  • Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts or self-harm
  • Unstable blood sugar

You may have many or only a few of these symptoms to be considered depressed. Depression is upsetting and disruptive for the person going through it and they may have a tough time getting through their daily life. If you have been experiencing any of the above signs and symptoms consistently for 2 weeks or more, you may have depression. It’s not shameful to ask for help. There are many treatment options out there that can help you feel more stable quickly. 

If you have thoughts about harming yourself please reach out to this nationwide hotline to speak to someone for free. Just dial 988.

Depression, stress, anxiety, and other mood disorders are also linked to dysregulated blood sugar. When someone is not experiencing psychological well-being, they are less likely to take as good care of themselves as they normally would. This stress can affect blood sugar levels too. According to the CDC, stress hormones cause unstable and unpredictable blood sugar. If your unstable blood sugar is caused by depression, treating your depression will help you mitigate the risk of disease linked with blood sugar issues. 

On the flip side, certain mood disorders can feel like low blood sugar. Someone who is feeling depressed or anxious should monitor blood sugar to determine if low blood sugar is the cause of their symptoms of depression. Your doctor should run labs for you before recommending an antidepressant to rule out things like hypothyroidism and Vitamin D deficiency. Naturopathic Doctors will typically run a comprehensive blood panel or functional lab tests to get to the root cause. 

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Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), it is estimated that 21.0 million adults in the United States have experienced some type of depression at least once in their lifetime.  

Depression can affect anyone and everyone. According to the CDC, women are almost twice as likely as men to have had depression, but men also suffer from depression and may be at great risk of being left untreated depression because they are less likely to seek help for it. Birth control pills have been linked to depression in females. We have helped many women come off birth control effectively. We use the DUTCH Complete hormone test to get a comprehensive functional look at hormone health about 4 months after stopping the pill.

The rate of depression among children and adolescents climbed in recent years. Studies also show certain groups of people are at higher risk for depression, like LGBTQIA+ communities, or those in lower socioeconomic groups. 

Many people with health issues, like chronic pain or diseases like diabetes can also cause depression. It’s estimated that 85% of people with chronic pain suffer from depression. Addressing the underlying cause of depression, like illness or chronic pain is the first line in addressing depression. 


Depression is often diagnosed through a combination of lab tests and by talking to a patient about symptoms, family history, lifestyle, and more. It usually starts with identifying symptoms in a patient. Your Naturopath will do additional functional medicine testing to look into potential root causes, including testing for the following: 


  • Nutrient Deficiencies, including B12, Zinc  and Vitamin D
  • Food Allergies and Sensitivities
  • Minerals and Heavy Metals
  • Hormones, including thyroid
  • Genetics 

Doctors will also look at the following factors when diagnosing someone with depression:


  • Past medical history 
  • Family history 
  • Medication use
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Social and lifestyle factors 
  • A physical exam to rule out physical causes of depression. 

There are a few valuable questionnaires that practitioners may use to evaluate symptoms of depression. Those include the Beck’s Depression Inventory (BDI), Hamilton Depression Scale (Ham-D), PHQ-9, and Zung Self Rating Depression Scale



A Naturopathic medicine approach to depression is to identify and address the root cause of the problem, such as poor gut health, chronic stress, hormone imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, or infection. For many, mild to moderate depression can be successfully treated with a variety of naturopathic and holistic options and lifestyle medicine, including:

  • Sunlight/light exposure therapy
  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Dietary supplements 
  • Massage
  • Western Herbal Medicine  
  • Homeopathy
  • Flower essences
  • Acupuncture
  • Chinese Herbal Medicine
  • Biotherapeutic Drainage
  • Mind-body Medicine

Depression is a complex condition with various potential causes, including biological, psychological, and social factors. By looking at all factors, naturopathic medicine uncovers underlying imbalances and dysfunctions through personalized plans to treat depression rather than just suppressing the symptoms. Ultimately, the goal of naturopathic medicine is to promote optimal health and well-being by addressing the root causes of illness and supporting the body’s natural ability to heal. Research continues to point to the effectiveness of alternative medicine that does not involve the use of drugs to treat depression.



Light therapy is a type of treatment that involves sitting close to an artificial light source daily for at least 30 minutes, usually in the morning. Light exposure therapy has been used as an alternative treatment to help ease Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but it is also very effective for easing other depressive disorders, including major depression, perinatal depression, and sleep disorders.

Studies show that treatment with light therapy is as effective as antidepressant medications or psychotherapy. Evidence from these studies reports between 40% to 60% of people saw improvement in symptoms after light therapy. 

The research shows that light therapy is a useful treatment to improve symptoms of depression because it helps normalize several systems in the body:


  • It aligns your circadian rhythm (your brain’s 24-hour cycle) with your biological clock 
  • It balances the activation of serotonin circuitry in your brain – a key component in mood regulation
  • It contributes to stable and consistent sleep patterns
  • It increases alertness

Your body clock (circadian rhythms) controls when you feel sleepy and when you feel awake. Your circadian rhythms allow your brain to get signals for when to wake or when to go to sleep. If your body clock is disrupted, it can hurt the hormonal system, disrupt your sleep, and cause you to crave foods that aren’t necessarily good for you.  

When your body clock gets disrupted regularly, it may cause you to experience depression. Your natural body clock is easily influenced by your surrounding environment. Any existing sleep disorders you may be suffering from could also cause your body clock to get off kilter. Light therapy helps to re-regulate your natural body block and ease symptoms of depression. 

How light therapy works for you will depend on your circadian rhythm patterns and the type of light. We also recommend going to bed and waking at the same time of day and eating your meals around the same time each day while doing light therapy to increase the beneficial effects. Consistent patterns help to reduce low-grade stress on the body. 



Exercise is a well-known, beneficial holistic antidote for managing depression. Routine physical activity naturally lifts mood and diminishes symptoms of depression. We know, however, how difficult it can be to get out and get moving when you are struggling with depression. In these cases, we often recommend homeopathic medicine or other therapies to help take the edge off and give you more drive to get moving. 

Using exercise to treat mild to moderate depression symptoms is an effective first-line treatment for depression. One study found depression can also be prevented with regular exercise with as little as one hour of physical activity a week. A literature review suggests several mental health benefits from exercise. This same research notes that doctors should include physical activity in their lifestyle prescriptions for any patients needing improvement in their mental health. 

There are many reasons why the benefits of exercise make it ideal for treating depression: 


  • It causes an “endorphin high”. Endorphins are our body’s natural painkillers and mood boosters. An endorphin high is linked to improved mood and reduced stress.
  • It has the same effect on levels of the same neurotransmitters that conventional antidepressant medications do– serotonin and norepinephrine. These are our natural feel-good chemicals. 
  • Regular physical activity improves cognitive function and prevents cognitive decline. Cognitive symptoms often accompany depression, and exercise therapy can contribute to better mental clarity and focus.
  • A regular exercise routine helps with better quality sleep. It can help regulate sleep patterns, which is crucial because disrupted sleep is a common symptom of depression. 
  • Participating in group exercises or team sports provides social interaction, which can be especially beneficial for people who feel isolated from others due to depression.
  • Regular physical activity helped reduce inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been associated with depression, and regular exercise has anti-inflammatory effects. By reducing inflammation, exercise may contribute to improvements in mood.

Naturopathic Doctors typically recommend trying to get your movement in while in nature as Forest bathing is also said to be good for depression.  Getting to the mountains, woods or ocean can also increase negative ions to decrease inflammation.  Dew treading has been recommended since the beginning of Naturopathic Medicine in the 1800’s.  You walk on the dewy grass in the morning to help enhance the uptake of negative ions and the ground effect. Dr. Stephen Sinatra has shown that 45 minutes of grounding can decrease inflammation in blood tests. If it is winter and you can’t get your bare feet on the ground then take a look into grounding sheets for your bed or grounding mats for your desk.

In some cases, symptoms of depression improve immediately after exercise, but in more severe cases it may take a few weeks of a consistent exercise routine before people feel better. The key is to be consistent. Exercise for depression is a long-term treatment, not a quick fix. 

Activities that are the most effective for treating depression include walking, jogging, cycling, yoga, dancing, and swimming. However, it’s more important to choose something you will like and will want to keep doing. 



Yoga is known for its meditative effects and is widely accepted as a holistic approach to dealing with depression. A yoga practice combines physical postures with breath control. It reduces stress and builds strength and flexibility. The breathing and meditative practices of yoga promote relaxation. They are designed to bring on a sense of calm, well-being, and mental focus, making it a good holistic approach to treating depression. 

There is a body of research supporting the use of yoga to reduce depression and anxiety in patients with major depressive disorder. A review of studies shows that symptoms of depression drop when yoga is practiced consistently for about 2.5 months.

Yoga is safe and is widely accepted by patients. The benefits of treating depression with yoga include: 

  • Improved mood
  • Reduced stress and tension
  • Improved quality of sleep
  • Improved mind-body awareness
  • Regulated nervous system
  • Increased social connection
  • Improved self-esteem


Improving patient nutrition is a standard practice of naturopathic medicine for improving patient health. An anti-inflammatory diet is associated with robust mental health and is a first-line therapy for improving symptoms of depression. This may be because these diets increase antioxidant, vitamin, and mineral content, protein, fiber, and lower glycemic index.

The link between food and depression is well-documented and continues to be studied. It’s uncommon for US adults to be deficient in certain vitamins. A literature review shows a correlation between depression and Vitamin D deficiency. When patients with depressive mood disorder were supplemented with vitamin D, they showed marked improvement in their symptoms. Vitamin B, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids are also known to improve depression. It is key to get your levels checked before supplementing with high doses of vitamins and minerals.  Some vitamins can be toxic at high doses.

The link between cognitive function and food is strong. Not only is what we eat important for overall health, but it is vital to eat food that supports good mental health. 

Foods that help lower the risk of depression include:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • whole grain
  • fish
  • olive oil
  • lean meats
  • nuts and seeds

A diet that increases the risk of depression includes a high consumption of processed foods, such as:

  • red and/or processed meat
  • refined grains
  • sweets
  • high-fat dairy products
  • low intakes of fruits and vegetables 
  • Alcohol


Vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to symptoms of insomnia and depression. Regularly making poor food choices can cause low levels of Vitamin B12, along with other vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also be caused by a leaky gut (inability to absorb nutrients), which can be caused by poor food choices. 

There is substantial evidence that shows an association between low vitamin B-12 and an increase in depression. On the flip side, high vitamin B-12 status may be linked with better treatment outcomes for depression. A systematic review also shows that high doses of vitamin B12 benefit healthy and at-risk individuals with chronic stress, anxiety, and depression.  Some forms of B12 are better absorbed and utilized in the body than other forms.  Naturopathic Doctors use physician-grade supplements with the best forms of vitamins. 

B vitamins are naturally found in many foods:

  • Whole grains
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Leafy greens & other vegetables
  • Citrus fruits
  • Meat, poultry, fish
  • Nuts & seeds

A balanced and varied diet that includes a mix of these foods can help ensure an adequate intake of all B vitamins. 


Omega-3 fatty acids are “healthy fats” found in foods like fish, nuts, and seeds. Many studies support the use of omega-3 fatty acids as an effective treatment of major depressive disorder and other mental health issues. The same research suggests that omega-3 supplementation may enhance the effects of antidepressant medications. Getting in the habit of eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can also be helpful. The best food sources include:  

  • Nuts and seeds (flax, Chia, walnuts)
  • Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines 
  • Soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Winter squash

Omega-3 fatty acids are promising natural treatments for mood disorders and research continues. We also recommend eating Wild Alaskan salmon over farm-raised salmon due to what they are fed. The smaller the fish the better as large fish contain more mercury.  For example, tuna and swordfish will contain more mercury than salmon or anchovies. 


Proper brain function relies on adequate magnesium. Magnesium is also critical for our central nervous system, which affects mood stability. Adding magnesium to your diet has been linked to improvements in outcomes of several types of depression, including major depression and postpartum depression. It also has been shown to help ease premenstrual symptoms. 

Just as adding magnesium to your diet helps ease depression symptoms, it is also known that magnesium deficiency can increase the risk for depression. Research suggests that patients with depression who are also deficient in magnesium are more likely to see symptom improvement when magnesium is added to their diet. 

It is recommended that patients with depression supplement with magnesium and eat a diet rich in the mineral. Foods that are high in magnesium include: 

  • Fish
  • Whole grains (barley, buckwheat, oats)
  • Artichoke
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes 
  • Leafy greens
  • Tomatoes
  • Soybeans

It is important to work with a licensed Naturopathic Doctor.  We know which forms of magnesium are best suited for certain types of disorders.  For example, high doses of magnesium citrate may cause digestive upset and loose stools but other forms may not. 


Aromatherapy is a specific type of therapy that incorporates essential oils into a massage. It is often considered a complementary therapy for promoting relaxation and well-being. It has gained popularity as a supportive treatment for depression. Studies back the use of aromatherapy massage as part of a treatment protocol for depression. 


The use of lavender essential oil has become popular in aromatherapy and aromatherapy massage. Its therapeutic effects have been assessed in a large number of clinical trials. A systematic review and meta-analysis showed that aromatherapy with lavender essential oil had significant antidepressant effects. It also is effective in decreasing anxiety and depression in various settings to help produce relaxation for sleep. 


Herbal supplements have been proven to have a positive effect on clinical depression, anxiety, and sleeplessness and for some, are the preferred approach to natural treatment for depression. Herbal treatments that have been well-researched to improve symptoms of depression include St. John’s Wort, saffron, ashwagandha, valerian root, Rhodiola Rosea, lavender, and chamomile.  

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) may be the most studied herbal remedy for depression. Some studies suggest that it may be effective for mild to moderate depression, but less so for major depressive disorder. However, its use should be approached with caution as it can have dangerous effects when combined with medications like antidepressants. 

How effective is St John’s Wort for depression?

Research found that the effects of St. John’s wort are comparable to antidepressant medications. However, it was no more effective than a placebo for major depressive disorder. Many other studies have shown that St. John’s Wort works just as well as conventional drugs, like Prozac, Celexa, paroxetine (Paxil), and Zoloft. It inhibits the reuptake of the neurotransmitter function of glutamate, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, just as conventional medications do. 

Why don’t doctors prescribe St John’s Wort?

While St. John’s Wort has shown some promise as an alternative medicine in treating mild to moderate depression, there are several reasons why doctors may be cautious or hesitant to prescribe it. The main reason doctors hesitate to prescribe St. John’s Wort is because it can interact with other medications. If a patient is using medications to treat depression or other mood disorders, like tricyclic antidepressants, SSRIs, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), they should not also use St. John’s Wort. The interactions can be dangerous and life-threatening to one’s health. 

How long does it take St John’s Wort to work for depression?

It can take a little time to see a difference in depressive symptoms when using St. John’s Wort, which is also true for most other antidepressants. According to research, St. John’s Wort may take between 4 to 6 weeks before patients see a decrease in symptoms of depression. If it doesn’t work after this amount of time, you should consider other treatments.


Ashwagandha is a medicinal herb commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine (ancient Indian natural medicine practice). The herb is also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry and has been used for thousands of years for healing a wide range of purposes. Most commonly ashwagandha is known for its mood-lifting effects. Scientific research supports its potential in alternative medicine to treat clinical depression and other depressive disorders. A literature review of the effects of high doses of ashwagandha safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance towards stress and thereby improves self-assessed quality of life. Other studies show the effects of the herb are comparable to common prescription antidepressants.


In some studies, St. John’s Wort is just as effective at treating depression as medications like Zoloft. Side effects from St. John’s Wort were less severe than Zoloft and make it a good first-line treatment in naturopathic medicine. 

Other alternative medicine antidepressants include ashwagandha, S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM-e), omega-3 fatty acids, and L-5 hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). Their effects are similar to conventional antidepressant medications. As with prescription antidepressants, results vary from person to person.


The most common herbs and supplements used for mild to moderate depression include:

  • St. John’s Wort
  • SAM-e
  • 5-HTP
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • DHEA

It appears that St. John’s Wort is as effective as popular medications, like Prozac, Celexa, paroxetine (Paxil), and Zoloft, and found that the herb works as well as medicines. Because of its negligible side effects, one study suggested St. John’s WOrt as a good first-line treatment.  


While there isn’t a direct natural equivalent to synthetic Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), some natural compounds may have mild serotonin-enhancing effects. SSRIs are a type of antidepressant medication that is used to treat depression and anxiety by most doctors. They work by increasing the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in the brain. Natural alternatives that work similarly include:

  • St. John’s Wort is an herbal remedy that has been studied for its potential antidepressant effects. It is believed to impact serotonin levels, among other neurotransmitters. However, as mentioned earlier, it can interact with various medications, and its use should be approached cautiously.

  • 5-HTP is a compound that the body produces from tryptophan, an amino acid found in protein-rich foods. It is a precursor to serotonin, and some people use 5-HTP supplements to support mood. 

  • Saffron has been studied for its potential antidepressant effects and may influence serotonin levels. It is considered a spice and can be included in the diet.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil and certain plant sources like flaxseed, may have mood-stabilizing effects. While not SSRIs, they may play a role in supporting overall mental well-being.


There are many alternative medicine therapies for the treatment of depressive disorders that have the backing of scientific studies. Many of these therapies are just as good as conventional treatments but are also supportive of conventional treatments. A naturopath’s first step is to work with patients to uncover the root cause of depressive symptoms and ensure diet and exercise therapy are in place. Once this has been done, nutritional supplementation, herbal medicines, light therapy, and aromatherapy can be used to support the needs of each individual. 

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