There are multiple ways to treat depression naturally – information which is not always provided at ordinary health care clinics.
The following list includes 6 natural and evidence-based treatments completely free of chemical substances, risk of tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, emotional numbing, brain zaps or other nasty side effects. Also, there are 2 things to STOP doing (Yes. In some cases, depression can be treated by NOT doing things).
As with all depression treatments, there are individual differences. Not all of these natural cures will cure you. However, the main criteria for any treatment to get a place on this list is:
- It’s backed by several peer-reviewed research studies showing it’s effective for large groups of people.
A rule of thumb: Combining two or more of these options will likely strengthen the effect of each individual treatment.
Here we go.
1. Physical exercise
A remarkable number of scientists, including Schuch and colleagues, have concluded that physical exercise is an evidence-based depression treatment for children, adults and older adults on all continents of the world.
In general, 30-45 minutes of exercise 3-4 times a week brings results comparable to antidepressant medication or psychotherapy.
It’s also preventive. A study from 2020, including 36 595 participants, showed that exercising only 1-2 times a week significantly decreased the risk of depression.
The main benefits of choosing exercise as your preferred treatment are:
- It’s free
- It protects against other diseases (cancer, Alzheimers, diabetes etc)
- It’s the only treatment with an immediate effect on mood
The trick is to take depression into account as you get started.
2. Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS)
During the last two decades (as the problems with antidepressants have become increasingly clear) neuroscientists have taken an interest in tDCS because of its non-invasive qualities and mild side effect profile.
Unlike antidepressants, tDCS targets the brain directly, thus minimising side effects.
tDCS treats depression with gentle electrical stimulation of specific brain regions. It’s not to be confused with ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). The current used in tDCS is 400 times weaker.
For depression, the targeted brain area is located in the frontal lobe and is vital for mood regulation. It’s called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and has shown to be less active in depressed people.
A gentle, electrical current of 2mA is transferred through a portable headset placed high up on the forehead to the DLPFC. Basically, tDCS helps the brain cells to activate by speaking to them in their own favourite language – through electricity. Neurons activate and normal brain function is restored.
When looking at the research, there is no wonder why tDCS has become increasingly popular. A systematic review and meta-analysis from 2020, including 23 high quality studies and 1092 participants, showed that tDCS is an effective depression treatment. And another review from 2022 concludes that of all the home-based neuromodulation techniques, tDCS has the greatest evidence and efficacy for treating depression. It’s described as low-cost, portable, easy-to-use and safe.
In fact, several high quality studies have shown tDCS to be very safe. An analysis of over 2000 tDCS sessions concluded that its side effects are mild, transient, and well-tolerated. And according to Bikson and colleagues, no serious adverse events were found across 33 200 tDCS sessions with 1000 participants.
For those interested in trying it, tDCS is available to buy online. Just make sure the treatment you choose is CE-certified (evidence-based and absolutely safe to use). Today, tDCS by Flow Neuroscience is the only at-home tDCS treatment with a CE certification.
What you eat will inevitably impact how you think and feel – even to the extent that the foods you consume can constitute the difference between health and depression.
According to expert in anatomy and neuroscience Dr Bastiaansen and his team of researchers, the gut bacteria and our neurons are in constant communication with each other. The vagus nerve connects the stomach to the brain and acts as a bidirectional highway with substances constantly travelling back and forth. This means that what you put in your mouth will directly affect your brain – how you feel, think and your ability to concentrate.
An ambitious study investigated the effects of an anti-inflammatory diet on depression. Researcher Dr N Jacka found that over 30 % of the depressed participants recovered from depression by changing their eating habits. So, switching from a high-fat, high-sugar diet to the traditional Mediterranean diet can have huge implications for your mood.
The best way to start an anti-inflammatory diet is to add vegetables, fruits, berries, seeds, nuts, extra virgin olive oil and whole grains. These fibre-rich foods protect against depression and other mental health problems.
There’s a lot more to learn about what to eat to recover from depression and how to feed your gut bacteria with antidepressant recipes
4. Mindfulness meditation
A solid number of high-quality research studies show that a few minutes of mindfulness meditation a day can have a significant impact on depression and anxiety.
Some evidence suggests that the effect of meditation on anxiety is noticeable within only one week, while it usually takes around 6-8 weeks of daily meditations for depression to lift.
An interesting study by Dr Carpena from 2019 showed that only 6 weeks of short, daily meditation sessions significantly reduced depression (and anxiety). And the participants who continued with their meditation practice still reported low levels of depression 6 months later.
Another research team led by Dr Basso found that only 13 minutes of daily meditations for 8 weeks improved people’s mood, attention, memory and ability to regulate emotions.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the safest and most comfortable ways to change the way your brain cells communicate with each other. All you need to do is to get started.
If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, the act of gardening shows promising, antidepressant effects.
The research is not (yet) as overwhelmingly convincing as for example aerobic exercise. However, a meta-analysis from 2017, including studies from the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, showed that gardening reduced:
- Mood disturbances
- Body Mass Index (BMI)
- Quality of life
- Sense of community
- Physical activity levels
- Cognitive function
Read more about gardening on this list of natural depression treatments.
Both physical exercise and meditation work as stand-alone depression treatments. So, combining them into one practice must be beneficial for mental health, right?
Researchers such as Dr Cramer and Dr Nanthakumar conclude that yoga can be effective both as a complementary and a stand-alone depression treatment. The antidepressant effects are comparable to those of antidepressant medication.
There are a few things to consider before starting your yoga practice. And this free guide prepares you for them.
Now, you were promised 2 things to STOP doing. Here we go:
1. STOP smoking
This is one of the most powerful natural treatments for depression available. According to the NHS, to stop smoking can have the same effect on depression as psychotherapy or antidepressants.
If this applies to you, contact the NHS stop smoking services.
2. STOP drinking
Drinking alcohol significantly increases the risk of depression. And depression increases the risk of alcohol abuse.
There is no “safe” amount to drink. So, if you are struggling with depression, the best practice is to avoid alcohol altogether.
A summary of 6 evidence-based natural depression treatments:
- Physical exercise
- transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS)
- An antidepressant diet
- Mindfulness meditation
STOP drinking alcohol
Hope this helps!