Answer:

A wide variety of natural supplements have shown some benefit in reducing depression and/or anxiety, including fish oil, certain probiotics, curcumin, saffron, 5-HTP and others (such as St. John's wort and ashwagandha). Be aware that certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause depression. Learn more about each of these below (with links to more details -- including dosage -- within our reports), as well as safety when taking supplements for depression or anxiety.

Fish Oil
Fish oil has been found to be helpful for both depression and anxiety. Supplementing with fish oil with a high percentage of the omega-3 fatty acid EPA has been shown to improve symptoms in moderate and major depression (although not in mild depression) and may help to improve the effectiveness of various antidepressant medications. Similarly, fish oil high in EPA has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety.

CBD Oil
Small studies and case reports suggest that CBD (cannabidiol) can reduce symptoms of anxiety as well as improve sleep in anxiety-related sleep disorders. Be aware that CBD has been reported to have a stimulating effect or worsen anxiety and insomnia in a small percentage of people.

Probiotics
Certain strains of probiotics have been found to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in short term studies, and one prebiotic product has been shown to lower levels of the "stress" hormone cortisol, as well as improve responses in a test associated with anxiety and depression.

Curcumin (from turmeric)
A small clinical study in people already taking prescription medication for major depression found daily supplementation with curcumin significantly reduced depressive symptoms after four weeks and the effect was greater in those with atypical depression. The study found that anxiety was also reduced in those taking curcumin, although this reduction did not reach statistical significance.

Saffron
Saffron extract may provide modest benefit in depression. A saffron extract was found to decrease self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety (including separation anxiety, social phobia, panic, obsession and compulsions) compared to placebo in a two-month study in Australia of 80 adolescent boys and girls with mild-to-moderate anxiety and/or depression who were not taking antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication. Those who took the extract reported an average decrease in symptoms of 33%, compared to a 17% reduction in those who took a placebo. The dose of the extract (affron® -- standardized to 3.5% lepticrosalides) was 14 mg taken twice daily. Parents of those taking the saffron extract reported a 40% reduction in symptoms, compared to a 26% reduction perceived by parents of those taking placebo (Lopresti, J Affect Disord 2018). The same research team conducted another two-month clinical trial involving the same dose of affron but, this time, studying 139 men and women (average age 40) who were taking antidepressant medication and still experiencing symptoms of depression. The study found that adding affron significantly reduced symptoms as evaluated by a clinician, with 40% having a meaningful reduction in symptoms, compared to 24% of those who took a placebo + medication. Interestingly, however, there was no improvement compared to placebo based on patients' own symptom ratings. The researchers pointed out that, in general, clinician ratings of depression tend to be more sensitive than self-reported ratings (Lopresti, J Psychopharmacol 2019). The study was funded by the manufacturer of the extract, Pharmactive Biotech Products. (See the Encyclopedia article about saffron).

5-HTP
One study found 5-HTP to be as effective as fluvoxamine (Luvox) for depression, with fewer side-effects; it was also found to be effective in people suffering from anxiety disorders, although not as effective as the prescription medication clomipramine.

Other herbal supplements, vitamins and products that may help
There is evidence for a number of other supplements that may be helpful specifically for depression, including St. John's wort, SAMe, DHEA, and Rhodiola rosea. In women, daily supplementation with folic acid has been shown to increase the effectiveness of the antidepressant SSRI drug fluoxetine (Prozac) and increase the rate of recovery from depression compared to treatment with Prozac alone.

Some, but not all research suggests that L-theanine, an amino acid found in black and green tea (also sold in tablet and capsule form) may reduce stress and anxiety without causing drowsiness.

In one clinical study, taking ashwagandha daily, in addition to a multivitamin, was shown to significantly reduce anxiety compared to treatment with a weekly psychotherapy session and a placebo. It has also been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety mixed with depression and panic disorder. NAC has been shown to significantly reduce the anxiety-related compulsion to pull hair, known as trichotillomania. The herbs passionflower and lemon balm may also be helpful for anxiety. Although melatonin and valerian are sometimes promoted for anxiety, there is not enough evidence to support their use for this purpose. There is weak evidence, however, that valerian may produce calming effects in stressful situations.

Kava contains compounds (kavalactones) that have a sedating effect. Although some studies have found kava helpful for reducing symptoms of anxiety, a placebo-controlled study in Australia among 172 men and women (average age 36) with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) who were not taking anti-anxiety medication found that two tablets of a standardized kava root extract twice daily (providing a total of 240 kavalactones per day) for 16 weeks did not reduce anxiety. In addition, among those who took kava, adverse effects such as poorer memory, tremor and shakiness were more frequent than in those that took the placebo, as were mild elevations in levels of liver enzymes (GGT, AST and ALT), although acute liver injury (a known risk of kava supplementation) did not occur (Sarris, Aust N Z J Psychiatry 2019).

In addition to their potential as stand-alone agents, a review of clinical studies investigating the use of supplements along with antidepressant medications (including SSRI drugs such as fluoxetine and sertraline and tricyclic drugs such as amitriptyline) found that SAMe, EPA from fish oil, methylfolate and vitamin D may increase the benefits of these drugs (Sarris, Am J Psychiatry 2016).

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can cause depression
Deficiency in B-3 (niacin), B-6, and/or B-12 can cause depression and some studies show that giving B-6, B-12, or folate may help with depression, particularly among those deficient in these vitamins.

Having low blood levels of vitamin D is associated with a higher risk and severity of depression. One study found that supplementation with high-dose vitamin D significantly improved mood in women with type 2 diabetes who had serious depressive symptoms.

Having low blood levels of magnesium, and having a low intake of magnesium from foods are also each associated with an increased risk of depression. One small clinical study suggests magnesium supplementation may help reduce symptoms of depression.

Safety
If you are taking a prescription medication to treat depression or anxiety, consult your physician before taking any of the supplements mentioned above as there could be a risk of drug interactions. For more about this, see the extensive Drug Interactions section of our website. Consult with a qualified health professional for any serious symptoms of anxiety or depression.

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11 Comments

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lynne8139
December 6, 2015

By using NAC nightly I find I sleep much better and have stopped taking Prozac, after many years of use!

don11303
September 27, 2016

What is NAC thanks Don

ConsumerLab.com
September 28, 2016

Hi Don - NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine) is a synthetically modified form of the amino acid cysteine. There is some evidence it may be helpful for compulsive behavior. You can learn more and see our tests of NAC products in the NAC Supplements Review: https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/_/n-acetyl_cysteine/

David8106
November 29, 2015

Having used all of the above I can say that kava has a far more profound stress reducing effect than any of these.

ConsumerLab.com
December 3, 2015

Hi David - Thank you for sharing your experience using kava. We have now added information about this to the answer above.

Christina20055
May 27, 2020

Over the past 5 years, I drink Kava tea on average about once a month when situational anxiety may be high. I do not take it daily. It works very well for me.

Trish18726
December 12, 2019

Be careful mixing with meds! My daughter-in-law who has bipolar disorder started taking kava and soon afterward was nearly hospitalized. Altho’ it may be a coincidence, she feels the kava could have interfered with her prescription medication.

Carol17254
October 20, 2018

I see that fish oil high in EPA may reduce anxiety. Can you specify what percent EPA would be high and what dose has been shown to be effective?

ConsumerLab.com
October 20, 2018

Hi Carol - Please see the "Anxiety" section of the Fish Oil Review ( https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/fish_oil_supplements_review/omega3/#anxiety) for details. We've also added a link to this section from the Answer above to make it easier to find.

colleen17094
August 21, 2018

I was taking Ashwaganda for mild depression it caused me to have an arythmia in my heart, felt awful so I came off of it and the arythmia has subsided!

ConsumerLab.com
August 23, 2018

Thank you for sharing this Colleen. We now have a CL Answer about the side effects of ashwagandha supplements: https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/side-effects-of-ashwagandha-supplements/ashwagandha-side-effects/ and more information can be found in the "Concerns and Cautions" section of the Ashawagandha Supplements Review: https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/ashwagandha_supplements/ashwagandha/#cautions

Susan 16879
June 3, 2018

A relative uses Venetron (150 mg) for depression when needed. It makes a huge difference in lowering what appears to be situational depression. Some capsules sold are 50 mg. However, the manufacturer said 150 mg was best. It doesn't cause sleepiness like other products.

He's also been using SAMe (400 mg) daily for years and takes it about 6 pm. When he awakes in the morning, he is ready to get going for the day. Because there are concerns about SAMe increasing Homeocysteine, he takes a 750 mg capsule of Trimethylglycine daily. Recently, he had his blood tested for the Homeocysteine and the result was within the normal range. In fact, it was on the lower side.

Lazar16734
April 18, 2018

My relative has suffered from a severe depression for four years. No prescription medication had any significant effect. During this time she also tried without much success most supplements including 5HTP that claimed to be helpful for such condition. The real relief came when she start taking Seratonin formula [from Allergy Research] and SAMe. The Seratonin formula includes both 5HTP and 5-MTHF. This brought an improvement in about 3 weeks, and helped her to get completely out of the medication [by gradually reducing the dosage] in about four months. At this, she was taking only one Seratonin capsule and one caplet of SAMe, which was about one third of recommended dosages on their labels (there was a concern of taking larger dosages of these supplements simultaneously with an antidepressant).

Barry11366
October 31, 2016

How about CBD from hemp for anxiety/depression?

ConsumerLab.com
January 1, 2017

Hi Barry - Please see the CL Answer about CBD here: https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/_/cbd/

richard11362
October 30, 2016

Lactium, a bioactive milk peptides have since been shown to act on the brain's GABA-A receptors.

ConsumerLab.com
October 31, 2016

Hi Richard - This appears to be based on the following study in mice: http://lactiuminfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Study-08022016.pdf

Donna11299
September 25, 2016

I use Swanson magnolia bark. I first heard of it from the Dr. Oz. show. Have used it for several years and works pretty good. I used to take Zoloft but had too many side effects. No side effects with the magnolia bark.

don11364
October 30, 2016

What side effects do you have, I take itand my balance ism not very good and get dizzy if i turn around too fast?

Joanne11297
September 25, 2016

I'm a therapist and work with women. I suggest to all my clients struggling with depression to take a look at the research on Omega3 augmentation (or as a stand alone) and to have their thyroid and D3 levels checked out. I've seen huge changes in my clients disposition when the correct blend and amount of Omega3s are added and their Ds levels are well above the bottom of the range. Choices for D3s and Omega3s have been researched by me on Consumerlab as I want my clients to get the purest and best product for their individual need.

Juli11298
September 25, 2016

I agree, it's important to check both thyroid and D levels before resorting to prescription drugs that often have detrimental side effects. I've been on increased D, probiotics, sam-E, and then added a very low-dose thyroid pill to that mix. I can see an effect. I have more energy, sleep better at night, and am less irritable. And don't overlook the benefits of a good, old-fashioned walk. Exercise is as important for our mental health as our physical health. It's amazing how just going outside and moving can lift one's spirits.

Juli11361
October 30, 2016

I fully agree with all of that, am taking same and have seen a mild but definite improvement.

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