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Herbs for Depression and Anxiety

written by: Diana Cooper • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 12/5/2010

Drugs can have unwanted side effects, including drowsiness and high blood pressure. Find three herbs for depression and anxiety that are similar (or better) than drugs, are non-addictive, and have significantly fewer side effects.

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    Depression and Anxiety

    Depression is the most common mood disorder and is a major problem in the United States. Anxiety, another unpleasant emotional state, is also a common problem that is usually a symptom of severe stress. Roughly 17 million Americans suffer from true clinical depression and over 14 million Americans suffer from anxiety each year. More than 28 million Americans take medications for anxiety and depression. These drugs can have unwanted side effects and adverse reactions including drowsiness, diarrhea, sexual dysfunction, hypertension, and acute renal failure. Taking herbs for depression and anxiety is a safer alternative that may be an effective treatment for you.

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    Herbs

    Kava (Piper methysticum)

    Kava has a calming effect, promotes sociability, and is said to be the reason islanders in the Oceania area (where kava is common) are referred to as the happiest and friendliest people in the world.

    Kava extracts are gaining popularity in the US and in Europe in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Several countries in Europe have approved the use of kava to treat depression, nervous anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. According to studies, kava extract has been shown to be just as effective as benzodiazepines (like valium) but without the drawbacks, including addictiveness.

    Approved kava preparations in Europe are extracts standardized for kavalactone content (usually 30-70%). No side effects have been reported when used at recommended dosages. However, problems can occur with extremely high doses over a long period of time.

    St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

    St. John's wort (extracts standardized for hypericin content, usually 0.3%) is the most thoroughly researched natural antidepressant. Studies have shown it to help improve many psychological symptoms, including depression, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, and insomnia.

    The following are three studies comparing St. John's wort to antidepressant drugs:

    • Amitriptyline (used to treat major depression): 32 of 40 participants taking St. John's wort had positive results. 28 of 40 participants taking Amitriptyline had positive results.

    • Maprotiline (used to treat depression, bipolar disorder-depressed, and agitated depression): 27 of 51 (herb), 28 of 51 (drug).

    • Imipramine (used to treat depression): 42 of 67 (herb), 37 of 68 (drug).

    The therapeutic outcome of both were similar but side effects, cost, and patient satisfaction were significantly better with St. John's wort. The major side effect with St. John's wort was mild stomach irritation.

    Ginkgo Biloba

    Ginkgo biloba (extracts standardized to contain 24% ginkgo flavonglycosides and 6% terpenoids) exerts good antidepressant effects, especially in those older than 50 years. In one study, 40 participants (age 51-78 years old) with depression who had not benefited fully from antidepressant drugs were given either ginkgo biloba extract (80 mg 3 times a day) or a placebo along with their medication. After 8 weeks, those taking the herb with their drug had significantly better results than those taking the placebo with their drug.

    Other benefits of ginkgo biloba include relieving anxiety and tension, restoring energy, and improving mental alertness.

    Before taking herbs for depression and anxiety, consult with your health care provider, especially if you are taking medications. Stopping some drugs on your own can be dangerous.

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    Sources Used

    Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (1998)

    Linda Skidmore-Roth, Mosby's Nursing Drug Reference (2000)

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    Disclaimer

    Please read this disclaimer regarding the information contained within this article.