Part 4: Herbs and Supplements for Mental Health

First things First….

Always Address the Underlying Cause

This is going back to Naturopathic philosophy. It is important to get to the underlying cause of your depression/anxiety. Relying on a herb/supplement for life is not really getting to the roots of it all. They may be helpful for intermittent use to help you through the toughest moments, but diet/lifestyle/stress management/therapy should be the focus. There are some exceptions to this, where supplementation for life can help, but this will be something you will need to explore with a nutritionist. They may refer you for further functional laboratory testing if they feel that there are other factors at play. Unfortunately many of these are not available on the NHS so you will have to visit a practitioner in order to get them (at your own expense) but for chronic/severe cases, where diet/lifestyle has not worked, then it can be worthwhile.

Seek Guidance from a qualified practitioner

I have not given a list of absolutely ALL the supplements available as I believe these should be prescribed by a knowledgeable practitioner, who can find the best fit for your particular case and adjust the dose/check for any contraindications/possible interactions with medications you are taking. It may be an initial cost, but it can save you so much more money in the long-run as it helps to organize/streamline the supplements you are taking. If you can’t afford expensive supplements, discuss this with your practitioner and they should be able to work around it and scale down the supplements, focusing more on food, teas and other less expensive options.

Note: if you do not visit a practitioner and want to try a supplement anyway, always do your research and read up on the contraindications for any herb/nutrient.

Caution

Do not take herbs/nutrients if you are on medications or have a chronic disease (especially liver/kidney disorders) without professional advice, in case of interactions and contraindications. Also do not take if pregnant/breastfeeding without prior advice.

Lecture Over! Moving onto the Supplements..

Vitamins

  • B Vitamins: required to make neurotransmitters. Folic Acid, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12 are especially important, but all the B vitamins work together as a group, so if you do want to take them, take a B Complex rather than an isolated supplement. In some cases a practitioner will recommend higher doses of a particular B Vitamin, in addition to a complex. For example, people with depression are often low in Folic Acid and Vitamin B6.
  • The Methylation connection: Some people with depression also have more requirements for the B Vitamins due to something called poor homocysteine metabolism. There is a strong link between high homocysteine and depression. You can request that your GP test your homocysteine levels if you have chronic depression. A simple B vitamin supplement (esp B6, B12 and Folic acid) is the remedy if your homocysteine is high.
  • Vitamin C: the ‘stress vitamin’ which we need in higher amounts during times of stress. Your adrenal glands (which release adrenaline) need lots of vitamin C. If you do not eat many raw veg and fruit, you may want to consider taking a vitamin C supplement.

Minerals

  • Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Potassium, Iron and Iodine: these minerals (and others) are important for mental health.
  • Even a mild Zinc deficiency can cause symptoms of depression. Many depressed patients have been shown to have low zinc levels.
  • Magnesium deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency. This mineral is involved in 300+ reactions in the human body and low levels are associated with both depression and anxiety. Magnesium is our key anti-anxiety mineral and ironically, high stress also depletes levels in the body, making our anxiety and depression worse. Supplements are readily available.

Amino Acids

  • These are the building blocks of proteins in the body – including neurotransmitters.
  • Tryptophan and 5HTP: Tryptophan is used to make serotonin, though 5-HTP is a better option (a safer form of tryptophan). Do not take these with SSRI’s!!!
  • NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine) for depression, compulsive behaviours and more…
  • SAMe for depression
  • These in my opinion are temporary options, which may help for a while, but they should not be relied on as they do not get to the underlying causes… Do not take these if you are on medications without seeking advice (eg 5HTP can interact with SSRI anti-depressants).

Herbal Remedies

As I have already mentioned, herbal medicine is a lot more complex than simply recommending 1 herb for 1 condition. But I’ll introduce a few of my favourite plants nevertheless.

Adaptogenic Herbs for Stress

these are beneficial for all types of nervous system stress- they may help the body to adapt to stress, whether that be psychological of physical. They are best taken for 6-12 weeks followed by a break for a couple of weeks or rotating every couple of months with a different adaptogen (this is what Herbalists recommend). Some adaptogenic herbs include Ginseng, Rhodiola and Ashwaganda. There are other adaptogens, but a herbalist will generally choose the best one for you as each has slightly different qualities.

Herbs For Depression

St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is quite well known already and may be effective for mild-moderate depression, comparable to anti-depressant medications (however there are some cautions with this herb if you are taking medications: be careful if taking any prescription medication or the Oral Contraceptive Pill is it can interact and wear sun protection as it can in rare cases cause pigmentation with exposure to UV light)

Rhodiola: From Russia with love… an adaptogenic herb which has received some recent attention for it’s ability to improve mood and energy levels in cases of mild-moderate depression. Much of the research on Rhodiola comes from Russia, with promising results. It’s popularity is spreading and many well known brands now sell Rhodiola capsules.

The Ginsengs: Panax Ginseng (Korean Ginseng) is more stimulating, so it may be beneficial for depression and fatigue but not so much for anxiety or bipolar. It has been studied for it’s effects on performance in athletes and in improving cognitive function. Siberian Ginseng: another stimulating adaptogenic herb which may help to improve nervous system function. As with other herbs there are contraindications, eg: don’t take if you have high blood pressure.

Saffron (already mentioned under foods)

Rosemary: another stimulating herb which has potential for depression and fatigue. It has been the focus of a lot of research lately, in regards to improving memory and cognitive function in patients with dementia. Makes a nice tea when combined with Peppermint.

Herbs For Anxiety

Green Tea: Green tea contains L-Theanine, a natural substance which has anti-anxiety effects whilst promoting clear thinking. Theanine increases GABA in the brain (the relaxing/calming neurotransmitter). You will see a lot of anti-anxiety formulas contain L-Theanine but you can get benefits just by drinking a few cups of green tea each day. It combines well with Lemon Balm (this is why many natural anxiety supplements contain both together).

Lemon Balm: fantastic anti-anxiety herb and grows easily in the garden or on a windowsill in the summer- dry some to keep for winter. The nice thing about lemon balm is that it calms the mind without affecting focus and attention, making it ideal for daytime use. In fact it is also known to boost mental performance via acting on acetylcholine receptors (acetylcholine is our memory & attention neurotransmitter). This is balance for you – clever nature!

Valerian: In all honesty it doesn’t smell too great but this herb is fantastic for anxiety/insomnia! Usually blended with other herbs and taken in the evening, though it can be taken throughout the day in drop doses (low dose). Alternatively you can buy capsules, follow the dose on the pack or as recommended by a herbalist.

Passionflower: unlike the name, this herb does not make you more passionate! Rather it calms an overexcited nervous system. It calms by increasing GABA activity (calming neurotransmitter) -thus reducing anxiety. The benefit over medications is that it does not cause excess drowsiness.

Skullcap: Not as fearful as the name suggests, it is actually a lovely calming herb, though best blended with other nicer tasting herbs in a tea as it can be a bit bitter.

Limeflowers: gentle and uplifting. Nice blended with chamomile as a tea for children.

Chamomile: An old favourite but still effective as ever. Nice included into a blend with other herbal teas.

Lavender: for both depression and anxiety. Less is more, add a couple of flowers to your teapot or to your bath water. Also great as an essential oil when inhaled.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is a component of herbal medicine and it is fantastic for mental health ailments. The good thing is that you get benefits without having to take anything internally. You can put the oils in a diffuser/oil burner (or just a drop on a tissue as required) or alternatively add it to salves/lotions/baths. When you inhale these oil particles they trigger a response in the brain via receptors in our nose (essential oils act on our limbic system especially- a part of the brain responsible for emotional response – inducing a relax/energize response depending on the oil). Clever stuff – it needn’t be complicated 🙂

That’s it for now Folks!

There are so many more herbs from all corners of the world. Discuss your options with a herbalist if you would like to know more. The nice thing about visiting a herbalist is that they can tailor blend you a mix of 5 or so herbs for you and they have access to the best quality organic herbs

Like I have said repeatedly, more often than not you will get better results by visiting a practitioner (and it is safer to do so), but this does not mean that you can’t do your own research and try a few things out for yourself.

Hopefully this series of blogs has helped you on the road to Mental Wellness x

 

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