It’s not uncommon for depression to overlap with serious health conditions like Lyme disease. Despite growing acceptance and reduced stigma surrounding mental health conditions, medical treatment for depression is still evolving. Modern standards of care, including the first-line use of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), can be effective for the treatment of depression but can have negative side effects. SSRIs and other pharmaceuticals employed in the management of depression symptoms can be addictive and have a host of side effects that many patients with Lyme wish to avoid.
Luckily, there are emerging alternatives to modern pharmaceuticals that can be effective in the management of depression no matter what illness you’re dealing with. Herbal remedies have been used for centuries but fell out of favor in modern times due to the proliferation of formal medicine. However, supplements for depression are making a comeback as patients search for safe alternatives to expensive and sometimes dangerous pharmaceutical drugs.
Many herbal supplements are readily available at drug stores and health food stores, but as always, discuss the addition of any herbal or complementary supplements with your healthcare provider as some can cause drug interactions with medications you may be taking for Lyme.
Natural Remedies for Depression
1. St John’s Wort
Well known around the world for its efficacy in treating symptoms associated with depression, St. John’s Wort is a small flowering herb native to Europe and Asia and has become an invasive species in North America and other temperate climates worldwide. Few clinical studies have been performed, but there is evidence to suggest that the herb is as effective as the commonly prescribed SSRIs used to treat mild to moderate depression.
Despite its efficacy and ease of access, St. John’s Wort isn’t for everyone. It has been known to cause adverse reactions or lessen the effects of other medicines, particularly blood thinners, SSRIs, birth control, certain heart medications, and some opioid pain medications. It is vital to consult with a physician before beginning St. John’s Wort to avoid complications with other prescribed medications.
Used in traditional and folk medicine for centuries, chamomile is commonly brewed into a tea to aid sleep and reduce anxiety. A 2012 study confirmed that chamomile may be effective in relieving symptoms associated with depression as well as anxiety, with study participants showing a “medically relevant” decrease in symptoms.
Chamomile should be taken with caution, however, by those using blood thinners, antifungals, sedatives, and blood pressure medication. Consult with a health care provider before adding chamomile supplementation to your daily routine.
The scientific jury is still out regarding the effectiveness of ginseng, but its use in modern and historical Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) lends credence to its efficacy as a mild stimulant. While ginseng hasn’t been shown to improve symptoms specifically associated with depression, its stimulating properties may help relieve fatigue associated with depression. It is also known to enhance mental clarity and focus, so is useful in alleviating the “brain fog” commonly associated with depressive episodes that patients with Lyme disease may experience.
An adaptogenic herb used in Ayurvedic medicine for millennia, ashwagandha has been used as an effective remedy for a number of conditions, according to a 2011 review of the supplement. Ashwagandha has been used to decrease cortisol levels, support adrenal gland function, lower cholesterol, boost immune function, and balance blood glucose. It also has mood-stabilizing properties and has shown to be effective in decreasing anxiety and symptoms typically associated with depression.
People who are pregnant should not take ashwagandha as there is evidence it can cause uterine contractions. Caution should be used by those taking diabetes or blood pressure medications, too.
Subscribe to the World's Most Popular Newsletter (it's free!)
Although this list is far from an exhaustive of natural supplements for depression and Lyme disease, if you feel like you’re stuck in a rut regarding your depression treatment, natural remedies may help take your recovery to the next level. Unsure of where to turn for help? In addition to traditional mental health practitioners, like a psychiatrist and a therapist, consider creating a healthcare team that includes a functional medicine physician or an integrative psychiatrist to help you add natural therapies to your depression treatment.
Kristi Pahr is a freelance health and wellness writer and mother of two who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She is frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction. Her work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, Men’s Health, and many others.
Amsterdam JD, Shults J, Soeller I, Mao JJ, Rockwell K, Newberg AB. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) may provide antidepressant activity in anxious, depressed humans: an exploratory study. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 2012 Sep-Oct; 18(5): 44-9.
Asian Ginseng. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/asianginseng/ataglance.htm
Linde K, Berner MM, Kriston L. St John’s wort for major depression. The Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews. 2008 Oct 8; (4): CD000448. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000448.pub3
Roman Chamomile. Penn State Hershey Medical Center website. http://pennstatehershey.adam.com/content.aspx?productId=107&pid=33&gid=000233#Possible%20Interactions
Singh N, Bhalla M, de Jager P, Gilca M. An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines. 2011; 8(5 Suppl): 208–213. doi: 10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.9