Natural Antidepressants & Over The Counter Alternatives

Last Updated: December 18, 2019

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Natural antidepressants cannot replace medical diagnosis and personalized prescription treatment, but in the case of mild symptoms, some herbal and dietary suppleness can show improvement and relief. It should be noted that more studies are needed to assess the efficacy and safety of OTC antidepressants.

Over The Counter Antidepressants

Can One Buy Antidepressants Over The Counter?

The list of MAOI antidepressants, SSRIs, SNRIs, Serotonin Modulators, and Tricyclic Antidepressants contains many drugs that proved effective in treating depression. But these cannot be purchased over the counter without a prescription. One can buy only natural alternatives to antidepressants such as St. John’s wort, Omega-3 fatty acids, Saffron, SAM-e, Folate, 5-HTP, DHEA, zinc, and other vitamins and minerals without visiting a doctor.

Is OTC Antidepressants A Good Idea?

Although over the counter options work well for some people, there are both pros and cons of antidepressants. Some can cause adverse neuropsychiatric reactions in patients or can interact with other drugs from the list of tricyclic antidepressants, SSRIs, SNRIs, or MAOIs.

Natural Antidepressants

Some people choose natural antidepressants to avoid the dangerous long term effects of SSRI antidepressants. Here is a list of over the counter antidepressants which have shown to be effective in treating some depression symptoms.

St. John’s Wort as an alternative to antidepressant drugs

St. John’s Wort

One of the over the counter antidepressants is St. John’s Wort. The benefits of St. John’s wort date back to ancient times, being used as an efficient herbal mental health treatment. Today the plant can be a depression remedy, among other uses. It is reported that the plant proved useful in mild to moderate severity of depression.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to play an important role in depression. An imbalance in the level of Omega-3 fatty acids can cause serious health issues. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot produce these acids from scratch, and they can only be obtained from food and supplements. Studies have shown that Omega-3 fatty acids could have positive results in patients suffering from depression caused by an insufficiency of these acids.


One of the natural herbal antidepressants is saffron. Saffron has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and its thread-like stigma and petals have proved to be efficient in mild and moderate depression. Saffron has shown favorable short-term results in patients with depression, but more studies are needed to clarify its potential.


S-adenosylmethionine or SAM-e is a compound that is produced naturally in the body from adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and the essential amino acid methionine. The compound is involved in methylation, a process that regulates neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Therefore, SAMe might play a role in depression. Although current research has shown that SAMe can offer positive effects in the treatment of depression, the studies were made on a small number of people. That is, a more in-depth research is needed to consider the SAMe among the treatments for depression.


Another option for those who choose antidepressants over the counter is folate. Folate or B-9 is a vitamin that plays a vital role in the formation of red blood cells, cell growth, and division, protein metabolism, as well as prevention of neural tube defects. Folate deficiency may lead to anemia and major depressive disorder, among other health problems.

Although folate supplements have little efficacy in treating depression, folate can boost the effects of antidepressant drugs.


5-hydroxytryptophan or 5-HTP is an amino acid that the body produces from l-tryptophan, a dietary amino acid. Because it can be made into serotonin, it is believed that 5-HTP supplements can help in depression.


DHEA or Dehydroepiandrosterone is a hormone naturally produced by the body. Specialists have linked changes in DHEA levels with depression. Several studies showed that DHEA could improve depression symptoms in patients with anorexia nervosa, schizophrenia, adrenal insufficiency, and HIV.


Low levels of zinc in the body can lead to a drop in immunity and, therefore, affecting mood. Studies support the use of zinc supplements as an adjuvant in depression, being efficient in reducing depressive and psychotic symptoms. Zinc is also effective in boosting the effects of antidepressants.

Many other vitamins and minerals have shown positive outcomes when it comes to depression. Some of the most important ones are inositol, chromium, and vitamin B12. Because the body is not able to take all the vitamins and minerals from food, taking supplements might prove useful in boosting the number of vitamins and minerals that might be efficient in treating depression.

natural antidepressants can also harm

Natural Antidepressants: Efficacy & Harm

Natural antidepressant supplements have their benefits when it comes to depression, contributing in one way or another to diminish the effects of this medical illness. But what many people do not know is that sometimes supplements can cause more harm than good.

First of all, herbal antidepressants are not monitored by the FDA, so the patients can’t be sure what they buy and whether it is safe.

Secondly, supplements can interfere with prescription antidepressants for depression, causing dangerous interactions, putting the patient’s health in danger.

Thirdly, taking too many supplements can lead to unpleasant side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, stomach cramps, headaches, hair loss, or mild nerve damage, among others.

Always Ask For Medical Advice Before Taking Supplements

People with major depression should not rely solely on alternatives to antidepressants for depression and anxiety. Often, natural supplements such as 5-HTP, omega 3, folic acid, or SAM-e are not more effective than a placebo in major depression.

Because of this, medical advice is crucial before taking any natural supplements, and professional help is needed for a personalized treatment plan. If any signs of abuse are noticed, it is important to contact the rehabilitation center.

Page Sources

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  2. Peixoto C, Devicari Cheda JN, Nardi AE, Veras AB, Cardoso A. The effects of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in the treatment of depression and depressive symptoms in other psychiatric and medical illnesses: a systematic review. Current Drug Targets. 2014; 15(9): 901-14.
  3. Folate for depression. Harvard Health Publishing. 2007.
  4. Galizia I, Oldani L, Macritchie K, Amari E, Dougall D, Jones TN, Lam RW, Massei GJ, Yatham LN, Young AH. S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) for depression in adults. Cochrane Library. 2016; 10: CD011286.
  5. Wani AL, Bhat SA, Ara A. Omega-3 fatty acids and the treatment of depression: a review of scientific evidence. Integrative Medicine Research. 2015; 4(3): 132–141. doi:10.1016/j.imr.2015.07.003.
  6. St. John's Wort and Depression: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. 2017.

Published on: October 15th, 2019

Updated on: December 18th, 2019

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.


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