Top Herbal Remedies for Low Mood

Top Herbal Remedies for Low Mood

We all feel under the weather sometimes – fatigue or mild bouts of depression and anxiety can cause our mood to drop. For some, it can be a common occurrence, impactful enough to be noticeable but not enough to be diagnosed as a mental health disorder. With prescription drugs being out of reach, is there anything else that can be taken to help with these moods?

Let us describe to you some natural herbal remedies that can lift your spirits, bringing you back to your normal self. Some of these formulas have been used for hundreds of years and withstood the test of time, before we distilled them and turned them into supplements.

How Herbal Remedies Can Help

It might seem impossible for simple herbs to affect the most complex organ in the human body, but the answer may come down to chemistry. Theories have been put forward explaining that mental illnesses like depression and anxiety may be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. A low amount of important chemicals like serotonin (the hormone responsible for feelings of happiness) and compounds called neurotransmitters (which help conduct information around the brain) are thought to be linked with declining mental health. There’s been no concrete proof to support this, though, as there’s thousands of chemical processes happening in the brain at any given time, but it’s a kernel of information to work from.

Naturally, if chemical imbalances are the cause of issues, then chemicals may improve conditions in the brain. We’re not talking about full-blown mental illness in this article, though, simply cases where you may feel unlike your normal self or where your mood has dropped. Herbal remedies can be used for cases like these, where only gentle recalibration of brain chemistry is needed. They contain compounds that work to alleviate certain conditions in the brain. It can sound intimidating, to hear that a plant has an impact on how you think, but rest assured that you’ll remain yourself, just more ‘levelled out’.  

So which plants and herbs can lift you out of your bad, sad and generally low moods? Here are some of the more effective supplements available:

St. John’s Wort

Also known as Hypericum perforatum, St John’s Wort is a small yellow flower native to Europe and Southeast Asia. In the past it’s been used by the ancient Greeks and by Roman soldiers during their conquest of Europe. It was prescribed to cure ailments of the mind, with these cultures believing it could ward off evil spirits. It’s only recently in the late 1900s where we’ve discovered its true potential.

This was done through rigorous scientific testing and experimentation – St. John’s Wort’s effects on depression has been thoroughly observed. The conclusions seem almost unanimous: it does have a positive effect on those with mild to moderate depression. Many reviews since the 1990s have mentioned how the flower has a significant impact compared to placebos, with some experiments stating it compares to antidepressants (these are in the minority, though). What’s great about taking St. John’s Wort is that only a tiny number of people experience negative reactions, especially when compared against the cavalcade of side effects that can be caused by oft-diagnosed drugs. It’s a gentler option, especially when you’re experiencing a low mood instead of a full-blown case of depression.

Many have also suggested St. John’s Wort for sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a kind of mental low that occurs during the winter months due to a lack of sunlight. One 1998 study found it to be as effective as the commonly-diagnosed light therapy. This is the kind of application that’s perfect for a herbal treatment, like St. John’s Wort.

Lavender

Many of us are familiar with the purple-flowered lavender – its ability to help people drift off to sleep with its aroma is famous. This is another ancient remedy, with it being named after the Latin word meaning “to wash”, as romans used to wash the scent into clothes, bed linens and even their hair.

That calming scent may also have a big effect on a condition that affects many our moods during modern life – anxiety. The tension and fear that can attack us during everyday life could be alleviated by lavender. The majority of the research has been on the therapeutic effects of the scent of lavender during situations or periods of high anxiety. One such situation that’s had a surprising amount of study is during dentist visits; one study examined lavender’s effect on individuals’ anxiety and stress levels in dentist waiting rooms. The conclusion was that it could indeed help to calm patients before going for treatment. It’s been tested in a range of situations, like during nursing exams and during the postpartum stage of childbirth. Some research has looked into taking lavender orally too, which shows a similar calming result.

An argument could be made to say that lavender’s ability to help sleep already puts people at ease, considering insomnia is one of the symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Once again, this is only for situational or moderate levels of anxiety, as long-term use of lavender hasn’t been examined in detail.

Valerian

Another traditional remedy, valerian was reportedly used by Hippocrates and others through history to aid sleep. It’s still used for that purpose today, although our understanding of the flower has deepened.

Inside the brain there’s a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It’s responsible for the stability of nerve impulses around your body, including the brain. Naturally, when levels of GABA drop, symptoms like anxiety, stress, concentration issues and headaches occur. Chemicals within valerian – including the appropriately named valerenic acid – maintain GABA and reduce its breakdown, keeping the brain and nervous system healthy.

This is the theory, however research into its effect on anxiety has had mixed results: some show lower efficacy compared to other anxiety medications, while some, like a study conducted in 2008, show increases in serotonin signifiers in the blood. There’s a number of explanations for this, such as the highly complex natures of mental illness, the brain and nervous system. What we are sure of is that valerian can assist the body with achieving calmness, helping you bring your mood back to normal.

Saffron

A surprising addition to the list, but this uniquely-red spice is good for more than just using in your cooking. The taste might cheer you up, but there’s also a deeper effect taking place in your brain. Two compounds found in the spice - safranal and crocin – may have an effect on the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body.

A number of studies have been conducted into how exactly saffron can help with mood, and there’s optimistic results: much like with St. John’s Wort, there’s evidence to show that it can help with minor to moderate cases of depression.  One study of 40 participants found that a daily dose of saffron for six weeks had a significant effect on depression, compared to a placebo. There’s also a meta-analysis (an examination of many different pieces of research) that states that there’s potential for saffron to help with major depression diagnoses. But this, along with the rest of the research, needs further investigation before anything concrete can be said.

Conclusion

There are times when our mood dips and just won’t perk up, no matter what we do. Conversely, often they’re not serious enough to call mental illness, or see a doctor about. Stubborn moods like these may need some herbal help to shift and get you feeling like normal.

The herbal remedies here may assist you with feeling like your normal self, whether it’s mild cases of anxiety or depression. They may take a few weeks to feel the effect, but they’re much less potent than typical antidepressants and have none of the side effects.

As always, consult your doctor before taking any of these herbal remedies if you’re concerned they might interfere with other medications or conditions. Please also note that none of these remedies are a replacement for prescription medication for mental health issues – do not reduce your prescription, replace it with other drugs or stop taking your medication altogether.


Sources:

https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/herbs-supplements#st-johns-wort

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/st-johns-wort/#.XPZOf-LTUdU

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314421.php

https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/get-help/anxiety-information/guide-to-herbal-medicine/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92750/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11370698

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https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938405002660

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