OTC Supplements & Depression

OTC Supplements & Depression
Woman wandering whether she should use an OTC supplement or prescription antidepressant.

Thinking of Trying an OTC Supplement to Soothe Depression Symptoms? Read This First

Albert Hernandez

May 1, 2021
 Medically Reviewed by Tanya Hernandez, PMHNP-BC
Updated on: August 30, 2022
  7 min read

May 1, 2021
 Medically Reviewed by Tanya Hernandez, PMHNP-BC
Updated on: August 30, 2022
  7 min read


Do you feel like even though you’re doing your best, you can’t manage your depression symptoms on your own anymore? This can be a very lonely and painful place to find yourself in. You’re craving relief from feeling sad, hopeless, and lethargic all the time. But you just don’t have the motivation to figure out what to do about it. Whatever the solution is, you want it to be easy because that’s all you have the energy for right now.

You’ve seen ads claiming natural remedies like herbs, vitamins, and minerals can help you feel better. 

So you lie on the couch, Googling what OTC supplements work for depression. Like many others, you start feeling overwhelmed as you scour dozens of brands of natural remedies for depression, trying to find the best one. The descriptions are vague, and reading the reviews doesn’t help at all – it just makes you even more confused about what to buy. 

"While it may be tempting to manage your symptoms on your own, taking OTC supplements for depression is a hit or miss strategy."

Sure, anyone can purchase herbs, vitamins, and minerals online or at the store. But that doesn’t mean they are safe.

And, phytomedicines like these don’t work for everyone. In short, taking supplements to manage depression symptoms can actually be hazardous to your health. The FDA doesn’t regulate these products, and as of now, there isn’t enough evidence to show they are safe or how to use them best. Plus, taking prescription drugs alongside herbal remedies can be risky. Severe and possibly fatal interactions with other medications in addition to dangerous side effects can occur.

That’s not to say these supplements don’t work at all. Herbal medicine is used by up to four billion people around the world. Combining natural remedies with an unwavering commitment to lifestyle changes, including exercising, getting enough sleep, social support, and stress management, may help you feel better if your depression symptoms are mild. But, if several weeks go by and you don’t feel better, chances are these supplements aren’t going to work for you. 

Several OTC products market themselves as being useful in alleviating depression symptoms. Let’s take a look at the most common ones, their risks, and benefits.

Can Herbs Be Used to Effectively Fight Depression?

Many plants have the potential to promote brain and nerve cell health. But, clinical trials are ongoing for determining the safety and efficacy of herbs to fight depression.

Someone holding an OTC medication bottle.

Research indicates several herbs can have positive effects on your emotional wellbeing. There’s still not enough data to reliably say which conditions can benefit from using medicinal herbs or what side effects they cause. Some of these remedies include: 

  • Ginkgo
  • Saffron
  • St. John’s wort
  • Lavender
  • Chamomile
  • Rhodiola Rosea
  • Chinese herbal compounds

Taking herbal remedies for depression alongside prescription medications, including antidepressants, can result in serious medical issues, so always check with your medical provider first.

What Supplements Claim to Help Depression Symptoms?

Like herbs, many OTC supplements also claim to help relieve depression symptoms. Science confirms you need various vitamins, minerals, beneficial fatty acids, and other chemical compounds to support your brain and nerve cells’ health. Nourishing your brain with these substances protects it from inflammation, in turn boosting your physical and emotional health. 

Vitamins, especially B, C, and D, are essential to a healthy brain. The vitamin B-complex group supports your brain’s metabolism and provides energy to grow new brain cells. Your vitamin C levels can affect your mood. And, low levels of vitamin D are linked to depression in adults. 

Minerals are also vital for the optimal function of your brain and nervous system. Having inadequate amounts of minerals like iron and zinc in your system is tied to higher rates of depression.7,8 

Other supplements have also been shown to improve help with depression. Fatty acids like Omega 3s have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities that support better brain and mental health.

Scientists have synthetically reproduced some of the substances your body naturally makes that influence your mental wellbeing. Compounds marketed to enhance your mood include SAMe, DHEA, and 5-HTP.

While many of these supplements are generally safe, you may already be getting enough of them through your diet and vitamin regimen. Only lab testing with results interpreted by a medical practitioner can tell if you lack any of the nutrients above. 

Always use caution when attempting to use OTC supplements to relieve depression symptoms. These products are not a substitute for antidepressants. If you do decide to try them, be sure you are taking the correct dosage. Too much of any supplement can trigger serious medical problems. 

Why Do Some People Choose Herbal Remedies Over Prescriptions for Depression?

People may decide to take OTC supplements to treat their depression as opposed to prescriptions because of:

  • Cost 
  • Side effects
  • History of prescription antidepressants not working 

If you don’t have insurance or have a high out of pocket cost for drugs, OTC supplements for depression may be a budget-friendly alternative. But, while you can easily buy these with a few clicks of your mouse, you may be wasting your hard-earned dollars. 

A scale that weighs the benefits of prescription antidepressants and OTC supplements.

There is no guarantee these supplements will work for you. And in some cases, you may be taking things to “fill” a vitamin deficiency you don’t even have. Many people end up wasting time and money taking the wrong thing. Getting the appropriate lab tests and speaking to a medical professional before starting a supplement to control your depression symptoms is always a better plan in the long run. 

It’s also possible you’re thinking about giving herbal remedies for depression a try because you had a bad experience taking antidepressants in the past.

Side effects of antidepressants can be bothersome in some instances. People who are sensitive to the potential side effects of prescription antidepressant medications may benefit from taking an OTC supplement. Certain ethnicities, including Asians, may be more prone to these side effects and may benefit from speaking to their doctor about an herbal alternative.

Or, you may have been given a prescription in the past that didn’t help your depression. It could be that this drug wasn’t a good fit for your body chemistry, or you weren’t taking the right dose. Everyone metabolizes medications differently, and sometimes a prescription change can make all the difference in getting you the relief you’re looking for.

Weighing the Benefits of Prescriptions Versus OTC Supplements for Depression

Choosing the best way to treat your depression symptoms is an important decision. Don’t let a hit or miss trial of OTC supplements delay or replace being evaluated by a mental health expert for your depression symptoms. And never start taking supplements along with your antidepressant prescription without getting the okay from a medical professional.

A prescription pill bottle placed next to an OTC pill bottle.

Weighing the benefits of taking a prescription versus a supplement to manage your depression symptoms requires all the facts and a talk with a mental health provider experienced in prescribing antidepressant medications. Talking to a professional is the best and safest way to learn what your options are. 

Reach out to Upper Valley Behavioral Health for an online evaluation to learn if prescription antidepressants are right for you. Apply today to be treated for your depressive symptoms.

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not replace instructions from your licensed prescriber. Please consult your healthcare provider for guidance on your specific medication regimen.

Tags: over-the-counter depression medications, depression supplements, Are herbal remedies for depression safe? Herbs and supplements for depression, How to treat depression naturally

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