Natural alternatives to antidepressants

The holidays can be a rough time of year. Especially if you’re susceptible to depression. So today, I thought I’d take a moment to share some suggestions about how to naturally keep your spirits up at this time of year.

Antidepressant drugs fail 6 out of 7 patients

I often report of the dangers and limitations of so-called “antidepressant” drugs.  They only work as intended in about one in seven people. So that means the remaining six out of seven patients continue to suffer with no end in sight.

Antidepressants also increase the risk of suicide (the one irreversible complication of depression) and even increase the risk of violence associated with mass homicides.

Fifteen years ago, I first suggested (in my medical textbooks and elsewhere) that any beneficial effect from antidepressant drugs is due to the placebo effect.

In fact, in one notable study, researchers compared an antidepressant drug to an herbal remedy (St. John’s wort) and a placebo.

Neither the drug nor the herb pills worked better than the placebo.

Interestingly, the “placebo” given to all study participants was 15 hours of intensive talk therapy from a highly skilled mental health professional. The benefits of talking and listening to the patient (in such short supply today) outweighed any benefit that could be added from any pill. But most of the mainstream missed the real message.

In a newer study, researchers conducted a systematic review of 252 clinical trials on drugs for depression published between 1978 and 2016. They found only one treatment consistently worked for more than one-third (35 to 40 percent) of patients: placebo.

When it comes to mood and mental states, placebo trumps them all

Indeed, in all 252 of the clinical trials, the patients who fared the best came from the placebo groups.

So — contrary to all expectations and all the ballyhoo about “new and improved” drugs for depression, placebo is the most effective treatment for depression over the past 40 years. Placebo consistently helped more than one-third of patients, year in and year out.

When it comes to antidepressant drugs, clinical trials look for “the number needed to treat” before they see an effect. In other words, how many patients have to get a treatment to find one patient who benefits?

As I mentioned earlier, studies show doctors typically need to give seven or more patients an antidepressant drug to find one patient who benefits from it. That’s one reason why doctors typically blindly try different drugs in a game of “hit or miss” to finally land on one drug that might work for an individual patient.

The patient is the experiment.

But everyone is an individual. And most doctors are clueless when trying to assess and evaluate in advance which treatment will actually work best for each individual patient. So, they get all of the problems of all the drugs, and rarely find one that benefits the individual patient.

So, in addition to talk therapy, which may be responsible for some of the “placebo” effect found in the studies I mentioned above, I suggest trying an altogether different approach to lifting your spirits this winter…

Raising spirits does raise your spirit

If all the holiday stress makes you feel like having a drink, ‘tis the season. And there’s really something to it.

As I reported earlier this month, a new study shows moderate alcohol consumption improves mood and works better than a fast-acting antidepressant.

Aside from enjoying a glass or two of wine with dinner, you have many other effective non-drug approaches to managing your anxiety and depression.

To help you choose which natural approach will work best for you as an individual, you need to know your emotional type. You can take this short quiz to learn more about your emotional type and which non-drug treatments will work best for you.

In the new year, I will also share some new thoughts about what is really going on in depression and mood disorders, and why so many different natural approaches can  help people find their way to happiness and health.

Here’s to a happy and healthy New Year!


  1. “Placebo for treating depression . . . and other stories,” BMJ ( 11/4/2016