They “Promote” a Positive Mood, but Do Vitamins and Herbs Actually Work?

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 1.41.42 PMWhen searching the internet for information on “depression help,” Dr. Google’s results will advise you to take herbal remedies, or change your diet in order to treat your depression. These sound like great, easy treatments, but in reality, these therapies are questionable. Only ⅓ of all alternative therapies have actually been tested for effectiveness in a randomized, placebo controlled double-blind trial, the scientific gold standard. This means that ⅔ of alternative therapies for depression have little to no testing done to prove that they are able to improve your symptoms. So even though your aunt Carol swears by St. John’s Wort, science has not proven that it works.

The labels of these alternative therapies also often seem promising. The information on the bottles will say “guaranteed to boost mood!” or “promotes a positive mood.” There is one word missing from these bottles: depression. Companies selling these substances cannot claim to treat depression because no FDA-regulated testing has been conducted. This is why these substances are labeled as “treat mood” instead of “treat depression.”

Consumers often ignore the fact that the FDA does not regulate testing or manufacturing of these alternative treatments, except to prevent them from promising effectiveness. Without the assurance of the FDA, the public does not know if the contents of the treatment are safe or consistent. So, when aunt Carol decides to buy a different brand of her St. John’s Wort from the pharmacy this week, she may in fact be buying a different product altogether.

Unlike alternative approaches, FDA-approved medications like antidepressants are vigorously tested for safety and effectiveness, so they are proven to work to treat your depression. Each of the antidepressants in your local pharmacy today started out as experimental medication in clinical trials. These medications have been subject to all four stages of clinical research, and are often tested for years before receiving FDA approval. In order for the FDA to approve medications, they not only have to have minimal side effects, but they also must improve symptoms significantly in a majority of patients. FDA approved treatments are the only viable options to treat your depression; nutraceuticals might as well be a shot in the dark.