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National Institutes of Health • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

NCCAM Clinical Digest

Depression and Complementary Health Practices

December 2011
A sad-looking man rests his head on his hand.

Depression is a medical condition that affects nearly 21 million American adults each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Mood, thoughts, physical health, and behavior all may be affected. Among the common symptoms of depression are persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings; feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and/or worthlessness; restlessness or irritability; fatigue; difficulty concentrating; insomnia; overeating, or loss of appetite; and/or thoughts of suicide.

Many people with a depressive illness never seek treatment. But the majority, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment. Depression can be treated effectively with conventional medicine, including antidepressants and certain types of psychotherapy.

Some people turn to complementary health products and practices for depression, including the dietary supplement St. John’s wort; however, no complementary approach has been proven effective for the long-term treatment of depression. This issue provides information on “what the science says” about the effects of complementary health products for depression, including the dietary supplements omega-3 fatty acids, St. John’s wort, valerian, as well as other complementary practices such as massage, relaxation techniques, and yoga.

Read more about what the science says

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NCCAM Clinical Digest is a service of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NIH, DHHS. NCCAM Clinical Digest, a monthly e-newsletter, offers evidence-based information on CAM, including scientific literature searches, summaries of NCCAM-funded research, fact sheets for patients, and more.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is dedicated to exploring complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science, training CAM researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCAM's Clearinghouse toll-free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCAM Web site at nccam.nih.gov. NCCAM is 1 of 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, the Federal focal point for medical research in the United States.

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Content is in the public domain and may be reprinted, except if marked as copyrighted (©). Please credit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine as the source. All copyrighted material is the property of its respective owners and may not be reprinted without their permission.

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