Natural Remedies for Mental Well-Being

With lots of people feeling the stress of everyday life, more people are turning to natural remedies where possible. This blog explores a few of the better known ones – it’s not meant as a recommendation of course, and you must always check with your doctor before taking any type of remedy, natural or otherwise. Just because something is ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s not potentially harmful for you if you have existing health issues or are taking other medication. Furthermore, herbal medicines do not undergo the same rigorous testing and clinical trials that more ‘traditional medications’ do and you should always bear this in mind.

What do we mean by ‘natural remedies’?

Herbal remedies are derived by plants and they can come in various forms, such as teas, drops, tablets or creams. They are often categorised as supplements, which refers to specific products to boost health and wellbeing, or ‘medicines’, which aim to treat a specific health condition. Herbal or natural remedies may also be used as part of alternative therapy approaches, such as Ayurvedic medicine or some Chinese traditional medicine.

One of the best known herbal medicines is St John’s Wort, a remedy which aims to ease symptoms of mild to moderate depression. The botanical name for this is Hypericum Perforatum and it is sometimes sold as “Hypericum”. It contains several active substances, including hypericin and hyperforin, both of which are thought to affect mood. St John’s Wort has actually been used for hundreds of years to treat mental health problems and as well as depression, can be also used for Seasonal Affective Disorder and insomnia. It is thought to work in a similar way to more conventional anti-depressant medication, with research suggesting that it boosts the activity of chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin and noradrenaline, which have an important role in mood regulation. We need to remember though that herbal medications are chemicals like any other and there are side effects, irrespective of whether we classify these chemicals as ‘natural’ or manufactured. There may be interactions with other medications, for example, and implications for people who have other health conditions. There may also be detrimental effects for pregnant women, so it’s always best to check.

Another well-known herbal remedy, Valerian root,  focuses on anxiety relief and insomnia. This comes from a plant which originates in Europe and Asia, and has been used for centuries as a remedy for various conditions, including anxiety, sleep problems, digestive issues, headaches, and arthritis. It is believed that valerian root has an impact on the availability of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain and more generally there is some research suggesting that it has mild sedative properties, making it useful for insomnia. Having said this, there appears to be little actual evidence to support its effectiveness, with small scale clinical trials only and a lack of strict regulations governing these. Again, there are several groups of people who should not take Valerian root, including pregnant women,  and it should always be used with caution. It also interactions with many other medications, so it’s important to talk to your doctor first.

Maca root, known scientifically as Lepidium Meyenil, is a less well-known herbal remedy, which is used in some culture to enhance sexual performance and treat various issues such as erectile dysfunction and lack of libido. It can also help to counteract the negative effects that some anti-depressants have on sexual performance, in terms of ability to orgasm for example.  Maca root is a relative of the potato family and is said to have many benefits but it is worth noting that research is still in the early stages, despite it having being used in Peru for many hundreds of years. As well as having supposed sexual benefits, it may have some fertility benefits for men and may improve menopause symptoms, such as hot sweats. It may also have some mood altering properties. In its favour, there appears to be few side effects, but again, you do need to check it out with regards to your own health needs before starting to use it.

There are lots of herbal remedies out there – some of which may be useful in treating mental health issues, as well as some physical ailments. The rule is always to be sensible and cautious – just as you would be with any medication.

Good luck ????