Using nootropics to treat depression is a controversial topic in the psychiatric world.
Depression is often spoken about as a disease for which there is no real treatment. To read depression forums and blogs, you would get the impression that mood disorders were all caused by neurochemical imbalances that can always be treated with pharmaceutical drugs.
Of course, this isn’t the case. Research has made it clear that depression, and all mood disorders, are complex conditions with numerous potential causes and contrubuting factors. In some cases, lifestyle factors are a major cause, and in others, the problem is neurotransmitter deficiencies. This is why in some cases, it may be appropriate to use nootropics to help fight depression, anxiety and low mood.
What is important to understand is that a depression diagnosis is not a life sentence. There are things you can do to reduce the severity of depressive symptoms, improve mood, and reduce anxiety. One of the most effective things you can do is to use specific nootropics known to improve mood and counter some of the worst symptoms of depression.
In this article, we’re going to take you through some of the most effective natural nootropics for depression, low mood and anxiety. Please post any quesitons or share your own experiences with depression nootropics in the comments below.
10 Best Natural Nootropics for Depession and Mood Issues
What are the most effective nootropics to take for depression?
There are lots of different natural supplements for depression you can take. However, some research is required before you ‘jump in’. The nootropics listed below all work in different ways, and they all have their own benefits, mechanisms, side effects and costs. As always, choosing the right substances for your particular needs and stacking them is the best way to treat depression and anxiety naturally.
The best nootropics for depression according to the scientific evidence are:
L-Theanine is one of the most versatile nootropics in existence and it is easily one of the best supplements for depression that you can use. Theanine is a GABA agonist. GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in humans; in simple terms, GABA calms the CNS, reduces brain activity and eases bodily tension. By acting on GABA receptors, Theanine mimmicks the neurotransmitter, reducing stress, easing muscle tension, and lowering blood pressure. This is how Theanine reduces stress and anxiety (depsite claims that Theanine might make anxiety worse). Supplementing with Theanine also promotes restful sleep, which in turn improves mood and combats depression.
Uridine is a fascinating brain supplement and a largely overlooked cognitive enhancer. Not only does uridine reliably improve cognitive function, but studies have also found that it is highly effective for improving mood and treating mood disorders such as depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. Rodent studies show that uridine stimulates the growth of neurons in the brain; by increasing growth of these brain structures, uridine may help rebalance neurotransmitter levels and receptor function. This makes sense since uridine is a ribonucleotide which your body uses to construct RNA, a basic building block of your brain cells.
L-Tyrosine is arguably one of the top nootropic supplements you should consider if you are struggling with low mood and motivation.Tyrosine is an amino acid and a basic building block of the neurotransmitter dopamine. When we’re struggling with low mood, it can be incredibly difficult to get motivated enough to work or do chores; this tends to make depression even worse and a vicious cycle ensues. Supplementing with Tyrosine is known to significantly increase dopamine levels. This not only improves overall brain function and cognitive performance, but it quickly raises motivation and supports good mental health. Stacking L-Tyrosine with Theanine compounds the benefits of both of these natural antidepressant nootropics.
Rhodiola rosea is a common ingredient in nootropics stacks where it usually acts as the supplement’s anti-anxiety component. Clinical trials have shown beyond doubt that Rhodiola rosea supplementation decreases stress and anxiety. It appears to improve cognitive performance by reducing depressive symptoms and symptoms of anxiety, both of which produce severe brain fog and sap energy levels. Rhodiola is an adaptogen, which means that while it may not help treat clinical depression, it can make you more robust to stressors which trigger depressive symptoms.
Ashwagandha is a staple herb of traditional ayurverdic medicine, where it is used to improve mood, lower anxiety levels and improve overall mental health. However, unlike a lot of “traditional medicines”, Ashwagandha actually works! Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogen. Clinical trials have found that Ashwagandha consumption lowers cortisol levels in the human brain. Cortisol is your main stress hormone, and it is responsible for all of the nasty side effects that come with high stress levels. By lowering cortisol levels, Ashwagandha reduces mental and physical stress levels and improves overall cognitive performance. It also promotes long-term brain health, as chronically high cortisol levels impairs brain cell maintenance and formation.
SAMe is a relatively new nootropic to really come onto the market. This is a naturally occurring compound in the human body, where it is used to carry out a wide range of chemical reactions. SAMe is a compound of methionine and ATP. It is found in high concentrations in the human brain, where it is used to synthesize and break down neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin and epinephrine.Some recent clinical trials have found that supplementing with SAMe can help people struggling with moderate depression, social anxiety and various depressive symptoms. SAMe is often described as a great natural alternative to prescription medication and antidepressant medications. Interestingly, a 2020 trial found that SAMe was effective at treating major depressive disorder.
Tryptophan is a really interesting nootropic for depression. This amino acid is about as pure a natural antidepressant as you can get. Tryptophan is a basic building block of the neurotransmitter serotonin. In the brain, Tryptophan is turned into 5-HTP which is then used to make serotonin. Most of you will know serotonin is one of the most important mood-regulating neurotransmitters. Low serotonin is a common cause of moderate depression, and chronic serotonin deficiencies can cause a range of mood disorders including clinical depression. Taking Tryptophan is actually much more effective for treating depression than taking 5-HTP since it is much more bioavailable and able to cross the blood brain barrier.
Noopept is arguably the best smart drug to use when trying to treat depression without antidepressants. Noopept is mostly used for cognitive enhancement; it reliably clears brain fog, boosts overall brain performance and enhances short-term memory. But it also reduces social anxiety, suppresses performance anxiety and elevates mood. Some people believe Noopept does this by boosting dopamine levels. However, the evidence more strongly suggests these effects are the result of increased BDNF release in the brain following Noopept consumption. However it works, we know that Noopept is a great natural treatment for anxuety disorders which contribute to depression.
Aniracetam is most commonly associated with enhanced executive functions – focus, learning, information processing, and so on. However, Aniracetam is a much broader nootropic than that; one of its main benefits is its ability to attenuate anxiety levels and improve mood. Some studies have found that Aniracetam is efficacious for treating depression following a stressful event.
Magnesium is last but by no means least on our list of the best nootropics for depression. Magnesium is an essential mineral with a multitude of different roles in the body. One of magnesium’s most important jobs is controlling blood pressure. Magnesium reduces blood pressure, and it also acts to slow down nerve activity (acting as the opposite of calcium in both instances). Supplementing with magnesium reduces blood pressure, lowers heart rate, and reduces neuron activity. All of this combines to reduce stress and anxiety, which in turn helps combat depression.
As always, we recommend stacking natural nootropics in order to get the best results. By stacking nootropics, you stand a better chance of finding the right mechanism of action to control your low mood. Because natural nootropics are weaker than prescription drugs and antidepressants, stacking them is also necessary to get a good bang for your buck.
Symptoms of Depression
How do you know if you have depression?
There are several different forms of depression. The symptoms of depression vary with the different types of depression. However, these differences are mild and typically involve how the depression manifests. All forms of depression share some key, central features and symptoms.
Every case, from mild to severe depression, is characterised by anhedonia; the inability to feel enjoyment or happiness. How long this lasts and how profound it is varies case to case, but all depressed people experience anhedonia for seemingly no immediate reason.
Other symptoms of depression include:
- Mood swings and crying
- Cravings and comulsive behaviors
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of sex drive
- Fatigue and low mental energy
- Short-term memory loss
Chronic depression can accelerate cognitive decline. The best nootropics for depression can not only help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression, but they can also help slow the onset of cognitive decline and even improve cognitive performance while you deal with your depression.
Causes of Depression
There are many different potential causes of depression. Life events or certain situations are common causes of depressive episodes; losing our jobs, a painful divorce, or the loss of a loved one can trigger bouts of severe depression.
While these instances of depression are a serious issue, much more worrying are cases of depression that have no obvious, immediate cause. We’re talking about individuals who have no clear reasons to be depressed, but who nevertheless have dramatic drops in mood. Here are some of the main causes of these cases of depression.
Depression and Neurogenesis
This is what is commonly known as the neurogenic theory of depression. This states that new neurons in the adult brain are always needed for proper mood control; if you do not produce new neurons to take over from mood-controlling neurons reaching the end of their life cycle, then depression ensues. In particular, researchers have identified neurogenesis impairment within the hippocampus as a likely cause of depressive syndrome in some people.
This makes sense as one of the most effective nootropics for depression – Noopept – primarily works by boosting BDNF. This would trigger the proliferation of neurons in the brain, including in the hippocampus, thereby helping reduce anxiety and depression.
Depression and Neurotransmitters
Another common cause of depression is low dopamine levels. There are a plethora of reasons why you might be experiencing low dopamine levels. You may have damaged your dopamine receptors through drug abuse or excessive alcohol consumption. You might have depleted your dopamine through excessive use of things like pornography and social media, both of which give instant dopamine spikes followed by sharp falls. Or you may simply be unable to synthesize enough dopamine due to diet and lifestyle factors.
Whatever the reason, dopaminergic nootropics can help. Some of the top nootropics for depression are effective precisely because they are known to naturally increase dopamine activity and boost dopamine availability in the brain. The main example of this is Tyrosine, the consumption of which increases dopamine levels and, with them, motivation.
Depression and Stress
Finally, we come to what is probably the single most common underlying cause of depression in people today: stress. The effects of stress cannot possibly be overstated. Being mentally stressed invariably leads one ot be physically stress. Even brief periods of stress can cause a significant stress response from the body, which in turn causes oxidative stress, hypertension, and impaired cognitive performance.
Being chronically stressed is closely correlated with the development of depression. Not only does chronic stress impair memory function, focus and learning, but it also destroys mood stability and can deplete the neurotransmitters which keep you from becoming depressed. Fatigue, lethargy and apathy are all hallmarks of chronic stress. That’s why some of the best nootropics for treating depression – listed above – focus on reducing stress and anxiety. For example, Rhodiola rosea works by making you better able to respond to stress, while Theanine eases mental and physical tension.
Are Nootropics For Depression Safe?
Will nootropics for depression cause side effects?
Natural anti-depressant nootropics should be, on the whole, safe and side effect free for the vast majority of users. The brain supplements listed above have all been tested in clinical trials and deemed generally safe for human consumption.
But not all ingredients in anti-depressant nootropics are safe. Some are known to cause side effects. Even natural nootropics for mood can cause adverse effects. Common side effects of using nootropics for depression include:
- Stomach cramps
You must do your research carefully before using any nootropics. If you think you have severe, clinical depression, you need to talk to a qualified medical professional; do not just try to treat depression yourself with natural nootropics. If you experience any side effects from natural nootropics or antidepressant alternatives, stop taking them and talk to your regular physician immediately.
Is it OK to take nootropics with anti-depressants?
No, it is generally not OK to mix nootropics with antidepressants. Even natural nootropics can negatively interact with antidepressant medications; mixing multiple substances that affect your neurotransmitter balance can go very wrong very quickly. For example, Rhodiola rosea is known to interact with several SSRI and MOAI antidepressant medicines. Phosphatidylserine is also known to interact with certain antidepressants. This is why it is vital that you ask your doctor before taking nootropics with antidepressants.
Learn more: Can I take nootropics with anti-depressants?
What is the most effective nootropic for depression?
So what is the single most effective nootropic you can take for depression?
Nootropics like Ginkgo biloba, Ashwagandha, Tyrosine, Rhodiola rosea, Tryptophan and Theanine have the most scientific evidence backing their efficacy and safety for happiness and mood. Other nootropics like SAMe, Lion’s Mane Mushroom and Uridine may help with depressive symptoms, but they need to be studied further before being used to help combat major depressive disorders.
As mentioned above, some synthetic smart drugs – Noopept and Aniracetam – have been found to be effective for reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood, and alleviating symptoms of depression. But again, you need to do your research very carefully before using this extremely powerful brain drugs.
Nootropics For Depression FAQs
Can you take nootropics with anti-depressants?
The short answer is no, you cannot mix nootropics and anti-depressants. Combining SSRIs and MAOIs such as Escitalopram and Rhodiola Rosea can have serious adverse effects. You must talk to your doctor before taking anti-depressants and nootropics together.
Do nootropics affect serotonin?
Nootropics can affect various neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Certain nootropics can also indirectly influence serotonin, either by suppressing serotonin receptor binding or by stimulating other brain chemicals that interfere with serotonin.
Do any nootropics make you happy?
No nootropics can make you happy, but there are several nootropics which can improve your mood and help prevent severe anxiety, lethargy and the symptoms of depression. These nootropics work by supporting the healthy production of the neurotransmitters which control positive mood.
Can Noopept cause depression?
There is no evidence that Noopept causes depression. In fact, there is some strong evidence that Noopept is effective for treating anxiety and depression. However, chronic Noopept abuse can interupt BDNF production, which could cause depression over time.
Learn more about the best nootropics:
- Best nootropics for energy
- Best nootropics for BDNF
- Best natural nootropics
- Best nootropics for anxiety
- Best nootropics for social anxiety
- Best nootropics for motivation
Brian Johnson is current Editor of Vagarights.com and a long-time writer for VAGA. A former psychologist, Brian is passionate about improving mental health and finding ways to stave off cognitive decline. He is an expert on nootropics, cognitive enhancement and biohacking more broadly. You can see his work on Google scholar.