2 Natural Antidepressants Found to Be as Effective as Prozac

Studies show that some natural antidepressants can have equal effects to the prescription drug fluoxetine (generic form of Prozac) without the adverse effects.

natural antidepressants

Curcumin and saffron are two natural alternatives to antidepressants that have been studied in clinical trials and found to be just as effective as Prozac.

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Want to relieve your depression symptoms using safe, natural antidepressants? Want an herbal alternative that can improve your depression symptoms without antidepressant side effects? How about avoiding the weight gain and sexual dysfunction sometimes associated with antidepressant medications?

Two herbal extracts known for their brilliant, yellow-orange hues—curcumin and saffron—both have been found in randomized, controlled studies to be safe and effective treatments for depression and may be your best natural antidepressant option. Taking either of these natural antidepressants will relieve your depression symptoms as much as antidepressant medications such as Prozac, the research shows.

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Curcumin Supplements as Natural Antidepressants:
Head-to-Head Study vs. Prozac

Curcumin, the primary active ingredient of the Indian spice turmeric, is best-known in natural medicine circles for its anti-inflammatory effects. But researchers discovered how curcumin supplements can also act as effective an effective herbal antidepressant. The study involved 60 patients with major depressive disorder who were randomly divided into three groups: one group received curcumin only in the form of 500 mg standardized curcumin extract twice daily, another group received the standard daily dose of 20 mg fluoxetine, and the third group received a combination of the two treatments.

2 Natural Antidepressants Found to Be as Effective as Prozac

Curcumin and saffron are two natural antidepressants that have been studied in clinical trials and found to be just as effective as Prozac and alternatives to antidepressants.

The results of a randomized controlled trial comparing the safety and efficacy of curcumin to generic Prozac were just published in the medical journal Phytotherapy Research.[1]

Severity of depression was assessed before and after the six-week treatment using a well-researched test for depression known as the Hamilton Rating Scale. The HAM-D, as it’s called, evaluates mood, feelings of guilt, suicidal ideation, insomnia, agitation or motor retardation (slowed movements), anxiety, weight loss and other common depression symptoms.

Overall, the average change in the HAM-D scores was similar for curcumin and fluoxetine. In other words, as a natural antidepressant, curcumin worked as well as the prescription drug fluoxetine in terms of improvements in depression severity. The proportion of people from each group that improved, as measured by the HAM-D17 scale, was not statistically significant between groups.

The curcumin, which was reportedly well-tolerated by all of the patients, is a patented extract known as BCM-95 containing a standardized amount of active compounds known as curcuminoids as well as purified turmeric essential oils. It is not known whether the curcuminoids, the essential oils, or both are acting as natural antidepressants. A number of supplement companies, such as Life Extension and Progressive Labs, utilize BCM-95, since this patented form of curcumin has been the subject of other clinical trials and is known to be better absorbed than some other curcumin extracts.

Saffron For Depression

Extracts made from the popular Middle Eastern spice saffron have also recently been shown to be effective natural antidepressants in several small clinical trials. The petals and the stigmas of the Crocus sativus plant contain crocin and safranal, believed to be saffron’s active components and natural antidepressants.

One double-blind, randomized, controlled trial compared the effects of saffron with fluoxetine (generic form of Prozac) in 40 people with major depression.[2] For eight weeks, half the participants took a supplement containing petal of Crocus sativus (15 mg morning and evening) and the other half took fluoxetine (10 mg morning and evening). Depression symptoms and severity were rated using the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression.

At the end of the study, both the saffron and fluoxetine treatments resulted in significant improvements in depression symptoms and severity, with no difference in the amount of improvement between the two groups. At least two previous studies also found that both the stigmas and petals of saffron (30 mg per day) act as natural antidepressants with effectiveness equal to generic Prozac.[3,4]

How to Take Curcumin or Saffron as OTC Antidepressants

Saffron and curcumin are just two of several herbal antidepressants that can be tried as safer alternatives to Prozac and other prescription antidepressants. If you want to follow that same protocols as those used in these studies, try curcumin in the form of BCM-95 at a dose of 500 mg twice a day, or try saffron in the form of a standardized extract of Crocus sativus petals at a dose of 15 mg twice a day.

Take either of these natural antidepressants for at least six to eight weeks before making any decisions about their effectiveness. And if you continue to struggle with depression, remember that all depression medications, whether synthetic pharmaceuticals or the best natural antidepressant, work best in conjunction with diet and lifestyle changes, treatment for nutritional deficiencies, and other natural therapies.


[1] Phytother Res. 2013 Jul 6.

[2] Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Mar 30;31(2):439-42.

[3] Phytomedicine. 2006 Nov;13(9-10):607-11.
[4] Phytother Res. 2005 Feb;19(2):148-51.


Originally published in 2013, this post is regularly updated by the editors of University Health News.

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Comments
  • Brenda G.

    Thank you for all the info, it was very helpfull. I would love to get off man made medicine.

  • I have already transitioned off 40 mg citalaphan and been off of it completely for a month and have got on bio nutrtition saffron extact a vegatarian capsule. it must take several weeks for this to go into effect.

  • Where would I buy these as supplements? Can I get them in a supplement form or would I have to buy them as a herb.

  • Melissa O.

    I just started on 750mg of the Curcumin yesterday so we will see. I was on the generic for prozac for 18 years . It worked for me but I read about long term side effects and said no more. UGH!. Weened myself off for months which was pretty awful. Felt good for awhile until my doctor switched my birth-control to a generic and really messed with my mood! I felt like a hot mess, super emotional and irrational. Switched back to my old birth control. Needless to say its been quite the emotional year. Decided I was done with pharmaceuticals. Im done with artificial medication and their side effects. Tried methy-folate to treat my depression and it worked for awhile but quit. Yesterday I found this article and thought I would give it a whirl! Heres hoping its magical!

  • Veveka P.

    Thank you for the information. Where can I get the medication, please?

  • Angela

    Melissa I think we’re twinning. I started at 20 mg of Prozac and over the course of 18 years my dose has tripled and I had to add Wellbutrin 300 mg to the storm.

  • Mary P.

    The purified extracts are pretty heavily processed. They didn’t list any side effects from them and are not required by law to do phase 1 testing to determine those as they are supplements. The studies as summarized did not mention if either group got to remission from depression. One study used 10 mg of fluoxetine vs. 20 mg which is dosage indicated for major depression which has very specific criteria. I am doing a great deal more investigating before I would make the switch. I wouldn’t recommend anyone switch without psychiatric consultation.

  • Mary H.

    The purified extracts are pretty heavily processed. They didn’t list any side effects from them and are not required by law to do phase 1 testing to determine those as they are supplements. The studies as summarized did not mention if either group got to remission from depression. One study used 10 mg of fluoxetine vs. 20 mg which is dosage indicated for major depression which has very specific criteria. I am doing a great deal more investigating before I would make the switch. I wouldn’t recommend anyone switch without psychiatric consultation.

  • Would be interested in these herbs, or where to get already made up capsule forms. Been on Mertazapine close to 10 months now would love to get weaned off of it and be well.

  • Phyllis C.

    Try a compound pharmacist. In going to tritrate off cymbalta and go on natural antidepressant.

  • tommy h.

    they put my wife on lexpro she wwas not taking every day because she was seeing things .have to get her off curcumin or saffron

  • tommy h.

    they put my wife on lexpro she wwas not taking every day because she was seeing things .have to get her off .which is better curcumin or saffron?

  • Thomas A.

    Melissa O. How are you doing now after trying to use the Tumeric or the other natural antidepressant? Your story sounds a lot like myself. Your comment was really heart felt and I was compelled to write my comment. Just wish you the best of luck beating your depression! I wish everyone reading this article the best of luck beating their depression. Here’s to hope for all of us to beat depression! Love all of you !

  • Beware of this herb! I’ve been on 30mg of the Saffron extract for around 4 months and have just recently dropped to half the dose. Within 3 days of doing this I started getting extremely unpleasant symptoms, very bad Dizziness, Nausea, loss of appetite, worsening of anxiety. I’m going to make sure I drop the last 15mg very slowly

  • I think anytime a supplement has show to be as effective as an antidepressant then we must assume (which I didn’t at the time) that we should taper off as slowly as we would a pharmaceutical antidepressant. I basically reduced my dose by half in one go and the symptoms I have now are the exact same as i would have gotten if I had halved the dose of a pharmaceutical AD I’m one go after being on it for 4 months. I’m assuming Saffron extract has a very short half life and hence why it caused side effects from dropping in he dose by half, Maybe?

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