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TMS for Depression: What You Need to Know

A recently approved non-medication treatment for depression, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), has been shown to be more effective than traditional antidepressants in individuals who do not respond well to traditional treatments. Learn more about the possible benefits of this treatment method and other natural methods below.
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According to recent studies, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), may be a more effective method for treating depression and improving mood than traditional depression medications.

Currently, about 20 million American suffer from clinical depression and even more suffer from pre-depression symptoms. According to depression expert Dr. Mary Jo Hanigan, only two-thirds of these people respond to traditional depression medication. The remaining third must deal with the depression on their own- risking self-harm or even suicide- or try alternative therapies. Dr. Hanigan and other medical experts have listed TMS as a possible alternative treatment method for individuals who do not respond to traditional medications or who do not want to take medication for depression. Find out more about the effectiveness of this treatment below.

What is TMS?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. This is designed to improve symptoms of depression by normalizing the nerve response in the brain. Some studies on depression show that in individuals with depression, the brain often has trouble completing the circuits of brain chemicals such as serotonin and 5-HTP. Using magnetic stimulation can encourage the brain to function normally, which can reduce some symptoms of depression.

According to The Mayo Clinic, TMS is often used in the one-third of patients who do not respond well to traditional medications for depression. During TMS treatment, an electromagnetic coil is placed near the forehead. The current stimulates nerve cells in the brain involved in depression and mood control- normalizing the chemical reactions in the brain and reducing depressive symptoms. With TMS, a large electromagnetic coil is placed against your scalp near your forehead. The electromagnet used in TMS creates electric currents that stimulate nerve cells in the region of your brain involved in mood control and depression.

TMS was first approved as a treatment for depression in 2008 and few long-term studies have yet to be conducted since the treatment is so new. However, short-term studies have found largely positive results with the TMS treatment method.

Scientific and Clinical Studies on TMS

In 2010, Brain Stimulation published the results of a study focusing on the effectiveness of TMS. This study examined the effectiveness of TMS therapy on 201 patients suffering from major depression. Some patients received full TMS treatments and others received fake TMS treatments for six weeks. At the end of the study, 84 percent of the individuals receiving the real TMS therapy were followed for 24 weeks following the treatment and did not have any relapses. The study authors concluded that TMS therapy is durable in the majority of cases.

Another side study tested emergency TMS therapy when combined with traditional depression medication and TMS was found to be effective as a short-term therapy as well. The study authors concluded that, “"The results of the follow-up study further support TMS as a viable treatment option for patients with major depression who have not responded to conventional antidepressant medications.”

A similar study was conducted in 2014 on 307 patients suffering from severe depression who were resistant to traditional antidepressants. After treatment, 62 percent of patients saw some improvement in depressive symptoms and 41 percent saw complete remission. The study authors followed up one year later and found that 68 percent of patients showed some improvement and 45 percent reported complete remission.

Benefits of TMS

The main benefits of TMS is that it is a form of depression treatment that can work on individuals who do not respond to traditional antidepressants. TMS does not have many of the common side-effects associated with traditional antidepressants such as weight gain, memory loss, sleepiness, or sexual problems. No sedation or surgery is required.

Aside from the physical benefits, TMS appears to have positive benefit for at least a year after treatment. There is some evidence that TMS may improve the brain’s ability to process brain chemicals on its own, essentially re-programming the brain’s neural-pathways to prevent depression.

TMS Side Effects

Although TMS does have many benefits, there are a few side effects to the treatment method. Side effects are often mild and usually disappear a few weeks into treatment or after the treatment cycle is over. Side effects can include:

Possible Side Effects of TMS 


  • Headaches
  • Scalp irritation
  • Facial spasms, twitches, or tingling
  • Lightheadedness 


  • Seizures
  • Mania (more common in patients with bipolar disorder)
  • Hearing loss

Alternative Natural Treatment Methods

In addition to TMS, there are also a few other effective alternative treatments for depression. The biggest benefit about natural treatments is that they do not form dependency, they may work for individuals resistant to traditional medications, they have no dangerous side effects, and they provide benefits in other areas of physical health. Some of the most effective natural methods include:

Exercising Outdoors

Scientists have known for decades that exercise and sunlight can work to fight depression. A review of 11 studies published in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology in 2011 compared the benefits of outdoor exercise with the benefits of indoor exercise. While both exercising indoors and outdoors providing physical benefit, exercise completed outdoors showed the biggest benefit and gave exercisers feelings of revitalization and positive energy while reducing feelings of anger, confusion, and depression.

Why would exercising outdoors provide a bigger health boost? It could be mainly due to sunlight. Sunlight is one of the best sources of vitamin D- a necessary vitamin to support mental health as well as other systems in the body. Vitamin D is easiest to absorb through sunlight and can help fight depression. Serotonin, endorphins, and other depression-fighting chemicals are also produced during outdoor runs. Studies show that simply going outside can fight Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) a version of depression that strikes when the body’s vitamin D levels are low (usually during the winter).

Exercising outdoors will combine the benefits of exercise with the benefits of sunlight in one powerful depression-fighting package.


Cognitive therapy is another beneficial treatment for depression that can benefit individuals who are resistant to depression medications. According to Web MD, therapy is just as effective for mild and moderate depression as medication. Cognitive therapy helps individuals who are suffering from depression challenge negative thoughts that promote depressed feelings. Often, therapy is used in combination with other treatment methods and can be beneficial in treating even the most mild and most severe cases of depression.

Supplemental Herbs

Some studies have shown that a few herbs, minerals, and vitamins can be helpful in preventing and treating mild to moderate depression. Typically, the supplement method is not advised as the only treatment method for severe depression or in cases where a depressed person feels like hurting themselves or others or has suicidal thoughts. If you are experiencing any of the more severe side effects of depression, contact a health professional right away.

However, the supplements to treat depression can also be beneficial taken along with any other treatment method for depression or as a method to treat mild depression and “blue” days on their own. Some of the supplements with the most positive scientific backing include:

Griffonia Simplicifolia: The seeds of this African plant contain a precursor to serotonin known as 5-HTP. 5-HTP is converted to serotonin in the brain which can help prevent depression symptoms. A 2011 study on the plant conducted by the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy found that offering Griffonia Simplicifolia supplements to rats was able to significantly decrease their feelings of anxiety when exposed to extremely stressful situations that would normally cause anxiety in rats.

Fatty Acids: According to Web MD, the fatty acids EPA, DHEA, and DEA are somewhat effective at reducing depression level in individuals with mild to moderate depression. Commonly, these fats are found in fish and other ocean foods.

Saffron: For the past decade, scientists have studied many of the health benefits associated with Indian spices. In 2013, scientists examined the possible benefits of the plant saffron. In the study published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine, researchers found that “saffron supplementation significantly reduced depression symptoms compared to the placebo control.” The researchers concluded that saffron may be an effective alternative treatment option for even individuals with severe depression (major depressive disorder).

Folate: According to Web MD, folate (sometimes called vitamin B9 or folic acid) is a B vitamin found in dark leafy greens. A study from 2007 published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience examined the link between folate and depression and found that numerous studies in the past indicate that individuals with depression often have low folate levels. By supplementation with folate, individuals with mild or moderate depression may find their depression symptoms reduced.

Eating a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is a major part of any improvement in health. When you improve the diet you put inside your body, you arm your body with the right tools to fight off any disease, including depression. If you are fighting depression, you may find the biggest benefit from including the following foods into your diet:

  • Organic produce and meats
  • Non-processed dairy
  • Fatty fish
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Fruits and vegetables daily

Avoid sugar, junk food, and other unhealthy ingredients that can contribute to a sluggish brain and body.

Is TMS Right for You?

TMS is an exciting new treatment option for depression that is not invasive and has fewer side effects. If you have not responded to traditional antidepressants or do not want to risk the dangerous side effects, then TMS could be a viable treatment option. Discuss the treatment option with your doctor as soon as possible. In the meantime, adding depression-fighting supplements, exercising outdoors, and eating a healthy diet can all fight depression naturally from the inside out.





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