Quercetin helps to inhibit inflammation, which we know is a massive problem for people with depression. Quercetin’s ability to inhibit TNF-alpha and other types of cytokines can be beneficial in reducing levels of neuroinflammation. It suppresses the production of free radicals that can increase oxidative stress and will thereby increase available levels of antioxidants in the brain. It also has been seen beneficial in improving cognitive functioning, which we all know can be impaired when people are suffering from depression.
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This blog post is one in a series about the use of phytochemicals, a type of antioxidant, that can help bring neuroinflammation down and potentially improve depressive symptoms.
This strong antioxidant is found in citrus, apples, onions, grapes, tea, and red wine. But don’t start eating copious amounts of these foods trying to get quercetin. Alcohol in red wine and the blood sugar spike you would get from trying to eat enough oranges, apples, and grapes would do more harm than good to the depressed brain. It’s also in buckwheat. Which is a grain, and I don’t recommend grains for people who are struggling with psychiatric issues. If you are going to attempt to increase quercetin with diet, choose capers (super high!), yellow and red peppers, red onions, and tomato skins. Herbs include dill, oregano, and tarragon.
How does it work to help neurinflammation seen in depression?
It has positive effects on NRF2 and FOX0 transcription pathways that help your body upregulate its production of existing antioxidants (like glutathione). This little encouragement of your body to make more of its own antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress in the brain and combat the neuroinflammation contributing to your symptoms.
It also activates the NQ01 gene, which increases the conversion of NADH to NAD+. No need for us to get technical, but just know that these enzymes are used to help keep oxidative stress down in your cells and that this is another mechanism by which quercetin combats damage from inflammation.
Quercetin can help neurotransmitters not degrade prematurely in the synaptic cleft, helping serotonin and dopamine work better. It accomplishes this by inhibiting two enzymes that break neurotransmitters down. These two enzymes are called MAO (monoamine oxidase) and COMT (Catechol-O -methyltransferase).
Some people have genetic variations that make them produce higher levels of some of these enzymes, and some neurotransmitters can be broken down very quickly. One example is the COMT enzyme. For some people with genetics that make this enzyme very active, quercetin can help them have more dopamine to use longer in the synapse. I would imagine this may be a mechanism that helps alleviate symptoms of anhedonia and apathy that we see in depression.
Quercetin also inhibits inflammation, which we know is a massive problem for people with depression. Quercetin’s ability to inhibit TNF-alpha and other types of cytokines can be beneficial in reducing levels of neuroinflammation. It also suppresses the production of free radicals that can increase oxidative stress and will thereby increase available levels of antioxidants in the brain. It also has been seen beneficial in improving cognitive functioning, which we all know can be impaired when people are suffering from depression.
Again, you have to figure out what is going on in your environment, lifestyle, or body that is causing inflammation. It would be best if you went after the root cause of your depressive symptoms as much as possible. But as you are trying to improve your functioning enough to begin that quest, quercetin can be helpful and improve your quality of life.
Quercetin as a supplement is inexpensive, and you just do not hear mainstream psychiatric practitioners talk about it as a potential treatment. As you are probably well aware, if you have depression, the focus is on drug treatments and sometimes psychotherapy interventions like CBT.
But I think supplements like quercetin and other nutritional and dietary strategies used in conjunction with psychotherapy are a match made in heaven for people suffering from depression.
How do I use quercetin to relieve neuroinflammation seen in depression?
If you would like to take quercetin, the clinical dose is 2-3grams per day, broken up into doses of 2 to 3x per day. It absorbs best when taken with some fat that is present in a meal. Its absorption ranges from 0-50%, and that is why such a high dose is needed to get some effect.
What does manage to get absorbed can have potent effects. It can enhance or interfere with certain prescribed medications. These include blood thinners, chemotherapy, corticosteroids, liver-metabolized drugs (e.g., cyclosporine, and a lot of others), and quinolone antibiotics. If you are taking any medications, as always, you should talk to your doctor. Or work to reduce or eliminate medications in lieu of more natural treatments.
While certainly NOT a replacement for working with your prescriber, the below links may be helpful in deciding if quercetin may interact with anything you are currently taking.
What is the best quercetin to take?
The below affiliate links are to supplements that I recommend in my own practice. Please do not feel obligated to use them. If you can find a high-quality quercetin supplement elsewhere at a better price, please do so.
Liposomal quercetin is an excellent choice and may actually be the best quercetin to take for depression. It has higher bioavailability, particularly if you will not be taking it with a meal containing fat and this form may be able to reduce inflammation possibly better than traditional formulas. There is an article regarding this newer form of quercetin here.
If you cannot afford the phytosome form, don’t worry too much about it. People have been using quercetin to help treat the neuroinflammation associated with depression using the regular formula for over a decade. I am unsure how the improved absorbability of the liposome formula would affect dosage, other than you could possibly enjoy needing a lower dose.
Will quercetin cure my depression?
Will taking anti-inflammatories like quercetin cure your depression? Actually, no. I don’t think it will cure your depression. But I think it has an excellent role in helping to reduce your symptoms of depression by helping to keep inflammation down, which is a major mechanism of pathology seen in depression. And a reduction in symptoms is definitely of value to people who are suffering.
Most likely, you will also need to understand what is causing your inflammation and fix that. Whether it is coming from your environment, from a stressful relationship, from your thoughts about yourself and the world (highly recommend CBT for this). It can be coming from untreated health conditions that maybe your run-of-the-mill medication-focused doctor doesn’t know how to check for.
You are going to need to address micronutrient deficiencies that are getting in the way of the production of your neurotransmitters. You can reduce inflammation a ton, but if you do not have adequate micronutrients, those neurons won’t be able to repair the neuronal damage that came from the inflammation you just cleaned up. And without repleting micronutrients, you won’t be able to make your neurotransmitters very well. And it is for that reason, I believe supplemental antioxidants alone might be insufficient to alleviate the physiological mechanisms seen in depression.
But they sure can help.
Trying to treat and cure depression is sometimes a long journey. You may need the help of a mental health counselor (like me) and/or a prescriber open to using non-medication-based treatments. You may even end up having a conversation with your prescriber about using quercetin in place of some of your medications or as a way to enhance existing medications. You may have a prescriber that has no idea why you are bringing any of these natural treatments up, and you may need to find a prescriber that practices functional psychiatry willing to talk about different options.
As always, this blog is informational and not medical advice.
Be sure to check out these articles on the role of neuroinflammation in depression and what you can do about it!
- Neuroinflammation and depression
- How to fix neuroinflammation and heal your depression – Diet
- How to fix neuroinflammation and heal your depression – supplements
If you want to learn more about the underlying mechanisms that cause depression in more detail, you will enjoy my posts on the topic.
- 3 Reasons you are Depressed and why Keto can fix them (Brief)
- Can keto treat my depression without medication?
- Do you have to use a keto diet to improve your symptoms of depression and anxiety?
- Can keto treat my depression without medication? (Long)
And as always, please let me know if I can help you on your journey to healing. You can learn more about me and my telehealth work with clients here.
Like what you are reading on the blog? Want to learn about upcoming webinars, courses, and even offers around support and working with me towards your wellness goals? Sign up!
Ali, S., Corbi, G., Maes, M., Scapagnini, G., & Davinelli, S. (2021). Exploring the Impact of Flavonoids on Symptoms of Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Antioxidants, 10(11), 1644. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox10111644
Davinelli, S., Maes, M., Corbi, G., Zarrelli, A., Willcox, D., & Scapagnini, G. (2016). Dietary phytochemicals and neuro-inflammaging: From mechanistic insights to translational challenges. Immunity & Ageing, 13. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12979-016-0070-3
Saw, C. L. L., Guo, Y., Yang, A. Y., Paredes-Gonzalez, X., Ramirez, C., Pung, D., & Kong, A.-N. T. (2014). The berry constituents quercetin, kaempferol, and pterostilbene synergistically attenuate reactive oxygen species: Involvement of the Nrf2-ARE signaling pathway. Food and Chemical Toxicology: An International Journal Published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association, 72, 303–311. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2014.07.038
Spencer, J. P. E., Rice-Evans, C., & Williams, R. J. (2003). Modulation of Pro-survival Akt/Protein Kinase B and ERK1/2 Signaling Cascades by Quercetin and Its in Vivo Metabolites Underlie Their Action on Neuronal Viability *. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 278(37), 34783–34793. https://doi.org/10.1074/jbc.M305063200
The Role of Phytochemicals in the Treatment of Depression. (n.d.). Great Plains Laboratory. Retrieved January 25, 2022, from https://www.greatplainslaboratory.com/webinars/2016/11/7/the-role-of-phytochemicals-in-the-treatment-of-depression
Wayback Machine. (2021, April 27). https://web.archive.org/web/20210427135448/http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/608-67.pdf