Natural and Herbal Supplements for Common Mental Disorders
Many medications for common mental disorders, although helpful, can cause unpleasant side effects that discourage patients from taking their prescribed dose. In recent years, there has been a great deal of interest in natural substances to treat the symptoms of depression, anxiety and PMS, either to enhance the effects of prescription drugs or to use alone.
Studies show that a lack of certain nutrients may contribute to the development of mental disorders. Notably, essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids are often deficient in the general population in America and other developed countries, and are exceptionally deficient in patients suffering from mental disorders.
Many experts believe that nutrition has the potential to affect the symptoms and severity of depression. Supplements including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and E, and folate have been investigated.
Omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaeoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) might have an impact on depression because these compounds are widespread in the brain. The evidence is not fully conclusive, but omega-3 supplements are an option. One to two grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily is the generally accepted dose for healthy individuals, but for patients with mental disorders, up to three grams has been shown to be safe and effective.
Supplements that contain amino acids have been found to reduce symptoms, possibly because they are converted to neurotransmitters in the brain that help alleviate depression. For example, serotonin is made using the amino acid tryptophan. Dietary supplements that contain tyrosine or phenylalanine, later converted into dopamine and norepinephrine, are also available.
Deficiencies of magnesium and the B vitamin folate have been linked to depression. Trials suggest that patients treated with 0.8mg of folic acid per day or 0.4mg of vitamin B12 per day will have reduced depression symptoms. Patients treated with 125 to 300mg of magnesium with each meal and at bedtime have shown rapid recovery from major depression.
Experts have looked at a range of herbal remedies and supplements for individuals with anxiety. The evidence supports the effectiveness of kava for mild to moderate anxiety disorders. Kava does, however, impact on other medicines metabolized by the liver.
St John’s wort, valerian, Sympathyl (a mixture of California poppy, hawthorn and elemental magnesium) and passionflower have been investigated for anxiety but the studies have generally been small or inconsistent. Lower than average omega-3 levels have been reported in patients with anxiety, and supplementation with omega-3s appears to improve some symptoms. Zinc and chromium supplements may be helpful, as well as calcium and vitamin B6.