Multiple studies have demonstrated the potential beneficial effects of omega-3 on depression symptoms. Mischoulon et al. (2009) found in a gold-standard double-blind, randomized controlled study that EPA demonstrated a distinct advantage over placebo (even though it did not reach statistical significance). In a second 2009 study by Osher & Belmaker, they found that “Omega-3 fatty acids were shown to be more effective than placebo for depression in both adults and children in small controlled studies and in an open study of bipolar depression.” That study also did not report any significant side effects.
Look for a supplement that has at least 1,000 mg of EPA in it, according to the Mayo Clinic (Hall-Flavin, 2012).
The B vitamins are important components that help regulate your body’s ability to turn food into other chemicals that your body and brain need. Most people’s natural diets include plenty of vitamin B in them since it comes from common foods such as eggs, dairy, meat, and fish. However, if you avoid such foods, you may have a vitamin B deficiency.
You can take vitamin B (vitamin B-12 is the one you want) through a multivitamin supplement, or on its own. Research has suggested a dose of between 1,000 and 2,500 mcg per day is sufficient for most people (Coppen & Bolander-Gouaille, 2005). Side effects are rare, but because vitamin B can interfere with other medications, it’s best to talk to your doctor before starting this supplement.
The D vitamins are known as the “sunshine” vitamin, because our body makes vitamin D on its own through exposure to the sun. If you don’t get regular exposure to the sun (think during the dead of winter), it may impact your mood. In fact, in a large meta-analysis of 31,424 subjects (Anglin et al., 2013), researchers found a strong correlation between low levels of vitamin D and depression symptoms.
The Mayo Clinic (2019) suggests a typical dose of vitamin D between 600 and 800 IU daily. However, many supplements on the market start at 1000 IU and go all the way up to 5,000 IU. As with any supplement, it’s safest to start with the lowest dose possible, and then increase it as necessary (preferably with your doctor’s knowledge) over time.
St. John’s wort (hypericum perforatum)
This is a memorably-named herb that’s been used as a successful treatment for depression for many decades in Europe. It is a shrubby herb with yellow flowers that grows naturally throughout many parts of the world.
A 2008 Cochrane systematic research review of St. John’s wort effectiveness concluded, “the St. John’s wort extracts tested in the trials were superior to placebo, similarly effective as standard antidepressants, and had fewer side effects than standard antidepressants” (Linde et al., 2008).
Dose levels vary widely for effectiveness, so it is generally suggested to start with 300 mg, 2 to 3 times daily (600 – 900 mg total daily), and work up from that dose if needed up to 1,800 mg total daily (Mayo Clinic, 2019). Side effects are rare, but because St. John’s wort can interfere with other medications, it’s best to talk to your doctor before starting to take this herb.
Kava kava (piper methysticum)
Kava kava (piper methysticum or just plan “kava”) is a herbal supplement that comes from the roots of a shrub native to the South Pacific. Its use for depression appears related to its calming and anti-anxiety effects it has on people who take it. A gold-standard randomized, placebo-controlled study demonstrated that it substantially reduced feelings of anxiety and depression in 60 adults who took it (Sarris et al., 2009).
The suggested dose of kava is 200 to 300 mg daily and there appears to be no serious adverse effects in taking this herb (Sarris et al, 2009; Rowe et al., 2011).
“In 2001, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that probiotics, as live micro-organisms, when taken in certain amounts, lead to health benefits for the host” (Huang et al., 2016). In more recent years, we’ve discovered that there is a definite gut-brain connection, where are gut’s microorganism makeup has an impact on our emotional state. It’s not surprising then that many people are turning to probiotics to help alleviate depression symptoms.
Research validates this connection. In a meta-analysis conducted in 2016 of five studies examining the effects of probiotics, researchers found that the use of probiotics were associated with a significant reduction in depression symptoms (Huang et al., 2016). These effects may not hold for adults older than 65. Four of the studies included a form of bifidobacterium (breve, bifidum, lactis, or longum) in combination with one or more of the following: acidophilus, lactobacillus helveticus, or lactococcus lactis; one study only used lactobacillus pentosus.
One capsule daily for 4 to 8 weeks seems to be the dosing used most often in this analysis (Huang et al., 2016).
Could a common seasoning used for centuries in Indian and other dishes actually be a powerful antidepressant? Apparently, yes.
According to Kunnumakkara et al. (2017), “A study conducted by Sanmukhani et al. confirmed curcumin to be effective and safe for the treatment of patients with major depressive disorder without concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders (Sanmukhani et al., 2014). In another randomized, double‐blind, placebo‐controlled study, it was observed that 4 to 8 weeks of treatment with curcumin was effective at improving several mood‐related symptoms in these patients (Lopresti et al., 2014).”
Researchers studied patients who took 500 mg, twice daily for a total daily intake of 1000 mg (Sanmukhani et al., 2014; Lopresti et al., 2014). There are generally no adverse side effects in taking this supplement.
5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is a chemical formed from L-tryptophan, an important protein building block for our body and mind. We get most of our L-tryptophan naturally through foods such as milk, chicken, turkey, potatoes, and collard greens. However, if you don’t eat much of these foods, you may suffer from a deficiency of L-tryptophan, and in turn, a lack of 5-HTP. 5-HTP is thought to help increase the body’s levels of serotonin, which is implicated in mood disorders and depression.
5-HTP is a complicated chemical, however, and research has found mixed results in its for the treatment of depression. Specifically, research has found that if not administered in a balanced manner with another substance (such as carbidopa), it could result in lack of efficacy (Hinz et al., 2012). The same researchers found that, over months of use, “administration of 5-HTP alone may deplete dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine thereby exacerbating these conditions.”
In short, it is not recommended to take 5-HTP supplements for depression due to these concerns, and especially since they do not include carbidopa (a prescription medication). If you’re interested in taking 5-HTP, talk to your doctor about doing so in conjunction with a carbidopa prescription. Dosing of 5-HTP appears to typically be between 200 – 600 mg daily (Hinz et al., 2012).
Please note: While most supplements and vitamins are safe to take on your own, it never hurts to consult with your doctor first before starting any new vitamin or supplement regimen — especially if you’re currently taking a medication. Some supplements can interact in a negative manner with certain medications, something that your doctor will know and be able to offer guidance on how to proceed.
Learn more: 12 Supplements I Take Every Day for Depression
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