Some people claim that vitamins and minerals can cure serious mental illness. That’s not what I’m talking about here. While in general there’s not a ton of research funding for supplements and herbal products, there are a number of supplements that do have some research evidence to support their effectiveness in depression.
For people with mild depression, a supplement may be helpful on its own, but for people with moderate to severe depression, supplements can serve as an add-on to another primary form of treatment. These are some of the examples included in the chapter on complementary and alternative medicine in my new book Managing the Depression Puzzle.
St. John’s wort
St. John’s wort is a herbal product that has shown some effectiveness in mild depression. SJW contains a number of different compounds, several of which affect the neurotransmitter serotonin. It’s not clear which particular compounds are responsible for the beneficial effect. The strength of SJW is described in terms of the compound hypericin, but there can be considerable variation from one formula to the next.
SJW can interact with a number of different psychiatric medications, so if you’re taking meds don’t use SJW without consulting a health professional.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are a type of unsaturated fatty acid found primarily in fish oils, and they have anti-inflammatory effects. Some, but not all, studies in depression have shown a benefit. There are two primary types of omega-3s, EPA and DHA. It’s EPA that appears to be the most important in depression, so if you’re picking out an omega-3 formula, look for one with a high EPA content.
I’ve been taking an omega-3 supplement for several years now. I honestly have no idea if it’s doing anything for me or not, but at this point I really need any little bit of help that I can get, so I’m sticking with my omega-3s.
Curcumin is a compound that’s part of turmeric, a spice that’s commonly used in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and there’s been some research that’s shown it to be helpful for a variety of different inflammatory conditions as well as depression.
There appears to be a link between depression and inflammation in a subset of people with depression, which may account for some of the beneficial effect seen in depression.
I started taking a curcumin supplement a couple of months ago. Much like with the omega-3s, I have no idea if it’s actually helping or not, but I figure might as well keep going with it.
L-methylfolate is an activated form of folic acid. It’s considered activated because it’s able to donate a single-carbon methyl group to the process of synthesizing new neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine). Some research studies have shown a beneficial effect from L-methylfolate use in depression, particularly among people who have elevated levels of inflammation.
The dose needed to achieve the effect on depression is 15mg. It’s available in 15mg tablets in the U.S., but for some reason, in Canada it’s only available as 1mg tablets. Popping 15 of those a day would get rather expensive rather quickly. I used to get it as an injection from a naturopath, but that was also expensive, so I stopped it even though ti was helpful.
S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) is involved in the synthesis process for serotonin and other neurotransmitters. It may be useful as an add-on to another form of treatment for depression.
The recommended dose is 1600 mg/day. SAMe tends to be fairly pricey, so you might not get the best bang for your buck with this option.
What’s most important when considering the use of supplements in depression, or any illness for that matter, is to keep in perspective what they can and can’t do. I’ve ranted about this before, but just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe or effective. But if you’re looking for something else to add into your overall plan for managing your illness, a supplement or two might. be worth a try.
Have you ever tried any supplements to help with managing your own illness?
My new book, Managing the Depression Puzzle takes a holistic, everything up to and including the kitchen sink look at how to put together the pieces of your unique depression puzzle. It’s available on Amazon and other online retailers, as well as the Mental Health @ Home Store.