According to a Washington Post article, Americans spend $35 billion per year on vitamins and supplements. Unlike pharmaceuticals, which have to demonstrate effectiveness and safety to get approved, supplements only need to demonstrate safety. That’s a lot of money to spend on things that may or may not be helpful.
Just because they’re “natural” doesn’t mean that supplements don’t have side effects or interact with medications. If you take niacin (vitamin B-3) for your cholesterol, you may well have experienced flushing, as in your face turning bright red, as a side effect. St. John’s wort interacts with all kinds of psych meds.
There’s been some research suggesting that, for the average person, there’s not a lot of benefit to taking supplements. However, the potential for benefit can increase when targeting certain conditions. While there’s not as much research done on supplements as pharmaceuticals, there is still some. Here’s a quick look at supplements in a couple of mental health-related categories that do have some research evidence to show some benefit.
Supplements for depression
- St. John’s wort
- curcumin (component of the spice turmeric) – anti-inflammatory
- omega-3 fatty acids (EPA is most important; DHA is less so)
- L-methylfolate (activated form of folic aid; folic acid doesn’t have the same benefit)
- S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe)
- vitamin B12
- vitamin D (may be a particularly good choice in the winter for those in northern latitudes)
There’s more info in this post on supplements for depression.
Supplement for sleep
There are supplements that can help with sleep, but they’re pretty touch and go, helpful for some people, but not at all for others. Options include:
- valerian root
I’ve taken melatonin and valerian in the past and they haven’t done anything for me.
What I take
I take a combination omega-3 plus turmeric supplement. I can’t say I’ve noticed a benefit, but my bloodwork consistently shows elevated inflammation, and both of those decrease inflammation, so they seem like reasonable choices.
I’ve taken vitamin D in the past, mostly during the winter, but didn’t really notice much of anything from it. I used to take it in combination with omega-3, but then when I switched to the omega+turmeric, I didn’t bother adding on an extra vitamin D supplement.
For a couple of years, I was getting L-methylfolate and vitamin B12 injections every 2 weeks from my naturopath. That definitely helped with clearer thinking, but I stopped because I just wasn’t earning enough to justify the expense. I’ve tried taking L-methylfolate orally, but didn’t get the same benefit.
For some of that time I was seeing the naturopath, I also took a mega-vitamin/mineral/supplement called Ultra Preventive. I don’t think it made a difference in how I was feeling, but it did seem to help with inflammation as reflected in my bloodwork.
What do you take?
That’s it for me, and how I’d like to hear from you—what do you take, and why?