MH@H Mental Health

Do You Take Supplements for Your Health or Illness?

Supplements for health & illness: A $35 billion a year industry, but do they help?

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:

  • melatonin
  • tryptophan
  • hops
  • CBD
  • valerian root
  • L-theanine

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?

book cover: Managing the Depression Puzzle, Second Edition, by Ashley L. Peterson

Managing the Depression Puzzle takes a holistic look at the different potential pieces that might fit into your unique depression puzzle. The revised and expanded 2nd edition is now available on Amazon.

For other books by Ashley L. Peterson, visit the Mental Health @ Home Books page.

67 thoughts on “Do You Take Supplements for Your Health or Illness?”

  1. I take a bunch of stuff, but I wonder if it has any effect. For years, I’ve been taking the “hair, skin & nails” vitamins… my hair looks great, my nails not so much. I decided I was low on iodine (lol) and now take that too. I’m still cold all the time & my nails are peeling, so idk what. I take probiotics and they SEEM to keep me more regular, but who knows. Maybe I’m eating better. I’ve recently begun taking glucosamine chron-whatever to help my achies. So far, nothing.

    1. It can be so hard to tell what’s working or not with other things going on. It makes sense that probiotics would keep you more regular. I hope the glucosamine-chondroitin ends up helping.

  2. I just take vitamin D from about autumn, through till spring.

    You may remember on my old blog how I mentioned I was having Berocca and how I felt some benefit with that. Regardless of the benefit, I didn’t bother buying anymore after I finish it.

  3. My doctor has me taking vitamin D, B12, and ferrous gluconate (iron). Most of this is due to a vegetarian diet and depression being amplified by low consumption of certain nutrients.

  4. I need to take more supplements! I know my body needs calcium, since I never ingest dairy. I even had a podiatrist–an actual foot expert–look at my feet once and say I needed more calcium. You’d think I’d listen! I need to get some calcium chewables, or something.

    I’ve also been told to take an iron supplement, slow release, but I don’t. Why? I took it for a long time (a few years, I recall) as recommended, but it didn’t make a difference in my energy levels or anything else.

    I’m also supposed to take a daily claritin, but I can’t get myself to!

    I want to be disciplined enough to take a daily dose of low-grade lutein. It’s way cheaper than the stuff that’s marketed for eyes and has lots of ingredients. It’s just, like, 5 mg of lutein. But I’m not disciplined enough to buy it and take it. Everyone in my family has/had macular degeneration: both grandmothers and my dad.

    I liked Valerian because it made me feel really relaxed, and it lowered my body temperature, which is nice for sleep. But then I ran out of it, and I haven’t bought any more.

    Melatonin does nothing at all for me. I think my melatonin levels are so out of whack as to be hopelessly unable to ever be normal again. That’s just my sense.

    I take cranberry supplements whenever my bladder seems to be on the fritz. Oh! My brother’s here… gotta run!

    1. My grandma has macular degeneration and is pretty much blind as a result. Not good!

      I saw your book is released! Thanks so much for the dedication!

      1. YAY!! You’re welcome!! YAY!! This book goes out to you!! 🙂

        Sorry about your grandmother!! 🙁 It was the same with Granny Franny. 🙁 I hope your grandmother is doing well otherwise!!

  5. At most I take one multi vitamin probably once a week because I figure it can’t hurt? So the bottle lasts like forever aha. I don’t like the bubble tummy it gives me so I refuse to take it everyday. 😛 It is better than nothing and if it is not helping it probably doesn’t harm me at least? I did research on my own though however about the kind I take and it seems more than just safe. I have no side effects from it and I am not on any other medication for anything because some time ago I gave up taking pills doctors were trying to jam down my throat as a band aid solution to my ADD, depression, Autism etc….None of them worked. It was a bad enough experience for me to not wait around and wait to find some perfect combination or balance of meds that will temporarely make me feel alright. Instead therapy has always helped me a lot more and my own selfing coping mechanisms. I have learned a lot more by just struggling I guess in order to eventually come out okay again. If that makes any sense?

    America (I am not sure if it is just USA, Canada and other countries may be the same) supplements are not the only problem. The pharmaceutical corporation etc make a killing off all these medications Americans depend on and live on. Most of them are not safe in the long run and many have dire consequences. My husband can no longer live off pain killers for his very effed up back, shoulder etc from years of hard work and playing hockey because it is now effecting his liver. Not bad, but like if he continues it could be fatal. Our bodies are not meant to flush our medications everyday, none of them are natural. The only reason why so many Americans are living off some of the medications they do is for the most part a huge lie so another corporation can rake in billions of dollars and it works.

    I am not anti med, they aren’t for me. In my opinion though they are not better than over the counter pills or supplements though just because a doctor tells you need them. Most are meant like that to be taken temporarily, to help you in desperate times of need, but not to become addicted to or to survive on. I learned that in therapy as well. Or those people who get addicted to pain killers, opium etc it is very sad.

    1. I’m glad therapy’s been helping.

      I find it really interesting that the supplement/natural products industry doesn’t get the same kind of flack for raking in the cash as the pharmaceutical industry. Not that I’m trying to defend the pharmaceutical industry, but the supplements industry is doing no R&D, they don’t have to do clinical trials, and their products are generally cheap to produce, so they’re raking in nothing but profit. Yet there’s very little criticism of that industry, which I find interesting.

      1. I completely agree! The supplement/natural products industry should be getting just as much flack as the pharmaceutical industry, if not more because like you said they don’t do clinical trials etc.

          1. Yup! That all comes down to the ongoing problem though in our society, consumerism and the stupid things people spend their money on. So it is not only fault of the industries, but it is also our own fault as a society. So we are the first step to solve the problem and change in a way. Silly humans 😛

  6. Blah…if only we could edit our own comments. I forget the percentage of Americans living off some kind of pharmaceutical drug etc, but it is really bad. Like shocking bad.

    I guess is what I feel is the whole supplement and medication thing is a nice band aid instead of actually facing the problems we have in our society and truly changing. The supplement deal is probably another trend much like the whole fitness trend lately well before the pandemic and eating healthy, health drinks, going vegan etc (although I am vegan, but not to be trendy. ;o)

  7. I take vitamin D because my doctor advised it years ago. The official government guidance in the UK at the moment is that everyone should take vitamin D in the winter, because there isn’t enough sunlight. I take omega-3 too because I’m mostly vegetarian and rarely eat fish, so I thought I probably had a deficiency.

      1. I am surprised with you being a BC girl with all that rain. I had to take vitamin D when I lived in BC for years and also had one of those light therapy lights as I lived on an island North of Vancouver, pretty much as far west as you can go. It rained all the time, even often in the summer. Lack of Vitamin D is a serious cause of health problems more than just your moods, but can also cause depression etc. So it incredibly has an effect on your mental health, but also physical health I think. One of the reasons why I was so depressed in British Columbia, was the lack of sun. Sure the lack of snow was nice, but it sucked in other ways. In Ottawa Ontario where I was born and also lived on and off, from moving to where I live now, Michigan USA we get a ton of snow, but the sun comes out all the time in the winter time. It is just too cold most of the time to enjoy it. My mood actually changes in the warmer and sunnier weather. I didn’t believe it until recently. I noticed since spring has sprung, and we see the beautiful weather outside I feel a lot more motivated about going to work etc even though I work the night shift and the sun really is not out when I go to work, but it makes me feel amazing after my shift. xD I definitely recently went through another depressive cycle or bouts of other things I struggle from this past winter or so, and though I don’t think the seasons had everything to do with it, I think it played a small part.

        More doctors should at least be telling Canadians about the importance of Vitamin D, even if they don’t recommend vitamins. 😛

          1. Aha I feel you. I actually miss BC terribly and may move back one day, but BC is very expensive and it would also be pricey to have my husband immigrate to Canada. It was a few thousand more to have him immigrate to Canada than have me immigrate to the states, so at the time we chose here. There is a little bit regret as I miss Canada and my husband also loves Canada, probably more than the USA. However with his dad almost reaching 70 and also beat cancer twice I am glad he can be close to his dad down here for now etc. We also have both a pretty good job now, lots of hours, job security as we have worked at the same place for over 3 years, same schedule, sonority, benefits it is hard to give it up, but maybe one day. 😛

  8. I take many of the supplements you mentioned and follow a pescatarian diet. I incorporate Spirulina, kelp, magnesium, zinc, and eveningprimtose oil along with a super B complex. I’ve beenfollowing this plan for over two years and I feel wonderful! Especially since I don’t feel affected by the side effects of PMDD any longer which plagued me for over fifteen years. I love juicing too. Being mindful of what I consume has been a big game changer for me 😊

  9. I take a number of supplements – vit D every day, higher dose between the fall and spring solstices, B complex in the mornings, collagen and biotin because I’m vain lol, leutin to try to stave off some eye diseases I have precursors and family history for, and a multivitamin every day. I don’t know if it’s a placebo effect but I feel like they do work, at least to some degree. But I think that there’s a lot of misinformation out there about supplements. For the most part mine were recommended by doctors.

    (I don’t know why WordPress is not letting me log in to post this.)

  10. I don’t take supplements at the moment but I used to take vitamin C when I was at university believing that it would be good for my immunity – I don’t think it ever really helped!

  11. Just a multi-vitamin gummy bear dose. I am unwilling to pay for other shit. I did buy turmeric but spilled some on my counter and that pissed me off so I left it in the cabinet.
    Ah, niacin. We used to take large doses, me and the kids, to try and flush weed out of our systems to pass drug tests. It never worked. Kids are so stupid.

  12. I started taking vit D and omega-3 about a year ago. I’m not sure how much it helps with my depression, but the simple daily act of taking these supplements somehow provides its own beneficial feeling of intentional self care.

  13. I do take a boatload of supplements – several prescribed by my doctors – such as AREDS2 for AMD and calcium/vitamin D, an iron supplement and a magnesium supplement. On my own advice I take red rice yeast for cholesterol, and an Omega3 fish oil supplement and a senior multi-vitamin – Phew! This week I’ve started taking melatonin to see it it will help with my insomnia and guess what? So far so good (or I’m just so exhausted…LOL)

  14. I take a multivitamin, 5000 IU Vitamin D (prescribed), a Fish Oil tablet (prescribed) and an enteric baby aspirin. The last of these is not prescribed but gives me a vague comfort that I might not die in my sleep overnight of sudden heart failure. Also they’ve never pointed to there being anything particularly the matter with my heart. So it’s mostly a combination of habit and superstition.

    I’ve never noticed that any of these supplements has any effect on me at all. This is not to say that they’re not doing something — only that I don’t notice what they do. As far as sleep-aids, I take Benadryl on occasion which is effective. I’ve never noticed any soporific effect from either melatonin or Valerian root, either.

    1. I’ve never thought of taking baby aspirin myself, but of the various things that my relatives have died from, it’s never been heart disease. But it’s certainly a reasonable preventative measure to take.

  15. I take iron, vitamin D and B12 in the form of an oral spray, just for my overall health as my levels were low. The sprays are great if you have difficulties with your digestion.

    Other that that, I take valerian root to help me sleep, I do feel like it has a relaxing effect on me but it’s hard to say how much of that is placebo. I think it’s just nice to feel like you’re doing something to help at times.

  16. I take (hit and miss) B vitamin (I’m mostly vegetarian), D vitamin (Canada), and a few others when I feel motivated. I’m resistant to pills and I’m unsure why: I have no negative feelings. Preventative for the macular is important. One thing that irritates me with vitamins is the wide range of doses. The gummies might as well be candy: the amount of supplement they usually contain is hilariously low, and for great cost.

  17. such a fab post! I hate to promote companies but I’ve actually been having great results with Deproloft – a mood supplement made by Thorne that helps my anxiety. I like it so much I sprung for their pricey multi vitamins & believe they’ve helped with my insomnia. for sleep, I also drink sleepytime extra tea with valerian – boil/steep 2 bags for 10 mins, & also do meditations for ‘sleep programming’ on The Tapping Solution app

  18. Supplements are a shortcut. They allow you to salvage some health and fitness while allowing you not to give up on your junk food habits. And since they act a bit faster, they understandably have some side-effects!

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