Taking supplements for depression is often overlooked but major depressive disorder – more commonly known as depression – affects a large number of people.
The survey in 2009 found that 3 in every 100 people are affected by depression, a number that increases to 10 in every 100 people when in conjunction with anxiety.
An important distinction to make is the difference between situational and clinical depression. It is normal to react to stressful life events – someone losing their job, losing a family member – negatively, and this is known as a situational response.
However, if these symptoms become overwhelming or affect our daily life, this is known as major or clinical depression.
For a disorder that affects so many people, depression is only partly understood. We know that childhood experiences, life events, other underlying mental health issues, physical health problems and substance abuse can all play a role. However, the extent to which any of these contribute to the disorder is the subject of continuous debate.
Effective Supplements for Depression
One treatment option that usually doesn’t receive as much attention as medication or therapy is supplements, despite the existence of evidence to support the benefits.
Supplements are a realistic alternative for some people seeking to overcome their depression without the use of drugs and without having to rely on others. At the very least, it can provide a starting point from which to pursue other methods of treatment.
Supplements include any consumed products that aims to supplement the diet and provide additional nutrients that may be missing from it, or aren’t being consumed in sufficient quantities .
In the most recent National Report On Biochemical Indicators Of Diet And Nutrition In The US Population, 8% of the population aged one year and older were at risk for vitamin D deficiency.
This equates to millions of people. In this article, we will take a look at some of the supplements available and how they can help to treat depression.
Vitamins for Depression – B Complex
The term “vitamin B complex” refers to the group of related but distinct vitamins of B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12. B4, B8, B10 and B11 were once part of the vitamin B complex, but were discovered either to be non-essential for life or to be produced in the body and therefore ceased to qualify as a vitamin.
The main function of B vitamins lies in cell metabolism; each one either aids or causes a metabolic process. Several B vitamins, including B12, are involved with the production of chemicals that affect mood, and research has been conducted that links a deficiency in B12 or B6 to depression .
B vitamins trigger the conservation of tryptophan (an essential amino acid the body cannot produce) and this gets converted into serotonin. Medicinal antidepressants work to increase the level of serotonin, the lack of which is associated with depression.
Meat, fish and dairy are all good sources of B vitamins and a balanced diet should provide the amount we need. A deficiency in vitamin B is normally the result of either a vegetarian/vegan diet, a digestive disorder (such as Crohn’s disease) which inhibits vitamin absorption, or old age. However, deficiencies can also occur for unknown reasons.
Vitamin B (180 Tablets) – this is a six-month supply of vitamin B complex, containing Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, D-biotin and folic acid.
Vitamin B (90 capsules) – for those who prefer capsules to tablets, this option might be more comfortable.
A natural antioxidant, vitamin C is an essential nutrient for the human body. It supports the immune system by protecting cells, maintains connective tissues and assists with healing wounds. It is involved in metabolic reactions in all animals and plants and, despite being present in many foods, is generated internally by nearly all organisms.
Without enough vitamin C, a condition called scurvy can develop, which is characterised by bleeding gums and a lack of healing wounds. According to Dr. Daniel Léger, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry Western University, one of the more severe symptoms of scurvy can be depression.
Low levels of vitamin C have been linked with depression , possibly due to neurotransmitter impairment – specifically the depletion of norepinephrine. With a lack of vitamin C, the chemical process that converts L-phenylalanine to epinephrine is limited and norepinephrine can only be produced to a certain extent. Since this process relies on a supply of vitamin C, supplements can be a relatively safe and inexpensive option help to treat depression.
Vitamin C (180 Tablets) – this is a highly-rated six-month supply of vitamin C.
Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the human body, two nutrients that help to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Like Vitamin B, it can be found in oily fish, but it can also be found in many ‘fortified’ foods, such as breakfast cereals and spreads. Though we can obtain vitamin D from our diet, the vast majority of our intake comes from exposure to sunlight.
Vitamin D deficiency is relatively common , especially amongst the elderly. Just as a Vitamin D deficiency could lead to physical conditions such as osteomalacia (a softening of the bones), it also has the potential to affect mental health. The receptors in the brain that have been associated with vitamin D have been found in areas linked with depression .
Research has consistently shown a link between depression and low levels of vitamin D in the blood. One theory suggests that vitamin D affects the amount of monoamines (e.g. serotonin) in the brain . The process behind medicinal antidepressants is an increase in the monoamines in the brain, so vitamin D may trigger a similar process, which could be used to treat depression.
Vitamin D3 (365 Tablets) – a year-long supply of vitamin D3 at 10,000 IU per day.
Mineral Supplements for Depression – Magnesium
Present in every cell type in the human body and in many different types of food, it might be surprising that 48% of the US population (reflective of the West in general) consumed less than the required amount of magnesium from food between 2005 and 2006 .
Magnesium plays in an important role in chemical reactions throughout the body, especially with helping cells to generate energy. Aside from being important for bones, it is also crucial to the health of the heart; if magnesium levels in the body fall too low, conditions from muscle cramps to arrhythmia can occur.
There is research that links a deficiency in magnesium to depression. In their 2006 study, Eby & Eby offer an explanation: “In magnesium deficiency, neuronal requirements for magnesium may not be met, causing neuronal damage which could manifest as depression. Magnesium treatment is hypothesized to be effective in treating major depression resulting from intraneuronal magnesium deficits.”
For males aged 14 and over, the Recommended Dietary Allowance for magnesium is between 410mg and 420mg, for females aged 14 and over, the RDA is between 310mg and 360mg . Even when aiming for these recommendations, a deficiency can still occur. A simple blood test is an easy way to check for a magnesium deficiency. As they are absorbed easily by the body, magnesium gluconate, magnesium lactate, and magnesium citrate are recommended forms of magnesium supplements.
Magnesium Citrate (180 tablets) – a six-month supply at 200mg per day.
Magnesium (90 capsules) – a three-month supply at 500mg per day.
Probiotics for Depression and Anxiety
It is now common knowledge that probiotics (“good bacteria”) help to maintain a natural balance of bacteria in the gut. Often added to yoghurts, they carry with them a number of health benefits. However, a 2009 study from the University of Toronto has found that a two-month protocol of probiotics led to a decrease in depression symptoms of a group of patients .
It is possible that probiotics increase the transformation of the amino acid tryptophan to serotonin in the brain, which means that they can have at least some of the same effect as SSRIs.
Whilst probiotics are generally considered to be safe, there are concerns about their use with certain medical conditions, especially conditions relating to the bowel. For people in good health, probiotics are safe to try at any time. For those with medical conditions, medical advice should precede consumption.
Probiotics (180 capsules) – a six-month supply of five-strain/one billion CFU probiotic capsules.
Amino Acids for Depression
About a fifth of cells in the human body are made up of protein, the building blocks of which are amino acids. It is difficult to overstate the role of amino acids as they help to carry out many important bodily functions. Two particular amino acids have been shown to have an effect on depression: glutamine and 5-HTP.
Glutamine, the most abundant free amino acid in the body, has been found to aid the immune system, strengthen intestinal cells and reduce stress, depression and anxiety . Produced in muscle, glutamine reaches organs via blood to provide nitrogen and carbon to cells, and it one of the chemicals needed to produce glucose.
As it can counteract the biological processes that result from physical or psychological stress, glutamine can function as a treatment for depression .
In some research, concentrations of glutamine are low during times of physical or psychological stress .
Another amino acid, 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), is a chemical precursor to the production of serotonin. Whilst it occurs naturally in the body, 5-HTP is produced commercially from the seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia, a climbing shrub native to Africa.
Available over the counter, 5-HTP is sometimes used as a treatment for sleep disorders or depression, as it increases production of serotonin. Some studies suggest that consumption of between 150mg and 3000mg for two to four weeks has a significant effect.
Leucine, isoleucine and valine amino acids (180 tablets) – a six-month supply of optimised amino acids at 1,200mg.
Glutamine (240 tablets) – an eight-month supply of glutamine at 500mg:
Fish Oils for Depression
The human body requires two particular omega-3 fatty acids to perform optimally: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Whilst we cannot naturally produce either of them, we can find them in the oils of cold-water fish such as salmon and tuna. Omega-3 deficiencies are relatively common as these food sources are consumed minimally in the Western diet .
There is now evidence that correlates low levels of these fatty acids with mental disorders, including depression. According to Paul Anderson of Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington, we tend not to transmit nerve signals properly without enough omega-3 fatty acids, and this creates a chemical environment for depression.
Dr. Andrew Weil, Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, recommends that people take two to four grams per day of products that provide both EPA and DHA. Be sure to take two to four grams of the total omega-3 fatty acids, not of the oil itself.
Treatments involving very high doses of fish oil have been administered without any negative effects. One of the benefits of fish oils is that high doses can normally be taken without health dangers. However, according to the University Of Maryland Medical Center, side-effects of fish oils can include burping, gas, diarrhoea or bloating. In these cases, there are three common solutions.
Firstly, supplements can be frozen before consumption to offset their breakdown in the stomach. Secondly, special time-release supplements can be bought that replicate this process naturally. Finally, supplements can be taken at lower doses throughout the day rather than in larger doses at set times.
Omega 3 Fish Oil (365 capsules) – a year-long supply of fish oil supplements at 1,000mg.
Herbal Supplements for Depression
Hypericum perforatum, more commonly known as St. John’s Wort, is a yellow-flowered medicinal herb known for its antidepressant properties . There have been several large studies to investigate the efficacy of St. John’s Wort in treating depression, including a notable systematic review that concluded the herb to be an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression.
St. John’s Wort contains two particular active ingredients: hypericin and hyperforin. There is evidence to suggest that hypericin inhibits the action of dopamine β-hydroxylase (an enzyme), which would in turn lead to increased levels of dopamine (a neurotransmitter that helps to control the brain’s pleasure centre).
Whilst it has been shown to be effective in a great deal of cases, there are studies that have drawn lesser conclusions, and there is still a lot of research to be done. If you decide to use St. John’s Wort, be sure to speak to a doctor beforehand; as it affects the metabolic processing of drugs, it can interfere with commonly-used medications such as warfarin.
One of the prominent benefits of St. John’s Wort is that is has far fewer side-effects than conventional antidepressants. It is not, however, free from them. For people with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, it has been known to cause hypomania. Additionally, there is little information available regarding effects on pregnancy, on breastfeeding or on children under the age of 18.
In many European countries, St. John’s Wort is available on prescription. However, in the UK, neither the British National Formulary (BNF) nor the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend it because its registration is not based on clinical trials, but rather on its use as a traditional herbal medicine. Similarly, in the USA, medicinal use of St. John’s Wort is not approved by the FDA. Despite this, doctors can recommend it in some cases and it can be bought over the counter in many food shops and pharmacies in the forms of tablets, capsules and teas.
Depression is more common than ever, with millions of people suffering every year. Whilst medicinal antidepressants and therapy are common treatments for depression, they don’t always work for everyone.
It is important to note that supplements for depression are considered to be a form of alternative medicine.
Conventional medical advice highlights that alternative treatments should accompany medicinal or psychotherapeutic treatments rather than replace them entirely. Supplements should be taken to make up for deficiencies that drive negative well-being.
In some cases, consuming more of a chemical than the body needs can be dangerous.
It is also worth noting that not all of these supplements need to be taken in order to treat depression. If a patient with depression discovers a magnesium deficiency through a blood test, it is possible that only magnesium supplements are needed to attempt to treat that depression.
Research into treatments for depression continues as we learn more about the brain and its processes.