In the United States, 52 percent of adults take supplements every day — but despite their popularity, most supplements don’t live up to the miracle claims listed on their packaging. So what works, and what doesn’t? To find out, in September 2019 researchers published the world’s largest review of dietary supplements and mental health.
They discovered that most supplements do little to boost mental health, except for one: fishy, popular omega-3 fatty acids.
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After analyzing the data from hundreds of trials, the researchers concluded that omega-3s reduce symptoms of depression beyond the effects of antidepressants alone.
“While there has been a longstanding interest in the use of nutrient supplements in the treatment of mental illness, the topic is often quite polarizing, and surrounded by either over-hyped claims or undue cynicism,” Joseph Firth researcher at Western Sydney University the University of Manchester, told Inverse at the time.
In the more-recent analysis, the researchers examined 33 meta-analyses of randomized control clinical trials looking at supplements and psychiatric conditions. The data set included 10,951 people with conditions including depression, stress and anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. They also reviewed an array of supplements: amino acids, pre- and probiotics, vitamins C, E, and D, as well as minerals, zinc, and magnesium.
Few had any tangible effect on the conditions, they found. But the strongest evidence of supplements having positive effects on mental health was for omega-3s, taken alongside conventional treatments for major depression.
The results run counter to research published in March 2019, suggesting that no dietary supplement — including omega-3s — helped treat depression.
You don’t have to pop a supplement to get omega-3s potential mental health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, vegetable oil, and nuts. Food-based sources of omega-3s may be more beneficial than any supplement — the quality of different supplements varies widely due to scant regulation.
More research is needed to determine how frequently and how much omega-3s a person would have to take to see an effect, but the results do point to a potential future alternative to traditional treatments for depression.
As 2019 draws to a close, Inverse is revisiting 25 striking lessons for humans to help maximize our potential. This is #10. Some are awe-inspiring, some offer practical tips, and some give a glimpse of the future. Read the original article here.