Fifty-two percent of Americans report using supplements each year, a 2016 study found. But the United States' supplement industry is unregulated by the Food and Drug Association, creating a wild, wild West flooded with false claims and phony science.
“While there has been a long-standing 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.”
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Over the past decade, researchers have conducted hundreds of randomized control trials to determine which supplements benefit mental health and which do nothing at all.
So far, there is no magic bullet for mental health, but the evidence does suggest which supplements are likely to help, and which ones you can skip.
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Where is it found? Folate is abundant in food sources like leafy greens, fresh fruit, grains, legumes, and eggs. It is recommended during pregnancy to prevent birth defects. Most people get enough folate from food sources, but too little folate has been linked to mental health conditions like depression and schizophrenia.
Research suggests adding a folate supplement to their routine helped aging adults stay sharp and improves their cognitive function. Other studies suggest folate relieves depression symptoms, especially if other depression treatment like SSRIs or lithium are ineffective or poorly tolerated.
Currently, the FDA has approved one form of folate, l-methylfolate (Deplin), to help treat depression. It’s not prescribed as a stand-alone treatment, but as an add-on to help antidepressants work more effectively.
The most comprehensive research review to date shows omega-3s had the strongest positive effect on mental health, reducing symptoms of depression beyond the effects of antidepressants alone. They trumped all other supplements analyzed in the study from amino acids to vitamin D.
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When the gut microbiome in thrown out of whack — whether by antibiotics or stress — it can lead to unfortunate gastrointestinal symptoms and may threaten mental health. The evidence for probiotics alleviating depression and anxiety is “promising,” researchers say, but more studies are needed to confirm the positive results.