Nutrient supplementation beneficial for a range of mental disorders

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags Gut bacteria Gut health Mental health Depression omega-3 Omega-3 fatty acid

A whopping 77% of Americans report they consume dietary supplements, according to CRN. A recent study found that a major reason behind the supplements intake is to combat anxiety or stress.

The Trust Transparency Center​ (TTC) released the results of a national survey of 1,003 US supplement consumers. The survey looked at general supplement purchasing habits with a deep dive into several established and emerging ingredient categories such as CoQ10, astaxanthin, prebiotics, turmeric and collagen. More than 60 percent (64%) of respondents dietary supplements daily.

Nearly a third of respondents, 30%, reported that their top five health concerns are led by anxiety or stress, followed by high blood pressure (26%) joint or other pain (25%), high cholesterol (24%) and lack of energy (24%).

Another study on mental health and nutrient supplementation suggests nutrients are beneficial for a range of mental health disorders.

Examining the benefit of nutrient supplementation in people with mental disorders

The world's largest review (a meta-synthesis) of top-tier evidence, published online in World Psychiatry​, examined 33 meta-analyses of randomized control trials (RCTs) and data from 10,951 people with mental health disorders including depression, stress and anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Although the majority of nutritional supplements assessed did not significantly improve mental health, the researchers found strong evidence that certain supplements are an effective additional treatment for some mental disorders, supportive of conventional treatment.

The strongest evidence was found for omega-3 supplements (a polyunsaturated fatty acid) as an add-on treatment for major depression - reducing symptoms of depression beyond the effects of antidepressants alone.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Joseph Firth, Senior Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University and Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Manchester said, 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,”​ adding that the findings should be used to produce more evidence-based guidance on the usage of nutrient-based treatments for various mental health conditions.

Other findings 

There was some data to suggest that omega-3 supplements may also have small benefits for ADHD. There is also evidence that amino acid N-acetylcysteine is useful adjunctive treatment in mood disorders and schizophrenia. Additionally, special types of folate supplements may be effective as add-on treatments for major depression and schizophrenia, however folic acid was proven ineffective. There is also no case made for omega-3 for schizophrenia or other mental health conditions.The study also did not find compelling evidence that supports the use of vitamins (such as E, C, or D) and minerals (zinc and magnesium) for any mental disorder.

All nutrient supplements were found to be safe when recommended dosages and prescriptive instructions were adhered to and there was no evidence of serious adverse effects or contraindications with psychiatric medications.

Gut health is in your head

Dr. Joseph Firth, Senior Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, suggests more research is needed on mental health. "The role of the gut microbiome in mental health is a rapidly emerging field of research, however more research is needed into the role of 'psychobiotics' in mental health treatment."

Indeed, more studies are needed, but so far the evidence is promising. Separate research, published in Nature Microbiology​ found people suffering from depression lacked two bacteria in their gut microbiota: Coprococcus​ and Dialister​.

But researchers remain cautious when interpreting the results. While intriguing, it’s worth pointing out that this does not necessarily mean that these bacteria cause depression. They say it could simply be that depressed people eat differently which that changes their gut microbiota composition. 

These findings are of significant interest. The relationship between gut microbial metabolism and mental health is one of the most intriguing and controversial topics in microbiome research. More studies are needed to acquire a deeper understanding of the gut-brain axis and lead to new treatments for depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. 



Nature Microbiology

Volume 4 (2019) doi: 10.1038/s41564-018-0337-x

The neuroactive potential of the human gut microbiota in quality of life and depression

Authors: Valles-Colomer, M. et al. 


World Psychiatry                                                                                                                                              

Volume 18, issue 3 (2019)​.

The efficacy and safety of nutrient supplements in the treatment of mental disorders: a meta‐review of meta‐analyses of randomized controlled trials

Authors: Firth, J. et al.

Related topics Research Cognitive function

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