Depression is a serious mental disorder and surveys have shown over the last year of COVID, lockdowns and uncertainty around so much, rates of depressive episodes are on the rise.
That said, it’s of course important to work with a mental health professional when seeking help and while supplements may complement the help of a true professional who you can talk with and who understands your unique situation, they are never a replacement for seeking out the proper help that’s needed.
From a food perspective, focus on eating plenty of fruits, veggies, along with those that are abundant in omega 3 fats, like salmon. Further, nuts, beans, seeds and legumes may have qualities that can help with brain health. Outside of diet, there’s much that can be done to help with mental health from exercise, to social connections, time outside and quality sleep, among others.
Again, supplements are just the tip of the iceberg and never a replacement for seeking out true help, but can possibly play a complementary role in treatment.
A lack of omega-3s has been associated with various mental health disorders—from depression and anxiety to ADD/ADHD and dementia. There's also some research that suggests supplementing with omega-3s could lessen depressive symptoms. Part of the benefit of omega-3s comes from their anti-inflammatory properties. If you're a regular fish eater—and you gravitate towards oily, cold-water fish—you may have sufficient omega-3 levels. That said, for most people, there really aren't risks to taking omega-3 supplements so it's definitely one to consider adding.
Ideal dosage is around 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams a day and you want the ratio of EPA to DHA to be 60% EPA and 40% DHA, so make sure when considering a product, look at the supplement label to see exactly how much of those two omega 3 fats are in the product you’re taking.
Similar to omega-3s, low levels of vitamin D have been linked with mental health conditions, and specifically depression. Vitamin D is, of course, the sunshine vitamin so getting outside daily is important. “That said, we don't know if vitamin D is a symptom of clinical depression or a contributor, says Brierley Horton, MS, RD, Host of the Happy Eating Podcast, with the tagline “is it possible to eat your way to a better mood?” (http://www.HappyEatingPodcast.com).
What we do know is that D plays an important role in quite a few processes associated with depression like helping to regulate the production of neurotransmitters, it has anti-inflammatory benefits (which is also helpful for depression), and many Americans have insufficient levels of D.”
Thus, supplementing with D is worthwhile. Most research studies point to 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 each day. The upper limit for vitamin D is 4,000 IU.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that exist naturally in foods like yogurt, cottage cheese, kombucha and kimchi. They are important in overall wellbeing, including shaping the immune system, digestive health and more.
There is also new evidence that the bacteria in the GI system can also play a role with the gut and brain, which could account for some of the known connections between the brain and gut.
More research is certainly needed in this area, so we can’t say that taking a probiotic is going to change depression, anxiety or any mental illness, but at the same time a high quality probiotic won’t hurt. Consider this, too – the bacteria in the gut love fiber, so focusing heavily on fiber rich foods, like fruits, veggies, beans and more is a smart idea as well.
There are 8 different B vitamins that we can get from foods, like whole grains, nuts, eggs and more. Research suggests that stress can deplete the body’s levels of vitamin B6. And if last year was any indicator, stress levels were higher than normal! One study found a 20% reduction in work-related stress in those consuming higher levels of B vitamins, while others have found high doses of B vitamins may be effective in improving mood states and normal energy levels.
Ashwaganda is an adaptogen, which are non-toxic plants that are marketed as helping the body resist stressors of all kinds whether physical, chemical or biological. These herbs and roots have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions.
Adaptogens may do for your adrenal glands what exercise does for your muscles, When we exercise, it’s a stress on our body. But as we continue to train and exercise, our body becomes better at dealing with the stress of it, so we no longer get as tired or as high a heart rate. When you take adaptogens, you’re training your body to handle the effects of stress.
Ashwaganda, in particular, has some very promising research to support its efficacy. There are a couple different patented extracts, including Sensoril and KSM-66, which will be listed on the label itself. 125 mg of Sensoril when used daily for 30 & 60 days has shown improved stress scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Scale, along with decreased serum cortisol (a stress hormone) after both 30 & 60 days, whereas KSM-66, at 600 mg daily for 60 days has shown improved depression, anxiety and stress scores on Depression Anxiety Stress Scales, along with decreased cortisol levels.
There is evidence that CBD may be a useful treatment for a number of medical conditions, including pain, anxiety, autism, ADHD, autoimmune disorders, IDB/IBS, insomnia, and more. While the federal legal status of cannabis has certainly made research on cannabis and CBD in this country challenging, there are many studies worldwide showing the potential value of this plant-based medicine. Ultimately I am confident this research will continue to develop and we will better be able to ascertain the effects.
CBD does seem to be safe (the World Health Organization agrees) and while we need more clinical trials, there may be a role to consider it as a supplement. However, since CBD products are not regulated it’s important to purchase from a reputable source. The Food and Drug Administration found that 70% of the CBD products on the market are mislabeled, with some containing zero CBD. Buyer beware!
“We still have much to learn about optimal methods of administration and dosing. Most experts take the approach of "start low, go slow" when it comes to dosing” says Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD, FAND, a Holistic Cannabis Practitioner and Co-Program Director of the Cannabinoid Medical Sciences Program at John Patrick University. Keep in mind that there is a potential for interaction with certain medications (in particular those that interact with grapefruit) when taking ingestible CBD (edibles and softgels). Bissex continues, “It’s best to consult with a cannabis practitioner before taking CBD if you have a medical condition”
There you have it. Some products to consider, along with “Happy Eating” as Horton discusses in her podcast, exercising, getting outdoors, finding hobbies you enjoy and taking time for you. As mentioned, repeatedly, of course seeking the help of a trained medical professional is always the best practice.