Can Vitamins Help Mental Health? These 7 Supplements May Have Mood-Boosting Properties
There are hundreds of vitamins and supplements available for every ailment and condition you can think of, from melatonin tablets for sleep, to collagen powder for your joints. According to Harvard Health, most people get their daily vitamins from their diets, but vitamin supplements can be extremely beneficial for people with chronic health issues — especially those who may not be eating (or producing) all the vitamins they need. There is research that has shown vitamins and supplements may play a role in treating mental health issues, like depression. However, the connection between vitamins and mood is still up for debate.
"Evidence does not suggest a consistent, clear relationship between vitamin or mineral supplementation and depression or mood," Ali Webster, RD, PhD, Associate Director, Nutrition Communications at the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, tells Bustle. She explains that, "It’s difficult to aggregate the results of randomized trials on this topic, because studies differ in the dose of supplements they provide to participants, different study populations make it difficult to generalize results to everyone, [and] different tools are used to measure depression and mental health."
Though the role vitamins play in improving your mental health is still undecided in the scientific community, there is emerging research that certain vitamins — like B vitamins or Vitamin D — can have mood boosting effects more generally. It's important to note, of course, that vitamins and supplements are not a replacement for prescribed mental health medications — including antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety medication. Instead, incorporating vitamins to your care routine is just another way to improve your quality of life, and boost your mood. Here are seven vitamins that may help boost your mood.
1. B9 and B12
According to MedlinePlus, there are eight B vitamins, but B9 and B12 supplements may specifically help with your mood. "B vitamins can play a role in depression. In particular, folate (which is also called vitamin B9) deficiency is related to symptoms of depression. When taking folate, look for the active form, because it is more likely to cross the blood-brain barrier and be effective," Dr. Elizabeth Bradley, the medical director for Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, tells Bustle.
Dr. Bradley adds that, "When using folate supplements, it’s important to be careful so as not to mask a vitamin B12 deficiency," which Healthline reported can also be linked to mood changes and fatigue.
2. S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)
Dr. Bradley explains S-adenosylmethionine (or more commonly referred to as SAMe) is a chemical "found in the body and is most concentrated in the brain and liver," and "it’s involved in the process of synthesizing neurotransmitters [aka, how your brain communicates] that are involved in depression."
Though research from 2010 suggested that SAMe supplements taken in combination with an antidepressant showed promise of alleviating depressive symptoms, another study from 2016 determined that the use of SAMe supplements in treatment of depression needs to be further researched. Furthermore, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) reported that while there's mounting evidence SAMe supplements may have a positive impact on those with depression, it could cause a hypomanic or manic episodes in people diagnosed with Bipolar disorder.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
TBH, what are omega-3 fatty acids not good for? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports omega-3 supplements (like fish oil) can help with cardiovascular health, neurodevelopment in children, cognitive functioning, cancer prevention, and, not to mention, it makes your skin look amazing.
But, did you know omega-3 supplements may also have mood boosting qualities? Dr. Bradley says that two particular kinds of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are "essential components of cell membranes, which helps with cell membrane fluidity and influences neurotransmitter function," adding that, "research has been done where the EPA portion of fish oil tends to improve depression scores."
"Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is a precursor for serotonin, a neurotransmitter essential in depression. So a deficiency of this, since it needs to be supplied through the diet, can lead to insufficient production of neurotransmitters," says Dr. Bradley. According to Healthline, foods rich in tryptophan include eggs, salmon, tofu, cheese, and nuts. Or, you can opt to take a L-Tryptophan supplement, which MedlinePlus reported has shown to be largely effective for mood swings related to premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and shows promise for other mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Magnesium is a nutrient that plays an important role in many bodily functions, including nerve function, blood sugar level regulation, and bone development. However, it may also impact your mood. "Magnesium is a mineral that acts as cofactors in many enzyme reactions. It effects the neuronal cell membrane fluidity, and there are studies to support its use in mild to moderate depression," says Dr. Bradley.
The NCCIH explains that probiotics are live cultures (aka, living microorganisms and bacteria) that can be ingested via supplement or through your diet. They may help with digestive disorders, and other health problems — including mental health issues. "There is a bidirectional relationship between the gut and the brain," explains Dr. Bradley. "There is research to suggest that probiotics can influence neurotransmitters and depression."
"Zinc is an element that helps to regulate many synaptic processes," says Dr. Bradley. A 2017 study showed that zinc dysregulation and deficiency were common in people with mental illnesses, and found using zinc supplements as a adjunct treatment for depression and even psychosis was effective.
Though taking vitamins can be beneficial for those with mental health issues, Dr. Webster says, "Rather than advocating for supplementing single vitamins or minerals, I recommend focusing on whole foods, eating an overall healthy diet, and appreciating how the social aspects of meals can positively impact mood. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that dietary patterns emphasizing vegetables, fruits, seafood, legumes, and nuts are consistent with maintaining neurocognitive health and a balanced mood." Of course, consulting with your primary physician, psychiatrist, and the rest of your healthcare team is the best way to move forward, and to figure out supplements are right for you.