We’ve all heard that ‘food is good for your mood’.
As well as an established relationship between poor diet and mental illness, there is now a vast body of research examining the benefit of nutrient supplementation in people with mental disorders.
In a recent study led by Western Sydney University, researchers established the gold standard for which nutrients are proven to assist in the management of a range of mental health disorders.
They conducted the world’s largest review of research evidence about dietary supplements and mental health.
The study is published in World Psychiatry. The lead author is Dr. Joseph Firth, a Senior Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute.
The study’s aim was to provide a clear overview of the benefit of specific nutrient supplements—including dosage, target symptoms, safety, and tolerability—across different mental disorders.
The team examined 33 meta-analyses of studies 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 supplements did not strongly 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 as an add-on treatment for major depression.
They could reduce symptoms of depression beyond the effects of antidepressants alone.
There was some evidence to suggest that omega-3 supplements may also have small benefits for ADHD.
The team also found that the amino acid N-acetylcysteine is a useful adjunctive treatment in mood disorders and schizophrenia.
Certain types of folate supplements may help treat major depression and schizophrenia, however, folic acid was ineffective.
In addition, there is no strong evidence supporting the use of vitamins (such as E, C, or D) and minerals (zinc and magnesium) for any mental disorder.
The team says the findings should be used to generate more evidence-based guidance on the usage of nutrient-based treatments for mental health conditions.
Future research should aim to determine which patients might benefit most from evidence-based supplements and to better understand the underlying mechanisms.
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