New Mega-Study Says Supplements Might Improve Mental Health

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Nutritional supplements often get a bad rap from doctors and nutritional scientists, but a new study — the largest evidence-based review of the subject ever undertaken — suggests that, if nothing else, some supplements may be valuable tools in helping treat a variety of mental disorders.

To establish a relationship, an international team of scientists, led by the NCIM Health Research Institute at Australia’s Western Sydney University, conducted a meta-synthesis, examining data from 33 previous meta-analyses of randomized control trials covering almost 11,000 people. The subjects of the various earlier studies suffered from a variety of conditions, including depression, stress and anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Among the study’s findings:

Omega-3 supplements were found to be effective as an add-on treatment for major depression, reducing symptoms beyond what was achieved by antidepressants alone.

There is some evidence that omega-3 supplements might also provide some small benefit in treating ADHD. (The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has published an in-depth analysis of the possible benefits of omega-3 supplement for physical conditions.)

NAC is emerging as a useful added treatment for schizophrenia and mood disorders.

Special types of folate supplements — but not folic acid — may help treat schizophrenia and major depression when used in conjunction with other medications.

On the other hand, there is no evidence supporting the value of vitamins (like C, D, or E) or minerals (like zinc or magnesium) for treating mental health issues.

One contributor to the study, NCIM’s Professor Jerome Sarris, said that future research should allow mental health professionals to “better understand the underlying mechanisms so we can adopt a targeted approach to supplement use in mental health treatment.”

Over-the-counter dietary supplements are extremely popular in America today. More than half of all U.S. adults take them regularly, spending a total of more that $30 billion annually on vitamins, minerals, herbal products, and other substances. People buy these supplements because, among other things, they are attempting to correct nutritional shortcomings. These are the most common deficiencies in the U.S.

However, such supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and many of them, scientists say, provide little or no benefit.

But there is also evidence that a small number of supplements — specifically, omega-3 fatty acids, NAC (N-acetyl cysteine, an amino acid that replenishes the antioxidant glutathione), and certain types of folate — may have significant positive effects on several health conditions. Some of them are of serious concern all over the country — here is a full list of the most serious public health issues America is facing today.