An extensive review assessed the evidence of benefits from nutritional supplements for mental health disorders.
The importance of a good diet for physical health is well-known, but the role of nutrition in mental health is increasingly acknowledged. In addition to diet, the use of nutritional supplements for mental health disorders is a growing area of study. Researchers in Australia performed an extensive review of the available studies to assess the evidence of benefits from nutritional supplements in treating mental health disorders. They recently reported their findings in World Psychiatry.
Large number of studies on nutritional supplements for mental health disorders
The researchers searched the medical literature for meta-analyses (combined analysis studies) of randomized placebo-controlled trials looking at the use of several nutritional supplements (including omega-3, folate, vitamins, minerals and amino acids), in common and severe mental health disorders (including depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder and schizophrenia). They identified 33 meta-analyses, which included data from almost 11,000 patients. Using this data, they performed the largest evidence review to-date.
Some supplements are effective add-ons to conventional medical treatments
Although most nutritional supplements did not significantly improve mental health, there was evidence that some supplements are effective additions to conventional medical treatments for some mental health disorders.
The strongest evidence was for the use of omega-3 supplements as an additional treatment for depression, reducing depressive symptoms more than antidepressants alone. Omega-3 supplements may also have small benefits in ADHD. The amino acid supplement N-acetylcysteine may be a useful add-on treatment in mood disorders and schizophrenia. Some types of folate supplements may be effective add-on treatments for depression and schizophrenia, although folic acid is ineffective.
There is no strong evidence of benefits from omega-3 in schizophrenia. There was also no good evidence to support the use of vitamins (including E, C, and D) or minerals (including zinc and magnesium) for any mental health disorder.
All the nutritional supplements studied had good safety profiles with no evidence of adverse effects or interactions with psychiatric medications.
Professor Jerome Sarris, senior author of the study, commented that an evidence-based approach to the use of nutritional supplements in mental health disorders is vital. “Future research should aim to determine which individuals might benefit most from evidence-based supplements and to better understand the underlying mechanisms so we can adopt a targeted approach to supplement use in mental health treatment,” said Prof. Sarris.
Written by Julie McShane, MA MB BS
- Firth J, Teasdale SB, Allott K, et al. The efficacy and safety of nutrient supplements in the treatment of mental disorders: a meta-review of meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials. World Psychiatry 2019;18(3). Doi:10.1002/wps.20672.
- NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University. Press release, 9 Sept 2019. “World’s largest evidence review: Nutritional supplements for mental health.” https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-09/nhri-wle090619.php
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