Can Supplements Help Fight Depression?

Credit: Paul Linse / Getty Images

If you take medication for depression but still struggle a bit, adding a daily dose of fish oil or vitamin D just might lift you out of your rut. According to a new meta-analysis from the University of Melbourne in Australia, certain dietary supplements may increase the effectiveness of antidepressants such as Zoloft, Paxil, Pristiq, and Cymbalta.

After analyzing evidence from 40 clinical trials, the researchers discovered that four specific supplements, all of which influence brain function on their own, had a significant impact when paired with the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. Patients who used these drug-supplement combos experienced fewer depressive symptoms than those who took only an antidepressant or a drug plus placebo.

The supplement with the greatest effect? Omega-3s, specifically EPA, which is abundant in fish oil. The researchers believe this nutrient boosts moods by replenishing the feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which is similar to how most antidepressants work. EPA also tames inflammation, and since people with major depression often show signs of systemic inflammation, the combo of omega-3s and drugs may do double duty in battling the blues.

Vitamin D also appears to increase the potency of antidepressants, likely because there are vitamin D receptors located in the hypothalamus and other areas of the brain associated with depression. It also may boost production of a particular precursor of dopamine and norepinephrine. Additionally, patients who combined an antidepressant with methylfolate, a form of vitamin B, or SAMe, a supplement known to elevate mood by getting several neurotransmitters firing properly, had fewer depressive symptoms than those who stuck with a drug.

Since this was a meta-analysis, the exact amount of each supplement people took varied considerably from study to study. Therefore, the researchers couldn’t pinpoint a consistent efficacious dosage of fish oil, vitamin D, methylfolate, or SAMe. If you want to try one of these supplements in conjunction with your meds, take this news to your doctor, and together you can dial in an appropriate dosage to try.