Diet Supplements For Depression: Can They Help?

Depression is a serious mental illness. With it come symptoms such as listlessness, sadness, a depressed mood up to physical complaints and suicidal thoughts. Therefore, treatment from a specialist in depression is urgently needed. Nevertheless, the question often arises whether certain dietary supplements can help. We get to the bottom of the question.

In this article you will learn:

  • How your diet affects your wellbeing
  • What hormones have to do with depression
  • Which micronutrients support the normal functioning of the psyche
  • What the study situation says on the subject of dietary supplements for depression
  • What is also important to promote a healthy psyche

Depression: A Serious Disease

Around 350 million people around the world suffer from depression , making this largely underestimated disease one of the most common in the world. Typical initial symptoms are a general decline in performance and various physical complaints such as loss of appetite or sleep disorders. In addition, there is general indifference and inability to make decisions, often paired with a feeling of sadness, but sometimes also with inner restlessness or states of fear.

Depression is in no way comparable to mood swings or phases of depression – it is a serious illness that has a negative impact on overall perception and is associated with serious disorders of body function.

People who develop depression are usually not able to fight it on their own. For this reason, professional help is urgently needed, as not only does the quality of life suffer, but the symptoms can worsen as the disease progresses – up to and including suicide.

How your diet affects your wellbeing

The reasons for listlessness, negative thoughts and a depressed mood can be varied. Examples are dissatisfaction at work or stress in a partnership. But diet also plays a role. Above all, people who mainly rely on fast food and products containing sugar can sooner or later not only be plagued by health problems such as obesity, but also by a generally disturbed well-being.

One possible explanation for this lies in our intestines, more precisely with the inhabitants of our intestines: the microbiome .

In a large-scale study, the microbiome of more than 1,000 participants was examined. It turned out that imDigestive tract of people suffering from depression, two specific types of bacteria called coprococcus and dialister are less common than in people who are mentally healthy.

We now know that our intestinal bacteria are connected to the brain via the intestinal nervous system and numerous messenger substances such as serotonin and dopamine. As a result, they communicate with our nervous system, immune system and the hormonal system.

In particular, the neurotransmitters and so-called happiness hormones dopamine and serotoninplay a big role in depression. Dopamine is known to keep you motivated and fueled, while serotonin promotes a good mood. Scientists today assume that there is a malfunction of this hormonal system in people suffering from depression.

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We also know today that certain intestinal bacteria are able to produce serotonin themselves. It is estimated that 95% of our serotonin is in the gut.

You can find more information on this topic in our article “ Depression: How the gut affects the psyche ”.

We know that the intestinal bacteria are influenced not only by genetics and lifestyle (stress, sleep, exercise, etc.) but also by diet. Therefore, it is possible that unfavorable conditions in the intestine contribute to poorer well-being.

A healthy, balanced diet is usually preferable to dietary supplements.

We know that the intestinal bacteria are influenced not only by genetics and lifestyle (stress, sleep, exercise, etc.) but also by diet. Therefore, it is possible that unfavorable conditions in the intestine contribute to poorer well-being.

Conversely, it makes sense to actively take care of providing the intestinal bacteria with the best possible conditions, because this can also increase our well-being. A healthy diet is a crucial factor in this regard.

Diet recommendations for depression

Depression is a serious illness, the causes of which are usually multifactorial . A simple change in diet cannot and must not replace therapy, but is at best intended to support the maintenance of healthy physical and mental functions. A wholesome, natural diet is important for everyone, as it provides a large amount of micronutrients, which are essential for the correct functioning of our body processes. Concrete vitamins that help with depression are not yet known. However, findings from the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) show that certain micronutrients contribute to normal psychological function. These are:

  • Vitamin C
  • Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Biotin (Vitamin B7)
  • Folic acid (vitamin B9)
  • Vitamin B12
  • Magnesium

You can find out which foods contain many of these vitamins in our list of important micronutrients . A healthy diet goes hand in hand with a conscious diet. This means that you should eat your meals without distractions such as television or smartphone and always  eat carefully .

There are also advocates of other dietary supplements  for depression. Researchers have already examined numerous substances in this regard, with different results being recorded.

Are there any herbal remedies and other “natural antidepressants”?

Particular caution is required here . Promises of healing are not allowed in Germany. A product that promises cure would acquire drug status just by claiming it. Although food is intended to serve as a supply and to maintain health, it cannot claim to have a therapeutic effect. In addition, claims regarding the health effects of foods are strictly regulated in the European Union.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) scientifically tests whether certain ingredients in the form of food supplements have a health effect. If, in the opinion of EFSA, this is the case, the corresponding statements are set out in writing and authorized. Nevertheless, one hears again and again of supposed “natural antidepressants”. We introduce some representatives who are often mentioned in connection with depression and take a look at the study situation.

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan)
5-HTP is a compound that the body makes from the amino acid L-tryptophanmanufactures itself. 5-HTP serves as a building block for serotonin, the “happiness hormone” mentioned above. Since this is responsible for a good mood, it could be obvious that an increased occurrence of serotonin can help with depression.

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This has been investigated in some studies. However, one of them came to the opposite conclusion. The researchers found that supplementing 5-HTP over a longer period of time can actually have the opposite effect, as the entire hormone and neurotransmitter balance is imbalanced.

And watch out ! As nice as it sounds that serotonin puts you in a good mood. Too much can be dangerous because it threatens the so-called serotonin syndrome. An unnatural build-up of serotonin can lead to toovarious symptoms such as diarrhea, mental changes, muscle twitching, sweating, chills, and tremors . In this article you will find out when dietary supplements can be harmful to us in general . The EFSA does not consider the effect of 5-HTP in food supplements to be proven.

Omega-3 fatty acids
These fatty acids cannot be produced by the body and must therefore be supplied from outside. Today we know that they are important for various body functions. A distinction is made between three types. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) occur naturally in fatty marine fish and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) in various plants such as flaxseed. All three types are important for the body.

The US non-profit organization Mayo Clinic describes that a daily nutritional supplement with 1,000 milligrams of EPA can be useful for depression.

Other studies also state that omega-3 fatty acids (especially EPA) can help in the treatment of depression, but according to the current state of science, they do not help as the only means. Further research is necessary in order to be able to make more precise statements .
After all, EFSA agrees that some unsaturated fatty acids, including DHA and EPA, can help maintain healthy blood lipid levels and also contribute to normal blood pressure.

B vitamins
As you have already seen in the list of micronutrients that according to EFSA contribute to normal psychological function, some B vitamins are listed there. Vitamins B6 and B12 in particular help to produce messenger substances that are important for mood and other brain functions.

In fact, proven low levels of these vitamins have been linked to depression . Since B vitamins are important for many other bodily functions, it is important that they are consumed in sufficient quantities through diet.

Studies on B vitamins come to different conclusions. For example, a study from 2005 foundthat a combination of vitamin B12 and folic acid (vitamin B9) can reduce symptoms of depression .

A counterexample is provided by a meta-analysis from 2019 that examined the effect of daily nutritional supplements with B vitamins on depression. Although positive results with regard to their mood could be recorded in healthy and stress-prone people, the B vitamins did not achieve any improvement in depressed people.

Vitamin D
Depressed people often have low vitamin D levels. A scientific meta-analysis from 2014 took a closer look at 15 studies on the subject and ultimately came to the conclusion that a dietary supplement with ≥800 IU (international units) with vitamin D can be useful for depression.

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But be careful! Independent administration of high doses of vitamin D can be dangerous . According to the RKI, an acute overdose can lead to nausea, abdominal cramps and other “lighter” symptoms. In severe cases, kidney damage, cardiac arrhythmias, unconsciousness and death can result. Since the body can store vitamin D, a gradual overdose is possible in addition to an acute one.

What else can be done to help with depression

Instead of (excessive) dietary supplementation with vitamin D, sufficient time in the sun or at least in daylight is recommended. Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin through exposure to the sun and an overdose cannot occur. In addition, sunlight stimulates the production of serotonin, which – as you should now know – is an important neurotransmitter for our psyche.

The sun not only gives the body vitamin D, but also supports serotonin production.

Since our body is dependent on many important micronutrients , a healthy diet should always come first before taking any nutritional supplements. Fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grain products, legumes, meat, fish, eggs and dairy products should be in the foreground. On the other hand, sugar should be avoided. Scientists assume that a reduced sugar intake goes hand in hand with better mental health. In addition, the risk of developing depression in patients with diabetes mellitus is two to three times higher.

Also, adequate exercise part of everyday life should be. It’s less about athletic performancebut about movement. We now know that exercise and sport increase the feeling of self-efficacy.

You should also make sure that you always drink enough fluids, because drinking too little can damage the psyche and promote depression.

Getting enough exercise is part of a healthy, active lifestyle and can help prevent depression.

Another interesting approach is to stimulate the vagus nerve in depression. This nerve belongs to the parasympathetic nervous system, which influences relaxation, heart rate, breathing and digestion. Stimulation helps to relieve stress. You can learn more about this in this article .

Are dietary supplements useful for depression?

Depression is serious business and treatment should always be obtained with professional help. However, it is important to know that certain lifestyle factors can contribute to depression.

With its thousands of microorganisms, the intestine is an important organ for our mental and physical health. Here, among other things, the neurotransmitter serotonin is produced, which has a mood-enhancing effect.

Dietary supplements do not offer therapy. They are not suitable for treating depression. Certain remedies such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins or vitamin D can possibly be used as a support. However, the study situation in this field is still very incomplete, so that clear recommendations cannot be made. Not only the treatment of illnesses must be individual, but also the supportive measures, such as diet, should be personally tailored to each patient.

It is always helpful to have a healthy diet, exercise, adequate sleep and sufficient relaxation to improve your mental state to support.

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