Nutrient supplements can give antidepressants a boost: Uni of Melbourne and Harvard study

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 2nd May 2016

Medication and Supplements

A international evidence review conducted jointly by researchers from the University of Melbourne and Harvard University has found certain nutritional supplements can increase the effectiveness of antidepressants.

Omega 3 fish oils, S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), methylfolate (bioactive form of folate) and Vitamin D, were all amongst the supplements found to boost the effects of antidepressants.

The researchers examined 40 clinical trials worldwide, alongside a systematic review of the evidence for using nutrient supplements (known as nutraceuticals) to treat clinical depression in conjunction with antidepressants such as SSRIs, SNRIs and tricyclics.

Head of the ARCADIA Mental Health Research Group at the University of Melbourne, Dr Jerome Sarris, led the meta-analysis, published online late last week in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

“The strongest finding from our review was that Omega 3 fish oil – in combination with antidepressants – had a statistically significant effect over a placebo,” Dr Sarris said.

“Many studies have shown Omega 3s are very good for general brain health and improving mood, but this is the first analysis of studies that looks at using them in combination with antidepressant medication,” he said.

“The difference for patients taking both antidepressants and Omega 3, compared to a placebo, was highly significant. This is an exciting finding because here we have a safe, evidence-based approach that could be considered a mainstream treatment,” Dr Sarris stated.

Good evidence for Vitamin D, not so much for folic acid

The University of Melbourne research team also found good evidence for methylfolate, Vitamin D, and SAMe as a mood enhancing therapy when taken with antidepressants. The team reported mixed results for zinc, vitamin C and tryptophan (an amino acid). Folic acid did not work particularly well, nor did inositol.

“A large proportion of people who have depression do not reach remission after one or two courses of antidepressant medication,” Dr Sarris said.

“Millions of people in Australia and hundreds of millions worldwide currently take antidepressants. There’s real potential here to improve the mental health of people who have an inadequate response to them,” he said.

Dr Sarris stated medical professionals may be hesitant to prescribe nutraceuticals alongside pharmaceuticals due to a lack of scientific evidence around effectiveness.

“Medical practitioners are aware of the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids, but are probably unaware that one can combine them with antidepressant medication for a potentially better outcome,” he said.

The researchers found no major safety concerns in combining the two therapies, but said people on antidepressants should always consult their health professional before taking supplements.

“We’re not telling people to rush out and buy buckets of supplements. Always speak to your medical professional before changing or initiating a treatment,” Dr Sarris said.