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Science-Backed Supplements for Depression: 3 to Know

Are there, and this is not a rhetorical question, people alive in modern America who aren’t depressed?

Despite having no real-world evidence to support this claim, we’ve heard they exist. So if you are one of the rare ones with a pleasantly placid nature (or even, heaven forbid, a zest for life), then please move along.

This blog is not for the elated elite, it’s for the masses — the 99% of us contemporary humans living under both corporate capitalism and uncomfortable or else debilitating depression.

Now that those mythical creatures have gone on their merry way, let’s get down to business.

For people with depression — be it in swings, slogs, or slow-burning smolders — the light at the end of the tunnel can, at times, seem bleak and out of reach. Our options, as told by the mainstream, are medication or meditation, both of which are inaccessible to many sufferers.

Is there a middle path? Are there things we can do to alleviate depression without health insurance or heaps of external support?

We took these humble inquiries to Dr. Neal, our resident Wellness Wizard who has, himself, experienced mental health difficulties. (Celebrities — they’re just like us.) His answers, while backed by clinical research and cutting-edge science, might still surprise even the most jaded members of our community.

Turns out, there are nutritional deficiencies that can cause or exacerbate symptoms of depression, and we can address them through supplementation and lifestyle changes. All that and more waits below, so read on, fellow doom-scroller.

In This Article:

The Wellness Pyramid for Depression: Started at the Bottom, Now We’re Here (Still at the Bottom)

But before we dive into the depths of depression and the supplements that can be our buoys, we’d be remiss to not recap our recent blog on wellness practices for mental health.

Because supplements can support a balanced brain, but they work best when they’re supplementing an otherwise healthy lifestyle. (See? It’s even in the name.) Diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, and our external environment all affect our personal experiences of life — physical and emotional alike.

No amount of vitamin D or Prozac can pull you out of a depressive slump if you’re not drinking enough water, sleeping well, exercising regularly, managing your stress levels, and eating nutrient-dense food.

Point blank.

So we start at the bottom of the Wellness Pyramid, working with the lifestyle factors that are within our control before we shell out our cold, hard cash for quick fixes and so-called miracle cures. We might be depressed, but thanks to modern science, we’re not easily swindled anymore.

Learn More: Holistic Mental Health: Wellness Practices for Depression, Anxiety, and More

How Do Supplements Affect Mental Health?

Once we’ve optimized the five lifestyle domains that make up the foundation of our overall health and wellness, then and only then do we move on to strategic supplementation. But before we start taking horse pills and black-market herbs, it’s also important to understand how supplements can magically improve mental health.

Or more accurately, the fact that they don’t.

Supplements aren’t any more one-a-day miracles than SSRIs. They don’t perform witchcraft or wizardry in your body, despite what the charlatans of the natural health industry might tout.

On the contrary, supplements simply fill nutritional gaps. It’s the nutritional gaps, or lack of adequate nutrient intake, that affect our mental health. Because our bodies need nutrients to survive, let alone thrive, and without them, functioning declines.

And, in turn, when our bodies are low, our brains are too, because the distinctly Western dichotomy between mental and physical health is entirely false. So supplements can address those nutritional gaps, or prevent them from forming in the first place, but they aren’t inherently enchanted capsules.

They’re our modern-day solution for the modern-day issues that cause nutritional deficiencies — à la nutritionally bankrupt food or things that deplete nutrient levels, like poor sleep, constant stress, and some medications.

Learn More: 4 Mental Health Myths Debunked: Understanding the American Mental Health Crisis

3 Supplements for Depression That Are Backed by Science

Now that you’ve been properly disillusioned, here’s the low-down on 3 nutritional deficiencies that can cause or complicate depression and the very best, bioavailable supplements to up your intake.

1. Vitamin D and Depression

  • Recommended Form: D3, or cholecalciferol
  • Recommended Dose: 1,000-2,000 IU per day

How’s this for a terrifying statistic? 95% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, according to a recent exploration from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey committee. 

People with depression typically have lower serum vitamin D levels, as recent clinical research says, and the people with the lowest levels have the highest risk for depressive symptoms.

Additionally, vitamin D deficiency in adults has been linked to the presence of active mood disorders, while prenatal deficiencies are associated with an increased risk of developing both ADHD and schizophrenia

But we’re talking about depression in this blog, so let’s take a look at the two-way street that is the relationship between vitamin D and the emotional pits of despair. 

We know that having low levels of vitamin D means you’re more likely to experience depression. However, studies on the efficacy of using vitamin D as a treatment option are still considered scattered, despite this clear connection between low serum levels and depressive symptoms. 

One that has gained notoriety in recent years is this one that showed how vitamin D supplementation positively impacted symptoms of depression. And there’s this one, in which a significant improvement in well-being over time was found following vitamin D supplementation. 

So while there’s a slim chance that you’re one of the 5% of Americans who aren’t deficient in vitamin D, why risk it? 

Learn More: Vitamin D: Sunshine Supplement for Bones, Blood, and The Blues

2. B Vitamin Supplements for Depression

  • Recommended Form: A comprehensive, methylated complex
  • Recommended Dose: 1 capsule per day

The wellness world has been abuzz about B vitamins for quite a while now, proliferating products that can boost brain health, beef up cognition, battle fatigue, and balance emotional well-being

Thanks in part to this popularity, studies on B vitamins and their impact on depression are churning out faster than you can list all the micronutrients in a bottle of B-complex. Deficiencies in certain B vitamins have been shown to directly increase the risk and incidence of depression, for example. 

A recent study that combined key B vitamins — folic acid, B1, and B12 — with vitamin D affirmed the inverse relationship, showing significantly decreased depression symptoms following supplementation, including partial or complete remission in some patients.

Looking at a few of the unique players in a B-complex formula, it becomes quite clear why maintaining optimal levels of these micronutrients is crucial for people suffering from depression. 

How B Vitamins Affect Mental Health

  • Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is a critical cofactor for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, and low B12 levels are associated with a higher risk for depression and other psychiatric difficulties. In a meta-analysis that reviewed numerous studies on B12 and depression, the results showed that early supplementation of B12 can delay the onset of depression symptoms and bolster the effects of anti-depressants. 
  • Folate (B9): Folate, like B12, is needed by the brain to properly synthesize neurotransmitters, and as such, many people with depression have low folate levels. As a stand-alone therapy and as an adjunctive therapy, studies on folic acid revealed reduced depressive symptoms in people following supplementation. It has also been shown to improve cognitive function and lower depressive symptoms in patients with depression and alcoholism
  • Vitamin B6: Also known as pyridoxine, B6 has a “significant modulatory impact” on serotonin and GABA. Supplementation of B6 can improve GABA levels, which can help cultivate feelings of calmness, resulting in lessened symptoms of both depression and anxiety.

3. Magnesium and Its Affect on Depression

Are you sick of hearing about magnesium yet? We’ve talked about this miracle mineral in several recent blogs, sharing the benefits of magnesium supplementation on brain health, muscle repair, sleep quality, and beyond. 

And we’re not done yet.

Magnesium plays a role in over 300 enzymatic processes throughout the body, including in the brain, where it “harmonizes” nerve signals and protects the blood-brain barrier. Chronic stress has been shown to drive down blood levels of magnesium, creating deficiencies that can lead to agitation, anxiety, sleeplessness, headaches, confusion, and more.

Low levels of serum magnesium, like that of B vitamins and vitamin D, are associated with depressive symptoms, as well as ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Magnesium supplementation, while still considered a nascent treatment for depression, has had promising results in a number of case studies and clinical trials. One of the former reported rapid recovery from Treatment Resistant Depression following supplementation, and other randomized clinical trials have been able to replicate beneficial effects on a larger scale.

In the clinical trial, subjects reported lessened symptoms of depression after just two weeks of supplementation, regardless of severity of depression, baseline magnesium levels, use of antidepressants, age, or gender.

Which begs the question, are we taking this humble mineral for granite?

But Don’t Throw Out Your Anti-Depressants

If you’ve made it this far in this boat-rocking, holistic approach to depression blog without becoming so irate you can’t read, then we probably don’t need to explicitly share these caveats. But we will, just in case.

First: The exciting, worldview-challenging results of the clinical research shared here is not, under any circumstances, an encouragement to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Pharmaceutical and professional psychological interventions for depression are still valid, necessary, and even life-saving, in some circumstances.

That, and, if you’re too depressed to start with the foundational steps of the Wellness Pyramid, we’re not going to stop you from jumping right to taking vitamin D. In fact, incremental progress via supplementation might just be the thing you need to be able to address sleep, diet, exercise, stress, and external factors contributing to your mental health.

So don’t block your doctors or quit your SSRIs cold-turkey, okay? Take what works for you and leave the rest. And if you need a shoulder to cry on or a strategic mind to help you find the supplements for depression that will work best for you, give us a call.


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