Nutritional supplements for depression: recommendations from an expert on integrative/holistic health

NYBC has been following recent developments in the use of dietary supplements for depression for quite some time now, and we’d like to recommend a recent guide to this topic by Hyla Cass, which appears in her book, Supplement Your Prescription: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Nutrition.

Dr. Cass, a practicing physician and an expert on integrative (“holistic”) health, devotes a chapter of her 2007 book to depression. The core elements of her recommendations are the B vitamins, Folate, Omega-3 fatty acids, Calcium, and Vitamin D (especially in winter). She also discusses SAMe, a natural mood enhancer essential for the manufacture of neurotransmitters (like serotonin), and two botanicals that have a history of use as anti-depressants, St. Johns Wort and Rhodiola.

Dr. Cass’ account is particularly good at reviewing the role of neurotransmitters in depression, and explaining how supplements and nutrition have an impact on them. For example, tryptophan, eaten together with carbohydrates, will raise levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy and calm and helps you sleep well. The amino acid 5-HTP, meanwhile, can also help the brain produce more serotonin, though unlike tryptophan it does not need the carbs for it to enter the brain.

Anti-depressant prescriptions, as Dr. Cass notes, are among the top sellers among US pharmaceuticals, with 60 million prescriptions written per year at a cost of $10 billion. And while “antidepressants may be enormously helpful, even life-saving for some people,” she continues, “they are often overprescribed, at too high a dose, over too long a time, and often before a good medical evaluation has been done.” (p. 117) Hence her timely guide to using supplements to help maintain the “nutritional balance necessary for good mental health,” or to create “neurotransmitter balance in depression.”

Reference: Hyla Cass, M.D. “Prescriptions for Psychological Health,” in Supplement Your Prescription: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Nutrition. (Basic Health Publications, 2007)

See also the NYBC entries on supplements mentioned above:




Rosavin (Rhodiola)

B Vitamin Complex (B-right)

Fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids)


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