American Psychiatric Association Task Force on supplements for major depression

The American Psychiatric Association recently commissioned a task force to study the state of “alternative and complementary” therapies for major depression. This follows widespread interest from the scientific community and a considerable accumulation of research to date. The Task Force reported in a 2010 article that focused special attention on these supplements: omega-3 fatty acids (commonly taken as fish oil supplements), St John’s Wort (the botanical Hypericum), Folic acid (a synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin found in leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, and fortified breads and cereals), and S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe).

We welcome this acknowledgment by the mainstream US medical establishment that supplements have a role to play in treating a disabling condition that affects millions of people per year, and is not always easily treatable. (Only one-third of adult patients newly diagnosed with major depression achieve complete symptom relief when taking one antidepressant, so there is often an extended search for the right combination of drug and other treatment needed for remission.)

Below is a brief recap of some of the latest thinking on these key supplements for depression. Of course NYBC recommends that you use these supplements in consultation with your healthcare provider. More information on these supplements can be found by following the links to the NYBC website.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (fish oil) recommended as a stand-alone treatment for people concerned about side effects, such as those with multiple medical conditions. It has also been combined with other antidepressants as an adjunct therapy. Fish oil’s blood-thinning property makes it problematic for doses above 3g/day. Added benefit: fish oil supports cardiovascular health.

St. John’s Wort is an herb widely studied and used, especially in Europe, for mild to moderate depression, though it hasn’t proved effective for major depression. Those taking protease inhibitors or certain other drugs should avoid St. John’s Wort because it interferes with their action.

SAMe (S-adenosyl-l-methionine). Supplementing with SAMe increases concentrations of neurotransmitters that influence mood, and multiple studies have confirmed its antidepressant effect. A dose of 400-800mg/day has been studied for mild-to-moderate depression, and 800-1600mg/day for moderate-to-severe. Studied as a stand-alone treatment, or as an adjunct treatment. Added benefit: SAMe supports joint health and liver function.

When combined with an antidepressant, folic acid supplements can improve symptoms, particularly in women. However, folic acid supplements are not a stand-alone treatment for depression. The safe upper limit is 1,000 mcg per day.

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