New research on depression, and a new look at supplements for mood and sleep disorders

At the end of 2013, there was much buzz about new studies showing that curing insomnia in people with depression might double the chance of a complete recovery from depression. The studies, financed by the National Institute of Mental Health, were welcomed as the most significant advance in treating depression since the introduction of the “selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor” (SSRI), Prozac, twenty-five years ago. In effect, the new research findings turn conventional wisdom on its head, since they suggest that insomnia can be a main cause of depression, rather than just a symptom or a side effect, as previously assumed. If you can successfully treat a depressed person’s insomnia, according to the new view, you eliminate one of the main factors causing the depressed state.

New research findings turn conventional wisdom on its head
suggesting that insomnia can be a main cause of depression
rather than just a symptom or a side effect as previously assumed

As we followed reports on this breakthrough research on insomnia and depression, we were especially encouraged to read comments like the one from Washington DC psychiatrist James Gordon, who has advocated an integrative approach to treating depression. Here’s his letter to The New York Times: 

I welcome a new report’s finding that cognitive behavioral therapy is improving the outcome for depressed people with significant insomnia (“Sleep Therapy Seen as an Aid for Depression,” front page, Nov. 19). 

It reminds us that changes in attitude and perspective, and a therapeutic relationship, can right biological imbalances — like disordered sleep — and significantly enhance the lives of troubled people. The study also puts the therapeutic role of antidepressant medication in perspective: the depressed participants who received behavioral therapy did equally well whether or not they were taking the drugs. 

I hope that these results will encourage the National Institute of Mental Health, researchers, clinicians and all of us to expand our horizons. 

There are a number of other nonpharmacological therapies, including meditation, physical exercise, dietary change and nutritional supplementation, acupuncture and group support, that show promise for improving clinical depression and enhancing brain function.

At NYBC we have long believed that non-prescription therapies, such as supplements, are valuable alternatives for treating mood disorders and sleep disorders When the Centers for Disease Control surveyed use of antidepressant drugs in 2008, it found that one in 10 Americans was taking an antidepressant, and many had taken these drugs for years. Over a period of ten years, antidepressant use in the U.S. had shot up by 400%! So the question arises: how much of this spectacular increase represented real gains in treatment, and how much was over-prescribing? As Dr. Gordon mentions in his letter above, in some cases behavioral therapy for depression has worked just as well whether people were taking antidepressants or not—hardly a strong argument for the value of the prescription drugs.

A well-publicized 2008 report in the New England Journal of Medicine
found that pharmaceutical companies had consistently reported

only the most favorable trial outcomes for their popular antidepressants

A well-publicized 2008 report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that pharmaceutical companies had consistently reported only the most favorable trial outcomes for their popular antidepressants, passing over evidence that suggested a more limited effectiveness. Furthermore, as with many drugs, especially those used over a long period, antidepressants have side effects. Higher bone fracture risk and multiple cardiovascular risks have been identified; sexual side effects are common with antidepressants in both men and women; and withdrawal symptoms for those tapering off antidepressants include a long list of problems, such as panic attacks, insomnia, poor concentration and impaired memory.

Turning to the alternatives, we describe below supplements that NYBC has highlighted over the years for sleep and mood disorders. Note cautions about their use, but also note that some of these products may actually carry added benefits, rather than unwanted side effects.

1. Melatonin is a hormone occurring naturally in the body, but some people who have trouble sleeping have low melatonin levels. Melatonin has been used for jet lag, for adjusting sleep-wake cycles for people doing shift work on varying schedules, and for insomnia, including insomnia due to high blood pressure medications called beta-blockers. It is also used as a sleep aid when discontinuing benzodiazepines (Klonopin, Xanax, etc.) and to reduce side effects when quitting smoking.

2. Fish Oil. Epidemiologists have noted that populations that eat fish regularly have low rates of depression. And research has found that omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements can be of benefit in treating depression and bipolar disorder. Fish oil can also be taken with other anti-depressants as an adjunct therapy. Doses found effective in treating depression are quite high, 3 to 9 grams per day, so be aware of potential problems related to the supplement’s blood-thinning properties. Added benefit: fish oil can help manage cholesterol, and supports cardiovascular health.

3. Deficiencies in the B Vitamins, especially B12 and folate, can result in neurologic symptoms — for example, numbness, tingling and loss of dexterity — and the deterioration of mental function, which causes symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, disorientation, depression, irrational anger and paranoia. A number of studies have shown that vitamin B12 is deficient in a large percentage of people with HIV, and the deficiency can begin early in the disease. Supplementing with a B complex protects against deficiency and supports cognitive health and mental function.

4. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to depressed states. Lack of the “sunshine vitamin” may be especially associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the “winter blues.” Vitamin D also supports bone health, and may protect against colds and flus.

5. Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, acts as a relaxing agent by increasing levels of certain neurotransmitters (=brain chemicals that shape your mood), including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA (gamma amino butyric acid). Human studies have been limited to date, but one small study showed that theanine decreases stress responses such as elevated heart rate. Another investigation compared theanine’s calming effect to that of a standard anti-anxiety prescription drug, and found that theanine performed somewhat better. Note that NYBC stocks Theanine Serene (Source Naturals), a combination supplement that includes theanine and GABA.

6. Probiotics. Very recent research has looked into the communication between the digestive system and the brain, with a goal of understanding how gut health may influence chronic conditions, including mood disorders like depression and anxiety. For example, it has been shown that certain probiotics promote production of the calming, anti-stress neurotransmitter GABA in the body, pointing to a direct influence of probiotics on mood. Other potential links between the gastrointestinal system’s microorganisms and brain function are currently being explored.

7. L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP (5-hydroxy L-tryptophan). These closely related supplements are converted in the body to serotonin and to melatonin. (Take L-tryptophan with carbohydrates to make it effective.) Their use as antidepressants has been studied, and they have also been found to aid sleep and suppress appetite. (To minimize appetite suppression, take the supplement an hour before bedtime.)  Although L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP are close relatives, people may respond somewhat differently to them, so it may be worthwhile to try the other if the first doesn’t produce an effect An added benefit: 5-HTP may also decrease symptoms of fibromyalgia and migraine headaches.

8. In research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) was found to be an effective therapy for mild-to-moderate or severe midlife depression, on par with some prescription drugs. Moreover, the research showed that taking DHEA promoted both a significant lifting of depressive symptoms and an improvement in sexual functioning. Note that dosing recommendations vary for men versus women, and DHEA is not recommended for those diagnosed with prostate conditions or cancer.

9. SAMe (S-adenosyl-l-methionine) is produced naturally in the body from the amino acid methionine. Supplementing with SAMe increases concentrations of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Several studies show SAMe having an antidepressant effect comparable to that of some prescription drugs. SAMe should be avoided in people with bipolar disorder, and should be used cautiously with other antidepressants, because the combination may push serotonin levels too high. Taking a B-complex vitamin while using SAMe can counter build-up of homocysteine, which has been linked to heart disease SAMe may also support joint health and liver function. Caution: the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has posted a warning that SAMe may increase likelihood of pneumocystis infection in immune-compromised people. Note: see also Trimethylglycine (TMG), which includes the raw materials that the body uses to manufacture SAMe. TMG is much less expensive than SAMe.

10. St. John’s Wort is a widely used herb with clinically demonstrated (multiple, well-controlled studies, mostly in Europe) anti-depressant effects for mild to moderate depression – generally without the side effects of prescription antidepressants. High doses of the herb may cause a sensitivity to light (phototoxicity), so avoid direct sunlight or sunbathing while using. Do not take St. John’s Wort with 5-HTP, serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (like Prozac), or with protease inhibitors, as it may affect beneficial liver enzymes. St. John’s Wort may also have activity against Epstein-Barr and herpes infections.

11. Finally, we’ll mention another combination supplement that NYBC has stocked: GABA Soothe (Jarrow). The GABA in this supplement is the neurotransmitter that promotes calmness coupled with mental focus. Also included is theanine (see above for a description of its anti-anxiety effects) and an extract of ashwagandha, an herb which has long been used in the Ayurvedic tradition of India to reduce fatigue and tension associated with stress.

 

supplement-header-2014
This article from the Spring 2014 edition of SUPPLEMENT: Newsletter of the New York Buyers’ Club, available for download at http://www.NewYorkBuyersClub.org

 

References:

CDC statistics on antidepressant use in the US, 2005-2008: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db76.htm

Turner, E et al. Selective Publication of Antidepressant Trials and Its Influence on Apparent Efficacy. New England Journal of Medicine,  2008; 358:252-260 January 17, 2008 doi: 10.1056/NEJMsa065779

Logan, A.. Omega-3 fatty acids and major depression: A primer for the mental health professional. Lipids Health Dis. 2004; 3: 25; doi:  10.1186/1476-511X-3-25

Sudden cardiac death secondary to antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs, Expert Opinion on Drug Safety, March 2008; 7(2):1081-194

Alramadhan E et al. Dietary and botanical anxiolytics Med Sci Monit. 2012 Apr;18(4):RA40-8.

Rogers PJ, Smith JE, Heatherley SV, Pleydell-Pearce CW. Time for tea: mood, blood pressure and cognitive performance effects of caffeine and theanine administered alone and together. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2008;195(4):569–77.

Kimura, K et al. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol. 2007 Jan;74(1):39-45.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at NIH. S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine (SAMe): An Introduction Accessed at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/supplements/SAMe

Carpenter, D J. St. John’s wort and S-adenosyl methionine as “natural” alternatives to conventional antidepressants in the era of the suicidality boxed warning: what is the evidence for clinically relevant benefit? Altern Med Rev. 2011 Mar;16(1):17-39.

Foster, J A et al. Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression Trends in Neuroscience. 2013 May;36(5):305-12. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2013.01.005.

Rao, A V & Bested, A. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of a probiotic in emotional symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. Gut Pathog. 2009; 1: 6 doi:  10.1186/1757-4749-1-6

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Supplements for Depression

We’ve updated our info sheet on supplements and depression–see below. See the NYBC entries for further information on DHEA; 5-HTP; SAMe; St. John’s Wort;
Fish oil (Max DHA); Tryptophan.

In recent years there’s been a lot of well-designed scientific research about the effectiveness of dietary supplements for depression. The supplements studied have ranged from the herb St. John’s Wort, which has a long tradition of use, to molecules like SAMe, L-Tryptophan, and 5-HTP, which play a role in the body’s production of neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) connected with mood and cognitive function. Other developments in depression research involve the steroid DHEA and fish oil.

DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone). In a study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, DHEA was found to be an effective therapy for mild to moderate or severe midlife depression, on a par with some prescription drug treatments. Moreover, the NIMH research showed that taking DHEA promoted both a significant lifting of depressive symptoms and an improvement in sexual functioning. (On the other hand, inhibition of sexual function remains one of the chief troublesome side effects of prescription anti-depressants). Note that dosing recommendations vary for men versus women, and DHEA is not recommended for those diagnosed with prostate problems or cancer.

SAMe (S-adenosyl-l-methionine). First studied by Italian researchers in the 1950s, SAMe is produced naturally in the body from the amino acid methionine. Supplementing with SAMe increases concentrations of the neurotransmitters serotonin and L-dopamine, which are related to mood. Several studies show SAMe having an anti-depressant effect comparable to that of some prescription drugs. A dose of 400-800mg/day has been studied for mild to moderate depression, and 800-1600mg/day for the moderate to severe condition. As of 2007, SAMe was being compared with the prescription drug Lexapro® in a 5-year NIH-funded study. SAMe generally has fewer side effects than prescription anti-depressants. However, it should be avoided in people with bipolar disorder, and should be used cautiously with other anti-depressants, because the combination may push serotonin levels too high. Taking a B-complex vitamin while using SAMe can counter build up of homocysteine, which is associated with heart disease. (It’s best to take them separately.) SAMe also supports joint health and liver function, so may have positive effects for overall health if taken over the long term.

St. John’s Wort is a widely used herb with clinically demonstrated (multiple, well-controlled studies, mostly in Europe) anti-depressant effects for mild to moderate depression – generally without the side effects of prescription antidepressants. High doses of the herb may cause a sensitivity to light (phototoxicity), so avoid direct sunlight or sunbathing while using. Do not take St. John’s Wort with 5-HTP, serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (like Prozac), or with protease inhibitors, as it my affect beneficial liver enzymes. St. John’s Wort may also have activity against Epstein-Barr and herpes infections.

L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP (5-hydroxy L-tryptophan): These closely-related supplements are converted in the body to serotonin and to melatonin. (Specifically, L-Tryptophan converts to 5-HTP, which then converts to serotonin or melatonin.) Their use as antidepressants has been studied, and they have also been found to aid sleep and suppress appetite. (To minimize appetite suppression, try taking the supplement an hour before bedtime.) Mild gastrointestinal side effects have been reported with both. For best absorption, take with water or juice, and separately from protein-containing foods and dietary supplements. Although L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP are close relatives, people may respond somewhat differently to them. Thus, if encountering unwanted side effects or lack of effect from one, it may still be worthwhile to try the other.

The suggested dosage for 5-HTP is wide, ranging from 50 and 500 mg daily. It can be used together with other anti-depressants, in which case an effective dose could be quite low. The best approach is to start at the low end of the range and increase as needed. Like 5-HTP, L-Tryptophan has been used in combination with other anti-depressants, and has also been employed with lithium for bipolar disorder. An added benefit: 5-HTP may also decrease symptoms of fibromyalgia and migraine headaches.

Fish Oil. Epidemiological studies have suggested that populations that eat fish regularly have low rates of depression. More recently, research has found fish oil supplements (omega-3 fatty acids being the significant component) of benefit in treating depression and bipolar disorder. It’s also worth noting that fish oil can be taken with other anti-depressants as an adjunct therapy. Doses found effective in treating depression are quite high, 3 to 9 grams per day, so be aware of potential problems related to the supplement’s blood-thinning properties. Added benefit: as has been widely reported, fish oil can have a beneficial impact on cholesterol regulation and in supporting cardiovascular health.
_____________________________________________________________________________References:
REFERENCES: Christian R. Dolder, “Depression,” in Natural Products: A Case-Based Approach for Health Care Professionals, ed. Karen Shapiro, published by the American Pharmacists Association, Washington, DC (2006), pp. 97-114.
Shaheen E Lakhan and Karen F Vieira. “Nutritional therapies for mental disorders” in Nutrition Journal (2008), 7:2doi:10.1186/1475-2891-7-2. Accessed 10/7/2009 at http://www.nutritionj.com/content/7/1/2
Schmidt PJ, et al. “Dehydroepiandrosterone Monotherapy in Midlife-Onset Major and Minor Depression,” Archives of General Psychiatry (February 2005): Vol. 62, No. 2, pp. 154–62.
Hyla Cass, “Prescriptions for Depression,” in Supplement Your Prescription: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Nutrition. Basic Health Publications (2007), pp. 113-128.

COMPLEMENTARY THERAPY USE IN HIV-POSITIVE PEOPLE: AN ONLINE COMMUNITY SURVEY

An online survey conducted by our friend, Nelson Vergel and published in Antiviral Therapy. Here is the abstract:

COMPLEMENTARY THERAPY USE IN HIV-POSITIVE PEOPLE: AN ONLINE COMMUNITY SURVEY Antiviral Therapy 2009; 14(Suppl. 2):A34 (abstract no. P-11)

NR Vergel
Program for Wellness Restoration, Houston, TX, USA

OBJECTIVES: To assess the use and types of complementary therapies (CT) and their perceived benefits in a sample of HIV-positive members of a community online health listserve.

METHODS: Members of pozhealth at yahoogroups.com were sent a link to a 13 point questionnaire related to demographics, length of HIV infection, type of CT use, and reasons and perceived benefits of CT use.

RESULTS: The majority of the 135 survey participants were white males over 40 years of age who live in the USA and with least 15 years of HIV infection. The top reported CTs and their perceived benefits were exercise, nutritional supplements, herbs, massage, prayer/ spirituality, meditation, acupuncture, chiropractic and yoga. The most popular supplements and their perceived or studied benefits were fish oils (improved lipids), coenzyme Q-10 (stamina), multivitamins (general health), selenium (immune system protection), N-acetyl cysteine (immune system protection), alpha lipoic acid (improved insulin sensitivity and neuropathy), niacin (improved lipids), whey protein (lean body mass enhancement), acetyl-l-carnitine (improved lipids, neuropathy and cognitive function), DHEA (stamina and sexual function), probiotics (gastrointestinal health and diarrhoea), calcium (bone health and diarrhoea), vitamin D (bone health) and milk thistle (liver protection). A total of 84% believed that they were benefitting from CTs, and 87% informed their physicians about their CT use. CTs were personally funded by 72% of patients, whereas the rest had access to them via community programmes.

CONCLUSION: The majority of this sample of HIV-positive people used CTs and derived perceived benefits. Unfortunately, there are little to no efficacycontrolled data available for most CTs. Also lacking are interaction studies between most nutritional/herbal supplements and HIV antiretrovirals (ARVs). As CT use seems to be common and pervasive in the self-management of adverse events and quality of life, the HIV-positive community would benefit from more controlled studies on popular CTs and supplement interaction data with ARVs.

DISCUSSION: There are obvious limitations to this survey. The majority of participants were long-term survivor/white males over 40 years of age, which might represent those who access HIV-related health listserves on the internet. It is suggested that more information is obtained from other HIV patient populations via other outreach venues. A larger survey sample will be available at the conference.

NEW! Managing and Preventing HIV Med Side-Effects

To mark its fifth anniversary, the New York Buyers’ Club has prepared a special edition of SUPPLEMENT. In it you will find a concise Guide to managing and preventing HIV medication side effects with supplements and other complementary and alternative therapies.

This is an invaluable introduction to how nutritional supplements can be used to counter those side effects that can make life miserable–or even disrupt treatment adherence–in people taking antiretroviral medications for HIV.

Read about approaches to dealing with diarrhea, nausea, heart health issues, diabetes, insomnia, fatigue, liver stress, lipodystrophy, anxiety and depression.

This FREE Guide is available online at:

http://newyorkbuyersclub.org/

On the NYBC website you can also SUBSCRIBE to the nonprofit co-op’s quarterly FREE newsletter, THE SUPPLEMENT, which continues to offer a unique perspective on current evidence-based use of supplements for chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes/insulin resistance, hepatitis and other liver conditions, anxiety/depression, osteoarthritis, cognitive and neurorological issues, and gastrointestinal dysfunction.

Supplements for Depression: Updated Info Sheet from NYBC

We’ve updated our info sheet on Supplements for Depression, reflecting some additional supporting evidence that has accumulated for these applications, plus new references. See www.newyorkbuyersclub.org for detailed product information.

In recent years there’s been a lot of well-designed scientific research about the effectiveness of dietary supplements for depression. The supplements studied have ranged from the herb St. John’s Wort, which has a long tradition of use, to molecules like SAMe, L-Tryptophan, and 5-HTP, which play a role in the body’s production of neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) connected with mood and cognitive function. Other developments in depression research involve the steroid DHEA and fish oil.

DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone). In a study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, DHEA was found to be an effective therapy for mild to moderate or severe midlife depression, on a par with some prescription drug treatments. Moreover, the NIMH research showed that taking DHEA promoted both a significant lifting of depressive symptoms and an improvement in sexual functioning. (On the other hand, inhibition of sexual function remains one of the chief troublesome side effects of prescription anti-depressants). Note that dosing recommendations vary for men versus women, and DHEA is not recommended for those diagnosed with prostate problems or cancer.

SAMe (S-adenosyl-l-methionine). First studied by Italian researchers in the 1950s, SAMe is produced naturally in the body from the amino acid methionine. Supplementing with SAMe increases concentrations of the neurotransmitters serotonin and L-dopamine, which are related to mood. Several studies show SAMe having an anti-depressant effect comparable to that of some prescription drugs. A dose of 400-800mg/day has been studied for mild to moderate depression, and 800-1600mg/day for the moderate to severe condition. As of 2007, SAMe was being compared with the prescription drug Lexapro® in a 5-year NIH-funded study. SAMe generally has fewer side effects than prescription anti-depressants. However, it should be avoided in people with bipolar disorder, and should be used cautiously with other anti-depressants, because the combination may push serotonin levels too high. Taking a B-complex vitamin while using SAMe can counter build up of homocysteine, which is associated with heart disease. (It’s best to take them separately.) SAMe also supports joint health and liver function, so may have positive effects for overall health if taken over the long term.

St. John’s Wort is a widely used herb with clinically demonstrated (multiple, well-controlled studies, mostly in Europe) anti-depressant effects for mild to moderate depression – generally without the side effects of prescription antidepressants. High doses of the herb may cause a sensitivity to light (phototoxicity), so avoid direct sunlight or sunbathing while using. Do not take St. John’s Wort with 5-HTP, serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (like Prozac), or with protease inhibitors, as it my affect beneficial liver enzymes. St. John’s Wort may also have activity against Epstein-Barr and herpes infections.

L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP (5-hydroxy L-tryptophan): These closely-related supplements are converted in the body to serotonin and to melatonin. (Specifically, L-Tryptophan converts to 5-HTP, which then converts to serotonin or melatonin.) Their use as antidepressants has been studied, and they have also been found to aid sleep and suppress appetite. (To minimize appetite suppression, try taking the supplement an hour before bedtime.) Mild gastrointestinal side effects have been reported with both. For best absorption, take with water or juice, and separately from protein-containing foods and dietary supplements. Although L-Tryptophan and 5-HTP are close relatives, people may respond somewhat differently to them. Thus, if encountering unwanted side effects or lack of effect from one, it may still be worthwhile to try the other.
The suggested dosage for 5-HTP is wide, ranging from 50 and 500 mg daily. It can be used together with other anti-depressants, in which case an effective dose could be quite low. The best approach is to start at the low end of the range and increase as needed. Like 5-HTP, L-Tryptophan has been used in combination with other anti-depressants, and has also been employed with lithium for bipolar disorder. An added benefit: 5-HTP may also decrease symptoms of fibromyalgia and migraine headaches.

Fish Oil. Epidemiological studies have suggested that populations that eat fish regularly have low rates of depression. More recently, research has found fish oil supplements (omega-3 fatty acids being the significant component) of benefit in treating depression and bipolar disorder. It’s also worth noting that fish oil can be taken with other anti-depressants as an adjunct therapy. Doses found effective in treating depression are quite high, 3 to 9 grams per day, so be aware of potential problems related to the supplement’s blood-thinning properties. Added benefit: as has been widely reported, fish oil can have a beneficial impact on cholesterol regulation and in supporting cardiovascular health.

References:
Christian R. Dolder, “Depression,” in Natural Products: A Case-Based Approach for Health Care Professionals, ed. Karen Shapiro, published by the American Pharmacists Association, Washington, DC (2006), pp. 97-114.
Shaheen E Lakhan and Karen F Vieira. “Nutritional therapies for mental disorders” in Nutrition Journal (2008), 7:2doi:10.1186/1475-2891-7-2. Accessed 10/7/2009 at http://www.nutritionj.com/content/7/1/2
Schmidt PJ, et al. “Dehydroepiandrosterone Monotherapy in Midlife-Onset Major and Minor Depression,” Archives of General Psychiatry (February 2005): Vol. 62, No. 2, pp. 154–62.
Hyla Cass, “Prescriptions for Depression,” in Supplement Your Prescription: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Nutrition. Basic Health Publications (2007), pp. 113-128.

HIV and Depression: the ACRIA study on HIV and aging, and some recommendations from NYBC

We’ve spoken recently about the study of HIV and aging produced by ACRIA, a non-profit, community-based AIDS medical research and treatment education organization.

A main finding of the 2006 study is the prevalence of depression among older adults with HIV. In its survey of about 1000 older HIV+ adults, ACRIA researchers found that they experienced depression at a rate almost 13 times as higher than the general population. And for people with HIV, the consequences of depression are associated with many physical issues, far beyond just “feeling down”:

“By suppressing the immune system, depression may render people more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Stress and depression have harmful effects on cellular immunity, including those aspects of the immune system affected by HIV. Body cell mass depletion is associated with significant increases in fatigue, global distress and depressive symptomatology, and reduced life satisfaction. Elevated symptoms of depression are associated with a faster progression to AIDS and a higher risk of mortality. Depressive symptoms, especially in the presence of severe stress, are related to decreases in CD4 cell count and declines in several lymphocytes.”

These study findings and other related research motivated NYBC to assemble up-to-date information on dietary supplements and depression. See, for an overview, this information sheet:

Printable version of the info sheet, including a chart for quick comparison of these supplements as used to address depression

More information on the individual supplements is also available on the NYBC website, at  www.newyorkbuyersclub.org, as well as on this Blog, under “Depression.”

FAQ on nutritional supplements

This post runs a little long, but we think it’s worthwhile to put up the FAQ about nutritional supplements recently posted by the New York Buyers’ Club. It answers a lot of (sometimes anxious) queries about supplements, and also gives a quick rundown on some of the top uses of supplements among the NYBC membership.

What are supplements?
A nutritional or dietary supplement (or just plain supplement), as defined by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, is “a product (other than tobacco) that is intended to supplement the diet and that contains one or more of the following: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, or any combination of the above ingredients,” and can be taken in tablet, capsule, powder, or liquid form.
NYBC specializes in supplements for those with HIV, hepatitis C, and other chronic conditions. Our Supplement Fact Sheets contain information on more than 100 supplements commonly used by our Members. Our nonprofit purchasing co-op stocks these supplements on a regular basis, and can also special-order many other supplements on request.
Why take supplements?
There is a great deal of research showing that supplements can help people manage serious chronic conditions such as HIV and hepatitis. Supplements can also be useful in addressing many common health issues, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, arthritis pain, gastrointestinal disorders, etc. (see our short list of specifics below). Some supplements are derived from ancient traditions of use (for example, the botanicals of India’s Ayurvedic tradition), while other items (such as vitamins or amino acids) have been isolated and used as supplements much more recently. The scientific study of supplements has blossomed in recent decades, so we now have better evidence about many of them—even traditional botanicals—than we ever did in the past.
Are supplements considered “medicine”?
While supplements may have medicinal properties, they are not regulated in the same way that prescription drugs are, and are therefore accompanied by the disclaimer: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
The fact that supplements are not regulated in the same way that prescription drugs are naturally gives rise to concerns about purity, efficacy, and safety – so it’s good to have a knowledgeable ally like NYBC on your side! Collectively, we have many years of experience in using supplements, in researching information on them, and in evaluating suppliers to obtain the best quality product.
Are supplements “safe”?
Under current US regulations, supplements are assumed to be safe on the basis of their history of use, or because they are found in the food supply (like the microorganisms in yogurt or the vitamins and minerals in foods). The US Food and Drug Administration is responsible for removing supplements from the market if it finds evidence that they are unsafe, but it’s worth noting that this happens quite rarely. (The removal from the market of ephedra [aka the Chinese herb Ma huang], used at high dosage as a diet pill, is practically the only significant example since 1994). However, while supplements may be “assumed to be safe,” everyone who takes them needs to pay attention to the recommended dosage and any cautions or warnings. If you exceed the recommended dosage of certain supplements, there may be side effects, sometimes serious. Furthermore, a supplement may have negative interactions with other medications you are taking, or a particular supplement may not be a wise choice for you due to other health concerns. That’s why it’s always important to discuss your supplement use with your doctor.

Here are just a few examples of potentially dangerous supplement-medication interactions (from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s website) – further proof that consulting your physician about supplement use is crucial:

• St. John’s Wort can increase the effects of prescription drugs used to treat depression. It also dangerously interferes with drugs used for HIV, cancer, birth control, and rejection of organ transplants

• Ginseng can increase the stimulant effects of caffeine (as in coffee, tea, and cola). It can also lower blood sugar levels, creating the possibility of problems when used with diabetes drugs

• Ginkgo, taken with anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs, may increase the risk of bleeding. Ginkgo may also interact with certain psychiatric drugs and with certain drugs that affect blood sugar levels

Of course, doing your own “homework” is also encouraged. Be sure to bring any notes or printouts from your research to share with your healthcare provider. That way, you’ll both be literally on the same page.
Identity, Purity and Potency
Safety is also a matter of product quality. Is the product what it claims to be on the label (that is, is it really fish oil)? This is the product Identity. Does the product contain any unwanted contaminants like heavy metals, insect parts, rodent droppings? All foods and medicinal products face these issues of Purity. And finally, does it have as much of the claimed amount of a substance? For example, if it says 100 mg of niacin, does it have that amount? This is the product’s Potency. These issues are of ongoing concern. NYBC has done everything possible to assure that products meet these standards. Websites such as http://www.consumerlab.com can help. Also indications of quality such as USP or other labels further add assurance. The good news is that the vast majority of products tested by consumerlab, for example, pass their tests. Still, NYBC believes an appropriately funded agency of the FDA could do more rigorous, routine and comprehensive testing.
What is CAM?
CAM is an acronym for complementary and alternative medicine. The use of supplements is considered CAM. Some prefer the term integrative medicine.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a division of the US National Institutes of Health, defines CAM as “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.” NCCAM, like the US Office of Dietary Supplements, came into being after passage of DSHEA, and marks the federal government’s decision to commit funding to research and education about CAM. Over a billion dollars in your tax dollars have been spent by these agencies since their start.

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Using Supplements
What supplements can I use to improve my immune system?
Agents such as a potent multivitamin, NAC (N-acetyl cysteine), alpha lipoic acid and whey can all help offset oxidative stress and nutrient losses caused by HIV as well as the free radical generation and inflammation-related damage that some antiretroviral drugs cause.
For those with HIV, supplementation can be a valuable assist in restoring the body’s immune system, as evidenced by many studies, such as Dr. Jon Kaiser’s HIV Micronutrient Study, which showed a significant increase (26%) in the CD4 counts of the subjects who maintained a supplement regimen in addition to their regular medications. FYI: NYBC offers a “MAC Pack” (Micronutrient – Antioxidant Combination Pack), a product very similar to the one used in the study.
What supplements can be used to improve gut function?
Acidophilus or bifidus, glutamine, whey proteins, Saccharomyces boulardii (Florastor) and a good multi can all be important to offset gastrointestinal problems, whether HIV-related or of other origin.
What supplements can I use to manage my blood fats (cholesterol and triglyceride levels)?
“Bad cholesterol” (LDL) and triglycerides can be reduced with agents such as carnitine, pantethine, and fish oils. Niacin may be an excellent option which can also help increase HDL (“good cholesterol”). For heart health in general, aside from diet and exercise, CoEnzyme Q10 may also be of help (may also be useful in countering statin-related side effects).
What supplements are used to improve mental function and/or mood?
Acetylcarnitine, 5-HTP, tyrosine, ginkgo biloba, fish oils, SAM-e, DHEA, theanine, or St. John’s Wort may help mental function and alleviate depression, though each of these must be taken with some care (and not all together!)
See also: a full dossier on Memory Loss and Other Brain Problems from our Health+HIV section of Recommended Reading on the website http://www.newyorkbuyersclub.org; also recommended is the NYBC info sheet on Depression and supplements on this blog, under “Depression.”
What supplements can I use to combat fatigue?
Various conditions can cause fatigue, but in general, B12 (methylcobalamin) and Eleuthero (used to be “Siberian ginseng” – don’t use with high blood pressure!) may all help to improve energy. A good start may also be as simple as a good multivitamin!
For more information about the causes and treatments for fatigue, see our Fatigue Fact Sheet on the NYBC website.
What supplements can I use to stabilize my weight?
For those experiencing weight loss, whey proteins, carnitine and creatine plus CLA may all help – but of course especially in conjunction with a good diet and routine exercise! And we agree with Dr. Jon Kaiser and many others: resistance exercise remains an important component of a successful HIV management plan.
What supplements are used to treat nausea?
NYBC recommends ginger; marijuana, while effective, is not carried by the NYBC, as it is not yet approved for medical use in New York. For detailed information about the causes and treatments for nausea, see Health+HIV section of Recommended Reading on the NYBC website.
What supplements are used to improve liver function?

Liver function can be impaired due to several reasons, including disease, alcohol abuse, and the effects of some cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins).
While making sure there aren’t any interactions with your meds, supplements like milk thistle (Silymarin), NAC, alpha lipoic acid, Hepato-C or Hepato-Detox, Hepatoplex I or II, Ecliptex, SAM-e and Clear Heat are options to consider (again, not all at once!)
What supplements can be used to treat diarrhea?
NYBC suggests supplementing your diet with glutamine and calcium. For more information about the causes and other possible treatments, see our Fact Sheet about diarrhea in Recommended Reading, at http://www.newyorkbuyersclub.org.
What supplements can combat neuropathy?
Much scientific evidence now points to acetylcarnitine as an effective approach to countering neuropathy (numbness, tingling, or pain, usually in the extremities, which can be caused by HIV, diabetes or by some medications).