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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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.

Mayo Clinic’s Guide to Alternative Medicine 2011

This is an easy-to-read, magazine-style guide created by the Mayo Clinic, the world-famous healthcare facility which also happens to have a long-standing receptiveness to alternative and complementary therapies for wellness and prevention. (That’s one of the reasons why it has recently been cited as an example of best practices in American healthcare–the kind of practices that need to be more widely imitated.)

The section on dietary supplements provides capsule reviews of the scientific evidence for the safety and effectiveness of several dozen popular products, from botanicals like ginseng, echinacea and St. John’s Wort, to vitamins C, D, E, B-3 (niacin), and B-9 (folate or folic acid), as well as minerals like selenium, calcium and zinc. Also discussed are fairly well-known categories of supplements, including probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids (these often obtained with fish oil supplements).

The guide rates these supplements with a green, yellow or red light symbol, depending on the strength of the evidence for their use and their safety profile. We weren’t too surprised by most of the ratings. For example, green for niacin, folic acid, Vitamin C and Vitamin D, but a yellow caution light for Vitamin E, which has shown no effectiveness in several good studies dealing with cardiovascular health and cancer, leading some researchers to wonder if the standard “alpha-tocopherol” form of the vitamin is a good format for supplementation. Also, a yellow light for St. John’s Wort, not because it isn’t effective for mild/moderate depression, but because it can interact with a lot of other medications.

Other supplements getting the green light from the Mayo Clinic editors: SAMe (for depression); saw palmetto (for enlarged prostate); green tea (for cardiovascular health, possibly for cancer prevention, and apparently–according to a large epidemiological study–for longevity); gamma linolenic acid (for peripheral neuropathy); CoQ10 (for cardiovascular health, for which it’s used by millions in Japan); glucosamine chondroitin (for osteoarthritis).

Also getting the green light, a supplement most have probably never heard of, but which is featured in the Health Concerns formula Cold Away, available from NYBC: the botanical Andrographis (a cold remedy, showing promise where many other products have disappointed).

See the NYBC entries for more details on how best to take supplements:


http://www.newyorkbuyersclub.org/

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.

MMS Botanicals at NYBC

NYBC carries selected botanicals from the manufacturer “MMS Pro,” which has been a supplier of “phytomedicines” (=plant-derived remedies) for 80 years. We like the fact that this supplier subscribes to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), an industry-recognized standard for quality control, and that its botanicals have been used in numerous clinical trials. MMS Pro also posts on its website independent certificates of analysis for many of its products. (Certificates of analysis provide evidence of independent verification of the purity and potency of a botanical.)

Here are the MMS Pro botanicals currently stocked by NYBC. Please
read carefully the descriptions on the NYBC website.

Astragalus

Echinacea

Eleuthero – also known as Siberian Ginseng

Garlicin Pro

Gingko-D

Horsechestnut Pro

St John’s Wort – Perika Pro

St. John’s Wort for moderate to severe depression

Many guides and references acknowledge that the traditonal botanical St. John’s Wort can be effective for mild to moderate depression.

However, a 2005 article in the British Medical Journal reported on a study that also found the herbal extract effective in cases of moderate to severe depression. The six-week study compared St. John’s Wort to Paxil, a prescription drug in the serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class. The 251 participants in this study were psychiatric clinic outpatients with moderate to severe depression.

The investigators found a significant improvement in depressive symptoms among the study participants taking the botanical, and concluded that the St. John’s Wort extract showed at least as much effectiveness as the prescription drug, and with fewer adverse events (“side effects”).

Note: St. John’s Wort interacts with pharmaceuticals, so it’s not recommended if you are taking drugs such as protease inhibitors.

Reference: A Szegedi, R Kohnen, A Dienel, and M Kieser. Acute treatment of moderate to severe depression with hypericum extract WS 5570 (St John’s wort): randomised controlled double blind non-inferiority trial versus paroxetine. BMJ 2005;330:503 (5 March), doi:10.1136/bmj.38356.655266.82 (published 11 February 2005)

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.”