Some Supplements May Boost the Effectiveness of Antidepressants

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You don't have to choose between home remedies (often called "natural" treatments) and medications, and in some cases, it may be better not to. A large study, published this week in the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that nutritional supplements like fish oil may boost the power of antidepressant medications.

Supplements can be tricky. Unlike drugs or food, they aren’t regulated by the government, which means you don’t always know what you’re getting. And most people don’t even need them. Yet scientists have found specific benefits for certain supplements, and they continue to look for more.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne and Harvard University reviewed data from 40 different clinical trials from around the world, looking for a relationship between supplements, antidepressants, and patient improvement.

They found promising results on a number of supplements, most notably Omega 3 fish oil.

"Many studies have shown Omega 3s are very good for general brain health and improving mood but this is the first analysis of studies that looks at using them in combination with antidepressant medication,” said University of Melbourne psychiatrist Jerome Sarris. “The difference for patients taking both antidepressants and Omega 3, compared to a placebo, was highly significant. This is an exciting finding because here we have a safe, evidence-based approach that could be considered a mainstream treatment."

Their results also showed that Vitamin D, methylfolate, and S-Adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) offered an increase in antidepressant power. Combining these supplements with antidepressant medication appeared to be safe and modestly helpful.

That doesn’t mean you should drop what you’re doing and drive to your local vitamin outlet. Sarris emphasized that these are early findings, not universal recommendations.

“We're not telling people to rush out and buy buckets of supplements,” he added. As always, any treatment at all, from “natural” remedies to new medications, should be discussed with your doctor first.