Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Nutraceuticals Can Boost Antidepressants

An international review of 40 clinical trials worldwide has found that some nutritional supplements can increase the effectiveness of antidepressants for people with clinical depression.

“The strongest finding from our review was that omega-3 fish oil, in combination with antidepressants, had a statistically significant effect over a placebo,” said Dr Jerome Sarris of the ARCADIA Mental Health Research Group at The University of Melbourne, who led the meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. “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.

“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.”

The review also found good evidence for methylfolate (the bioactive form of folate), vitamin D and S-adenosylmethionine as a mood-enhancing therapy when taken with antidepressants. It reported mixed results for zinc, vitamin C and the amino acid tryptophan. Folic acid didn’t work particularly well, nor did inositol.

“A large proportion of people who have depression do not reach remission after one or two courses of antidepressant medication,” Sarris said. Yet medical professionals can be hesitant to prescribe nutraceuticals alongside pharmaceuticals because there has been a lack of scientific evidence around their efficacy. “Medical practitioners are aware of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, but are probably unaware that one can combine them with antidepressant medication for a potentially better outcome,” he said.

The researchers found no major safety concerns in combining the two therapies, but stressed that people on antidepressants should always consult with their health professional before taking nutraceuticals and should be aware these supplements can differ in quality.

“We’re not telling people to rush out and buy buckets of supplements,” Sarris said. “Always speak to your medical professional before changing or initiating a treatment.”