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Nutritional Supplements Appear to Ease Clinical Depression, Yale Student Finds

People suffering from clinical depression appear to be helped by regularly taking nutritional supplements such as vitamin B.

Kaitlyn Rechenberg
[Photo: Ms. Kaitlyn Rechenberg]

A new review of the literature by Ms. Kaitlyn Rechenberg, a joint-degree student in the schools of public health and nursing, evaluated the findings of nearly 200 published papers that studied the effectiveness of five nutritional supplements on depression.

Depression is one of the leading causes of mental disability worldwide and a significant public health problem in the United States. Furthermore, approximately 50 percent of cases are resistant to traditional pharmacological treatments. Omega-3 fatty acids, select B vitamins (folate, B12 and B6), S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and magnesium have been researched as potential alternative treatments for decades.

Ms. Rechenberg’s literature review was solicited by the journal Clinical Psychological Scienceand was published online February 2. She was invited to write the paper after the journal’s editor saw articles based on another paper that she published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. That piece focused on the beneficial effects of the same group of supplements for pregnant women. Ms. Rechenberg’s current paper summarizes neurobiological, epidemiological, and critical issues for each of the supplements for clinical depression in the general population.

The latest findings are particularly good news for people who have been unresponsive to pharmaceutical interventions alone, people who want an alternative to psycotropic drugs, or for those who cannot afford them. “These supplements have utility and they appear to be safe to use, “ says Ms. Rechenberg. “They are also less expensive than anti-depressants in some settings.”

Future research should focus on a better understanding of how they work, dosages and how these supplements may work synergistically with each other as well as in tandem with pharmacologic interventions, she adds.

Some of the reviewed papers have demonstrated the rise of depression rates as diets worldwide have shifted from fish, wild game and plants to domestic animals with high levels of saturated fats and vegetable oils like corn, safflower and sunflower that have high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids. The World Health Organization predicts that major depression will be the leading cause of disability globally by 2030, surpassing cardiovascular disease, traffic accidents, chronic pulmonary disease and HIV/AIDS.

“This is an important topic,” says Ms. Rechenberg. “We need research to understand how best to use nutritional supplements in clinical practice, as either an adjunctive or stand alone treatment.”