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Mental health study finds nutritional supplements may assist in management of depression, ADHD

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There are hundreds of vitamin tablets on the market and plenty of debate over whether we actually need them.

And now a new study, led by researchers at Sydney NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University, has found some nutritional supplements can be beneficial for mental health patients.

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Australian scientists leading an international study conducted trials on the effects of nutritional supplements on almost 11,000 people with mental illness, including depression, anxiety and stress disorders, bipolar, schizophrenia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The meta-analysis, published Tuesday in journal World Psychiatry, reviewed the results of 33 randomiSed control trials and found there is a relationship between diet quality and a person’s mental health and in particular their depression levels.

Although the majority of nutritional supplements assessed did not significantly improve mental health, the researchers found strong evidence that certain supplements are an effective additional treatment for some mental disorders, supportive of conventional treatment.

The most effective nutrient was OMEGA 3 supplements when used for major depression, according to the study. It was also found to be effective as an add-on treatment for people with ADHD.

More on 7NEWS.com.au:

“Because Omega 3 has anti-inflammatory properties, that might help reduce the inflammation that is seen in people with clinical depression,” Dr Wolf Marx at Deakin University told 7NEWS.

Amino Acid N-acetylcysteine and folic acid may help schizophrenia and mood disorders, according to the research.

But there was no evidence vitamins E,C and D or magnesium benefited any mental disorder.

All nutrient supplements were found to be safe when recommended dosages and prescriptive instructions were adhered to and there was no evidence of serious adverse effects or contraindications with psychiatric medications.

Summary of results:

  • The strongest evidence was found for omega-3 supplements (a polyunsaturated fatty acid) as an add-on treatment for major depression – reducing symptoms of depression beyond the effects of antidepressants alone.
  • There was some evidence to suggest that omega-3 supplements may also have small benefits for ADHD.
  • There was emerging evidence for the amino acid N-acetylcysteine as a useful adjunctive treatment in mood disorders and schizophrenia.
  • Special types of folate supplements may be effective as add-on treatments for major depression and schizophrenia, however folic acid was ineffective.
  • There was no strong evidence for omega-3 for schizophrenia or other mental health conditions.
  • There is currently a lack of compelling evidence supporting the use of vitamins (such as E, C, or D) and minerals (zinc and magnesium) for any mental disorder.

The scientists caution more research needs to be done to establish the benefits on patients and warn supplements should be additional treatment, not a replacement for psychiatric help.

“While there has been a longstanding interest in the use of nutrient supplements in the treatment of mental illness, the topic is often quite polarising, and surrounded by either over-hyped claims or undue cynicism,” said lead author of the study, Dr Joseph Firth, Senior Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute.

“In this most recent research, we have brought together the data from dozens and dozens of clinical trials conducted all over the world, in over 10,000 individuals treated for mental illness.

“This mass of data has allowed us to investigate the benefits and safety of various different nutrients for mental health conditions – on a larger scale than what has ever been possible before,” said Dr Firth.

Polarising topic

Senior author on the study, Professor Jerome Sarris said as the role of nutrition in mental health is becoming increasingly acknowledged, it is vital that an evidence-based approach is adopted.

“Future research should aim to determine which individuals might benefit most from evidence-based supplements and to better understand the underlying mechanisms so we can adopt a targeted approach to supplement use in mental health treatment.”

Professor Sarris said. “The role of the gut microbiome in mental health is a rapidly emerging field of research, however more research is needed into the role of ‘psychobiotics’ in mental health treatment.”

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