Just Another Teachin’ Tuesday: An update on supplements

So many supplements are touted by their manufacturers and distributors as providing massive amounts of relief for depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Most of these claims don’t hold water; however, some merit a look-see. Let’s update…

In an ongoing effort to keep you up-to-date on supplements, we’re going to take a peak at six – omega-3 fatty acids, St. John’s Wort, inositol, saffron, SAMe, and tryptophan.

Please note – I’m providing food for thought and research. I’m not making recommendations, and I’m certainly going to offer dosage suggestions. One other huge issue – if you’re taking a psychotropic medication(s), DO NOT starting pounding any of these without swirling it around with your psychiatrist or PCP. There are significant drug interaction, and other, issues to consider. Okay?

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Though found elsewhere, far and away the most popular source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish oil. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the active ingredients. EPA is thought to be the ingredient with the emotional and mental health benefit, so buying a product that has more EPA is the way to go (okay, so I’m making one small recommendation).

Research suggests omega-3 fatty acids are worth a shot, showing potential for the relief of mild to moderate depression and bipolar disorder. But you have to remember, some studies based their findings upon lower incidence of depression in cultures that consume a lot of fish. And there’s a nutritional difference between the benefits of real fish oil and supplements.

And you also have to consider that a good number of research subjects were likely using an antidepressant or mood stabilizer.

St. John’s Wort

Extracts of the yellow flower, hypericum perforatum, SJW has been used for centuries for relief from a variety of physical, emotional, and mental situations.

As it applies to mild to moderate depression, studies have shown the use of SJW exceeds placebo and performs equally as well as the tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) – eg: imipramine (Tofranil), amitriptyline (Elavil), and nortriptyline (Pamelor) – in terms of short-term relief.

Such doesn’t appear to be the case when SJW goes up against the SSRIs – eg: sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Paxil), and escitalopram (Lexapro) – or antidepressants such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor), and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq).

SJW doesn’t appear to do much for severe depression; however, research is being conducted regarding its efficacy in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – where’s it’s shown some potential.


Inositol is a carbohydrate; however, it’s not considered to be a “classic” sugar. It’s virtually tasteless, but has a tad of sweetness to it. Interestingly enough, it’s used in the illegal drug trade as an adulterant (cutting agent) for goodies such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.

Research has shown some promise for supplements containing inositol for the treatment of panic disorder, OCD, agoraphobia, bulimia, and both unipolar and bipolar depression.


Derived from the dried stigmas of crocus plants, this popular spice has a reported history of relieving depression.

Though not a lot of research has been conducted, studies in Iran have suggested some efficacy for mild to moderate depression. The major bugaboo here, though, is the fact that saffron is wildly expensive.


S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is a naturally occurring compound that impacts neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine.

Research has shown that SAMe’s efficacy in treating depression lies somewhere in between placebo and the TCAs. The only issue here is research subjects were injected with SAMe, and the jury’s still out as to whether or not an oral dose would produce the same results.


Tryptophan is an essential amino acid for humans – and that means we don’t produce it, so we can only obtain it through our diet. Thanksgiving legend has it that the tryptophan ingested along with pounds of turkey is responsible for the post-feast sleepies. The fact of the matter is, however, turkey is no more tryptophan-rich than any other birdie.

As you may know, tryptophan is the precursor of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. That’s a huge consideration for anyone enduring depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

As odd as it may seem, using a tryptophan supplement doesn’t appear to do much for either mood or anxiety. And that’s largely because tryptophan in supplement form is unable to navigate its way through the blood-brain barrier.

And by the way, tryptophan supplements have a history of causing illness due to impurities and contaminants.

So there you have it, chipur readers – a supplement update. Ah, just more information for you to research and discuss with your psychiatrist or PCP. If anyone’s had any experience with any of these, comments would sure be appreciated.

image courtesy rd.com