I hereby confess that it takes me a half hour each week to fill up my mammoth-sized pill container with the supplements and vitamins I take each week to give my brain every lift I can. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, it’s a pain in my arse, but I would rather spend my time organizing fish oil capsules than in front of a therapist explaining why I can’t shut off the negative intrusive thoughts. I’m doing much better today than I was seven months ago, the afternoon I first met with a holistic doctor to determine which supplements could help my depression. I was hoping that they would be able to replace my meds. Not at this point. But adding them to my meds has helped stabilize my mood since the beginning of the year.
There are so many brands out there. It’s hard to know if you’re paying big bucks for a sugar pill or if you’re getting the real stuff. My doctor insisted that anything I take be third-party tested, such as the ones listed by ConsumerLab.com. She recommended the following manufacturers: Prothera, Klaire Labs, Pure Encapsulations, Douglas Labs, Nature Made, Orthomolecular Products, Metagenics, Vital Nutrients, and Carlson Labs.
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acid
If I had to choose two supplements that make the most difference, I would vote my Omega-3 capsules and the probiotic that I take. Don’t skimp on those. I spend the big bucks on a quality brand of fish oil, OmegaBrite, because their capsules contain 70 percent EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in a 7:1 ratio of EPA to DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). New research has confirmed the positive effects of EPA on mood, even more so than DHA, as it provides a natural balance to Omega-6 Arachidonic acid. I noticed a definite difference in switching from a brand of mostly DHA to mostly EPA. Nordic Naturals is also a reliable brand.
2. A Probiotic
As I’ve mentioned in places, I mix a very expensive powder, Probiotic 22 (by Orthomolecular Products) with either water or a green smoothie before I eat anything in the morning. It is crucial to keep your intestines in good shape because your brain is only as healthy as your gut. The nerve cells in our gut manufacture 80 to 90 percent of our body’s serotonin, the neurotransmitter we need to stay sane. That’s more than our brain makes. And the gut is in constant communication with the brain, sending it information that most definitely affects your mood, even as the messages never come to consciousness. Other good brands are Align and Bio-Kult.
3. Vitamin B 12
Bestselling author Mark Hyman, M.D. calls Folate, Vitamin B 6, and Vitamin B 12 the “mighty methylators for mental health.” He mentions a remarkable study in the American Journal of Psychiatry that found that 27 percent of severely depressed women over the age of 65 were deficient in B 12. “If you think about it,” writes Hyman, “this suggests that more than one-quarter of all severe depression can be cured with B 12 shots.” For this reason—to make sure it gets into my system as easily as possible—I take a form of liquid B 12, a dropperful from Pure Encapsulations.
4. SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine)
We actually make SAM-e when the amino acid methionine combines with adenosyl-triphosphate (ATP), which is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters. The supplement we take is a stabilized form of that substance. It has only become available in the U.S. since 1999. A 2002 review by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that SAM-e was more effective than a placebo and equally as effective as antidepressants. Other studies suggested that adding SAM-e to an antidepressant may improve results in people who haven’t responded to medication. I get my SAM-e from Prothera.
5. Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
I got turned on to Turmeric after I read David Perlmutter’s bestseller, “Grain Brain.” It’s actually the seasoning used in curry dishes, and has been used for thousands of years in Chinese and Indian medicine to treat a variety of ailments. Perlmutter claims that it is your brain’s best friend because of its ability to activate genes to produce antioxidants, which then protect “our precious mitochondria,” the tiny organelles in our cells that generate chemical energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). I get mine from Prothera.
6. Vitamin D
As I said in my post, “6 Conditions That Feel Like Depression But Aren’t,” a deficiency in Vitamin D will feel very much like depression. Lots of studies have found a close association between depression (or increased odds for depression) and Vitamin D deficiencies. And as many as three-quarters of U.S. teens and adults are deficient, according to a 2009 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. This one is so important that, again, I take the liquid form, a few drops from Pure Encapsulations.
7. Vitamin C
I took Vitamin C every day as a kid. My mom always said it fought off colds and was a helping hand to your immune system. Then I forgot about it for about 20 years. But after reading Norman Cousin’s book, “Anatomy of an Illness,”—how his life-threatening illness was cured by megadoses of Vitamin C and laughter–I am taking it again. Lots of it. I get mine from Prothera.
8. Amino Acids
Amino acids are the special building blocks of protein, some of which gets transformed in our bodies into neurotransmitters. As Dr. Hyman explains, “ALL of the thousands of molecules in your body are built from only eight essential amino acids that we must get from our diet.” Without adequate amino acids, your brain can’t work and you get sluggish, foggy, unfocused, and depressed. I get mine from Prothera.
Up to half of Americans today don’t get enough of magnesium because stress, caffeine, sugar and alcohol all deplete it. Unless you eat lots of seaweed and green beans, it’s wise to bulk up on magnesium, because it is considered by some doctors to be the stress antidote and the most powerful relaxation mineral that exists. I get mine from Prothera.
Most of the anti-anxiety medications today (Valium, Xanax, Ativan) act on the GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) pathways to calm and relax the nervous system. GABA is known as the “anti-anxiety” neurotransmitter. However, these types of drugs (benzodiazepines, and benzodiazepine-like drugs such as Ambien and Lunesta) are bad news for me. I get addicted fast, and the anxiety hangover is awful. So I take GABA itself in supplements. I get mine from Prothera.
Calcium doesn’t reduce depression itself; however, eliminating dairy from your diet CAN reduce depression, especially if you have food intolerances that cause inflammation in the brain. Therefore you need to take calcium supplements because you aren’t getting enough in your diet. Women over the age of 40 need to be especially careful to get enough calcium to ensure strong bones. I get mine from Prothera.
Anyone who has ever experienced insomnia knows about melatonin. It helps us get to sleep and regulates the sleep-wake cycle. When I went through a period of extreme insomnia, the combination of melatonin with calcium and magnesium seemed to help. I still have a lot of sleep anxiety at night, so I continue to take melatonin before bed. I get mine from Prothera.
Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.
I think that this article may be misleading for alot of people desperate for relief. What works for one person may not work for another. For some, they will rush out to try all these supplements and have some negative reactions and/or interfere with other medication. Their admiration for you may supercede consulting their doctors first…
I agree with Shel. Many of these supplements could involve serious risk, particularly if you take other prescribed medication. Sam-e, for instance, can trigger mania and/or seriously interact with many prescribed antidepressants.
Nice to know someone else feels the same way!
I respectfully take issue with the earlier reply objecting to the article because it “may be misleading for a lot of people desperate for relief.” I submit that the complaint, namely, that a lot of people desperate for relief may be misled by their admiration for Ms. Borchard and fail to first consult their doctor, is unwarranted.
Ms. Borchard clearly identifies herself as a mental health writer and activist, not an expert. Someone familiar enough with Ms. Borchard’s body of work to admire her and be so influenced as to “rush out to try all these supplements,” would be familiar with her oft-repeated exhortation to consult with one’s doctor(s) before trying new remedies. On the contrary, it is equally valid, if not more so, to assert that many people blindly follow a doctor’s pharmaceutical recommendations; and further, often experience negative reactions. It also seems evident that some doctors who treat mental illness, though well-intentioned, are less knowledgeable about mental health treatment, nutrition, and non-pharmaceutical remedies, than Ms. Borchard.
Further, this article, like most of Ms. Borchard’s writing, includes numerous citations, references, and hyperlinks to scientific research, mental health doctors, reputable mental health experts and authors and organizations, as well as scientific educational explanations, in support of her personal choices.
Although the writer makes a valid point, namely, “what works for one person may not work for another,” Ms. Borchard makes the same point in many of her articles.
I am fully aware that Therese never presents herself as an expert. I have been deeply affected by her book and many of her articles. You are right, many people blindly follow doctors without observing first how their bodies and minds react. I often hear from patients. “They told me to take this” rather than telling the doctor “This is how I feel, these are my symptoms, I will not take this, please prescribe something else if possible.”
I repeat, if a person is desperate, they are more apt to try almost anything, thinking that if it works for one it is worth trying to see if it works for them. I understand that Therese is not encouraging anyone to follow her protocol.
There have been many times that I’ve found a supplement and called my pharmacist only to be told that my psychiatric medications would not be compatible with those supplements. In desperation, I do not think that people would check on that. Severe depression so clouds all your perceptions, which Therese is well aware of.
Dr. Oz has been reprimanded by many for endorsing so many supplements without long term study as to whether they actually help, hurt, or have no effect on whatever condition in question. I think that those of us with chronic mental illnesses are especially prone to wanting “quick fixes” to stop the horrific pain experienced especially from severe depression during times of relapse.
I just think Therese would better serve us with articles which do not include medicines and/or supplements which work for her. I think she is the best mental health writer that I’ve found on the Internet. I applaud all that she has done to help those with mental illness and to educate those who don’t and need to be educated.
It is really Therese response to my comments that I would really appreciate. I notice that when someone says something positive she will say “thanks” but doesn’t often reply to other comments. The comment after mine was in agreement with mine and had no reply…
I appreciate your comment, but my job is to write about the things that work for ME. For a long time, it was medication. Now it seems to be certain supplements. I am not a mental health professional or a doctor. People pay me for my story. So I share that honestly. I don’t like to respond, in general, to negative commenters because it zaps my energy. I don’t like to debate. It isn’t fun for me. Lots of people like it. I don’t. It’s just toxic energy, usually, like the Stephen guy who keeps on leaving comments that I’m silencing the community I started because I won’t allow people to write things like “I have a gun and I’m shooting myself tonight.” If I try to argue with him, he comes back with something else, and it’s futile.
Thank you, John, for your comment.
Do you really think that a difference in opinion is the same as some guy who keeps leaving comments about killing himself? Wow… I think that you do wonderful work, Therese. I don’t want to debate and am sorry that you considerate it toxic energy to simply differ from your opinions…
No, I don’t think it’s the same. I was saying, I usually don’t like to write back to comments differing because they are usually not as nuanced and well-educated as yours. They are usually attacks, and I simply have to preserve my energy to do the things that make a difference.
I totally relate to hating the task of putting my supplement pill boxes in order for the week. So many capsules!! (and half the time I spill the mix all over the floor and have to play Supplement Sherlock) BUT it still beats taking Rx meds and putting up with the brain fog and all the many many bad side effects.
I take a lot of these but am going to try a few others that you suggested. Thanks for sharing!
I have read all the comments here and before I read the response from Therese to Shel’s comments I would have still written what I am posting here. I am always so appreciative of everything you write Therese. Your posts, insights, knowledge and sharing have helped so many of us. When I saw this post tonight, I was so pleased to find out about the supplements you take…mainly because you have done and continue to do so much research to help yourself feel better and live a life that is as good as you can make it. I was keen to see what supplements you take and what brands…these things take a long time to research and so often it is done with pain and necessity….also so many people are too discouraged to make the effort or don’t have the know how. I am similar to Therese in the sense that I have researched the supplements and take all but one of the type of supplement Therese takes…but even with all my efforts I didn’t know the information about the efa’s…and I know I can’t take melatonin…cause it aggravates my depression…and I know about the risk of Sam E…so don’t take it. The supplements help a lot but I also can’t go completely off my meds. Rhodiola is another that has helped me a lot. It feels great to know what someone else has learned and experienced. It is each individual’s obligation to research something before after we read it before we try it. If people are naive enough to blindly trust anyone….including their doctor’s, these days…it is their responsibility. Doctor’s again and again prescribe meds without looking at the big picture and often know nothing about the importance of the gut/brain/seratonin connection and the effects of gluten and dairy on worsening depression….they did not learn it i school and many docs, still have not done the research which could help so may of their patients without the side effects of many meds.
I hope and trust that Therese continues to write about anything she wishes…as so many of us are fortunate to have the benefit of her support, her knowledge, what her own experiences have taught her….there are days when her insight gets me through the day.
I know you agree with a lot of this Shel and have said so….but Therese has been through so much recently with her decision to stop doing the admin for the FB group and all the flak she has taken….that right now…she needs only appreciation and support.
sorry for the rant….I guess a button was pushed…I don’t often respond to posts.
I see that you have done alot of homework on supplements and I am in total agreement with that. I just wish everyone would do that. Of course Therese should write about anything she chooses to. What’s wrong with expressing opinions that may differ from her? I am not criticizing or attacking her. Shouldn’t there sometimes be a discussion about her articles as well as thanking her for her insights? In terms of facebook, I no longer have anything to do with that since there are alot of “haters” and negative people.. So I think she is much better off not being on it! I totally support her!
I am sorry I vented to you yesterday. As Keke mentioned, I have been under a lot of stress with regard to negative feedback. It didn’t have anything to do with your comment. You had a good point. I guess I just am really tired lately, and need a breather before defending my point of view, because it is sometimes hard to determine who simply wants to engage in a conversation and who wants to attack me. I’ve had a lot of the latter lately, so I’m not taking a lot of risks for a dialogue. That’s my issue, not yours, and I’m sorry I projected my frustration on to you.
Thank you for that last comment. It was very heartfelt, and I’m so sorry that this bloody illness has robbed you of so much. It seems so unfair sometimes.
Thanks for the conversation.
Keke, Thank you very much for this response. I just responded to Shel that yes, I was projecting the stress of the GBB situation unto her, which was unfair. I very much appreciate your support. t
Thanks, Therese, I hope that by dropping this group that you will have much less stress and receive many more positive comments from other venues.
Therese—your suggestions are clear that they work for you. Ignore the negative comments…..I cannot believe the negativity some people put out into the world. YOU DO GOOD WORK—ALWAYS!
I put turmeric in my tea with cinnamon and black pepper and honey. The black pepper boosts the antioxidant power of the turmeric, the honey makes it taste good, the cinnamon because of taste and it’s good for you too.
I truly appreciate Therese’s sharing her insight on the natural supplements that have helped her, i have been looking for someone like that. yes i will continue to take my lexapro but i can adjust it a little lower if these supplements help, less meds less side effects is how i see it. My father suffered from depression for years, terrible depression, where only ECT would help him at times.I have suffered from it since i was 28 years old and am now 59 and i APPRECIATE ALL the insight i can get for things that have helped someone else, meds and natural supplements, i take natural supplements to keep from going on diabetic medication so whats the difference between diabetes and depression, they are both illnesses. The head is connected to the body and vice versa, so why not treat the body as a whole???i think its great!!!! Medical doctors are not trained in natural medicine,so we have to learn on our own and through people like Therese. The only thing i would like to know since i did purchase the OmegaBrite fish oil is how many does Therese take per day. it is expensive but i don;t care if it helps keep my head on straight I’M TAKING IT!!!!!!Also i could not find the Ortho Biotic Powder 22 so i just purchased the Ortho Biotic Powder, is that okay??? I am an Occupational Therapist and i worked in hospital rehab for 15 years and i would have loved to share my knowledge of natural supplements that i knew could have helped my patients but i was not permitted to. An example is when the docs gave the patients those high powered antibiotics and they never administer a probiotic along with it and then the patients end up with C-DIFF and it could have been prevented.Therese i am interested in anything you have to say that would benefit me and anyone else with depression.i ordered your books also. Please feel fee to contact me also at firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks so much for being who you are and sharing it!!!
Therese, thank you for what you do! I have shared your work and this article in particular with many clients so they might read up on supplements that might help them. I also like what you said about debate being a little bit of an energy drain. I get that, but we gotta let it go, right? I just wanted to tell you how much your work means to me as a counselor trying to help people and as a former sufferer of depression. I wish you all the best, your writing is fantastic and honest and I truly appreciate it.
I discovered your writings last month and like other people I am working forward and backward looking at different articles. One down side is that participation in discussion is dated. I don’t know if this list is still state of the art and helpful and have know way of knowing. But thank you for this comprehensive list that I can share with my doctor. I appreciate the brand names that help me zero in on what I am looking for on Amazon rather than my small local grocery store.
I’m coming out of a dark period of many months and articles are helping me get myself moving in the right direction.
L-methionine is bad for depression, it leads to high level of free iron in the body. In the bones it means loss of calcium, leading to hypercalcemia and calcium is an antagonist to magnesium which is critical in the synthesis of serotonin in the brain.
For the same reason you should avoid calcium supplement.
I take many of these but I get my levels checked by my naturopath every 6 months to be sure I’m not getting too much. Some of these can be toxic if you take too much. I don’t take melatonin because it never worked for me but again taking it consistently can cause your body to stop producing it naturally. Any of these should be discussed with a Dr that knows what they are talking about. WEB MD if you join will also check for any contradictions in items you take. Makes it easier to talk to your Dr.