We all experience a low mood from time to time. One day you wake up and find it hard to get out of bed, then you start to lose your motivation for things you used to enjoy, and eventually realize you’ve been feeling sad. It may be caused by the stress of everyday life or something more serious, like depression. You’re not alone. In fact, about 20% of adults in the United States will experience a mood disorder in their lifetime
The first step is to talk to your doctor to rule out any underlying medical causes that mirror depression, such as a vitamin deficiency or thyroid disorder. If, after a few simple blood tests, you still don’t have an answer, it’s time to act. Some people with mood issues require medication and talk therapy. But if you’re not ready for those steps quite yet, it’s possible for supplements alone to elevate your mood in a real and lasting way.
Talk to your doctor about these seven supplements and see if one or two could help you regain your zest for life.
1. St. John’s Wort
When you think about mood-boosting supplements, St. John’s Wort is probably the one that comes to mind. It has a long-standing reputation as a natural way to combat depression. The supplement is derived from the flowering Hypericum plant, named after John the Baptist because it blooms in late June around St. John’s Day. There have been many studies on the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort on mood with results varying from ineffective to just as effective as traditional medications for depression, such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). The downside of SJW is that it interacts with many prescription drugs, so make sure you check with your doctor before starting it.
2. Vitamin D
According to Nutrition Research, a whopping 42% of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency, most likely due to a lack of exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency causes some of the same symptoms as depression, such as fatigue, loss of interest, and feeling sad. There is also a strong correlation between low levels of vitamin D and mental health issues. The jury is still out on whether a vitamin D deficiency causes depression or if depression causes a vitamin D deficiency, but either way supplementing with D has shown to have a positive effect on symptoms.
3. Fish Oil
Along with vitamin D deficiency, another hypothesis for the rising incidence of depression is the increasing imbalance of fatty acids in the Standard American Diet (SAD). Most people consume too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s, which is where fish oil comes in. Those with low levels of omega-3s are more likely to have symptoms associated with depression, possibly due to higher levels of inflammation in the brain. Taking a regular fish oil supplement combats inflammation and is known to decrease symptoms of depression and other mood disorders.
S-adenosyl-L-methionine, or SAMe for short, is a naturally occurring chemical in our cells that is involved with hormone and neurotransmitter pathways. Research demonstrated that patients with depression had low levels of SAMe in their cerebrospinal fluid.
Supplementing with synthetic SAMe, increases levels in the spinal fluid and may have a positive impact on mood. This is perhaps one of the most promising supplements for depression because it is shown to be effective with none of the common side-effects of pharmaceuticals for depression, such as weight gain and loss of libido.
Depression is believed to be caused in part due to a lack of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. L-5-hydroxytryptophan, referred to as 5-HTP, is the precursor for serotonin. Some small research studies have shown that 5-HTP is better for mild to moderate depression (like Seasonal Affective Disorder) than a placebo, but larger studies are still needed to determine long-term effectiveness. Because serotonin deficiency is common in many mental health issues, this is also worth looking into for anxiety and bipolar disorder.
GABA, gamma-aminobutyric acid, is yet another naturally occurring substance in the body that is low in people with depression and other mood disorders. Supplementing this neurotransmitter shows great promise in people with both anxiety and depression, but it’s especially effective in anxiety due to the calming effect it has on the brain. Often, symptoms of depression and anxiety overlap—if you have persistent worry, intrusive thoughts, and restlessness, this might be the supplement for you.
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You probably know melatonin as the supplement that helps you sleep, which is why it’s included on this list. A common manifestation of depression is insomnia. When you don’t get a good night’s sleep, it shows up in your mood the next day and exacerbates already troubling symptoms. Sometimes, just getting a good night’s sleep can make a big difference in your depression symptoms.
As you consider taking a supplement to help with mood, it is important to consult your doctor and follow labels, especially if you are taking supplements in conjunction with antidepressant medication. There is a medical condition called serotonin syndrome, which is caused by too much serotonin in the brain and is very serious, so exercise caution when incorporating supplements into your treatment protocol.
Our mood greatly determines our ability to function in daily life. If you are feeling down, these seven supplements might be the boost you need to transform into a happier and healthier you.
Kerry J. Heckman is a freelance writer and therapist based in Seattle. She authors a wellness & lifestyle blog called Words Heal and writes about health, chronic illness, and travel. You can also follow her healing journey on Twitter @kerryjheckman and Instagram @kerryjheckman.
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