People living with depression could improve their state of mental health by taking an Omega 3 tablet with their antidepressant medication to make it more effective, new international research shows.
The study, from University of Melbourne and Harvard University, finds that various off-the-shelf nutritional supplements can increase the effectiveness of antidepressants for people with clinical depression.
Omega 3 fish oil, in combination with an antidepressant, showed the strongest result in boosting the prescription medication’s effectiveness, while Vitamin D supplements were also noted as having a positive impact.
The study’s lead author, Dr Jerome Sarris, says the findings should come as good news to the many Australians living with depression who do not reach remission after one or two courses of antidepressant medication.
“Millions of people in Australia and hundreds of millions worldwide currently take antidepressants,” says Dr Sarris, head of the ARCADIA Mental Health Research Group at the University of Melbourne.
“There’s real potential here to improve the mental health of people who have an inadequate response to them.”
“There is now an evidence-based option to improve people’s depression treatment by using antidepressant medication with nutritional supplements."
The study’s results were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry today.
Dr Sarris says the research findings should provide confidence to medical professionals, who have been unsure about prescribing nutritional supplements alongside pharmaceuticals.
“There is now an evidence-based option to improve people’s depression treatment by using antidepressant medication with nutritional supplements.
“The absolute gold standard of evidence is a meta-analysis, which combines data from randomised control trials to come up with one large robust set of findings. And that’s what we did in respect to Omega 3.
“Medical practitioners can now be confident in recommending these nutritional supplements given the evidentiary support.”
Previous studies have shown Omega 3 supplements are good for general brain health and improving mood.
But, this is the first analysis of studies that combines past findings into one sweeping piece of evidence on the combination of fish oils with antidepressant medication.
“No one is saying that people with depression on antidepressants shouldn’t see their doctor to consider if they need a dosage change or a different type of medication.
“We are also not telling people with severe levels of depression or suicidal ideations to go off their medication or straight to a supplement.
“What we are saying is that nutritional supplements provide an additional therapy approach, which may be beneficial to some patients."
The study found no major safety concerns in combining a natural with a pharmacological therapy.
However, Dr Sarris stresses that people on antidepressants should be aware nutritional supplements – especially those bought online – can differ in quality.
“In many cases, ‘oils ain’t oils’ so there will be marked differences between the quality of various nutritional supplement brands. And that’s where you need to get the advice of a good health professional.”
“No one is saying that people with depression on antidepressants shouldn’t see their doctor to consider if they need a dosage change or a different type of medication."
The research team examined 40 clinical trials worldwide, and conducted a systematic review of the evidence for using nutrient supplements to treat clinical depression, with tandem with common antidepressants.
They also found good evidence for methylfolate and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) as a mood enhancing therapy when taken with antidepressants.
They reported mixed results for zinc, vitamin C and tryptophan (an amino acid). Folic acid didn’t work particularly well, nor did inositol.
Antidepressants used in the study included Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors and tricyclics.
According to the Black Dog Institute, St John’s wort also appears to be an effective treatment for mild non-melancholic depression.
However, the institute says it advises against using St John’s wort to treat people who have significant major depression, given the risks associated with ineffective treatment.
It also states that different types of depression respond best to different sorts of treatment and recommends that people seeking treatment visit a health professional for a thorough and thoughtful assessment prior to any treatment change.
If you live with depression or another mental health concern, are in need of support or information, or want to talk to someone, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. Visit beyondblue or Black Dog Institute online.