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Which nutrients can help treat mental disorders effectively?

An international team of researchers has analyzed a vast collection of existing research on nutrients that are proven to assist in the management of mental health issues. Led by the NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University, the scientists used the “best of the best”evidence available to provide a clear overview of specific nutritional supplements and their benefits for various mental disorders.

The researchers examined 33 meta-analyses of randomized control trials (RCTs) including data from nearly 11,000 people with conditions such as depression, stress and anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

While most of the nutritional supplements that were studied did not significantly improve mental health on their own, the team found clear evidence that certain nutrients can provide an effective supplemental treatment for mental disorders.

The strongest evidence was found for omega-3 supplements as an additional treatment for major depression. These supplements reduced the symptoms of depression more than the use of antidepressants alone. Furthermore, the research suggests that omega-3 supplements may have some benefits for ADHD.

The study revealed that special types of folate supplements may be effective as additional treatments for major depression and schizophrenia, yet these benefits were not observed with folic acid. The experts also found some indication that the amino acid N-acetylcysteine could be useful to help treat mood disorders and schizophrenia.

According to the researchers, there was a lack of evidence to support the use of vitamins E, C, or D, or minerals such as zinc and magnesium, for any mental disorder.

Study lead author Dr. Joseph Firth said the findings should be used to produce more evidence-based guidance on the use of nutrient-based treatments for various mental health conditions.

“While there has been a longstanding interest in the use of nutrient supplements in the treatment of mental illness, the topic is often quite polarizing, and surrounded by either over-hyped claims or undue cynicism,” said Dr. Firth.

“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.”

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

“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.”

The study is published in the journal World Psychiatry.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

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