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5 best supplements to support your mental health, according to a psychiatrist



Whether it’s ashwagandha to ease stress or melatonin to help with sleep, supplements are increasingly a go-to for folks in need of support for their mental health. In fact, according to Mintel, an agency that conducts consumer research, almost half of millennials use some type of vitamin or dietary supplement to support their mental health.

But everything isn’t for everyone. Always consult with your doctor before you start taking a supplement, especially if you are on prescribed meds. “Supplements can interact with medications, sometimes enhancing or diminishing its effects,” says psychiatrist Dr. Mena Mirhom, assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. 

For instance, L-methylfolate, a popular supplement known for boosting mood and energy, may enhance the effectiveness of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications like Lexapro or Zoloft. 

On the other hand, when mixed with antidepressants, St. John’s wort, another mood-boosting supplement, can increase the risk of dangerous side effects such as shivering, diarrhea, or seizures. St. John’s wort may also decrease the efficacy of oral contraceptives when mixed with antidepressants. 

It’s also important to note that supplements are designed to help you along your mental health journey; they are not a cure. “Supplements should not replace prescription medications because although they can be a helpful additive, they often do not adequately address the symptoms that prescription medications would,” says Mirhom. “Medications prescribed by a healthcare provider are tailored to treat specific conditions and are supported by rigorous clinical research.”

And just because your supplement is making you feel better, it shouldn’t replace good therapy. “Therapy provides a structured environment for addressing psychological patterns and developing coping strategies,” says Mirhom. It is the opportunity to introduce a person to themselves, and you simply cannot bottle that up.” 

Here are the top supplements on Mirhom’s list for optimal mental health. 

1. Omega-3 fatty acids for helping reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety

An omega-3 fatty acid supplement may help boost your mood. This supplement helps support cognitive function and may even reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety

The supplement’s two main ingredients, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) help promote healthy blood flow and regulate serotonin, AKA the “feel good” hormone. It also reduces brain inflammation which is linked to depression risk.

One study found that not only did taking regular doses of omega-3 fatty acids reduce depressive symptoms, but participants felt more alert, energized, and motivated. Mirhom adds with consistent use; these supplements may help you become more efficient and focused at work. The recommended dose is unclear, so it’s best to consult your doctor. 

2. Vitamin D for mood regulation 

Vitamin D isn’t just for bone health; it also plays a vital role in your mental health. This supplement activates the receptors in our brain that control our emotions and behavior. It also promotes serotonin, which may increase happiness and help stabilize how we feel. It may also help improve memory and attention span. For pregnant women, vitamin D helps support the baby’s brain development. 

Those with little sun exposure may be deficient in vitamin D, but a blood test is the only way to determine this. People with darker skin are also at risk of vitamin D deficiency because skin pigmentation blocks the sunlight. 

When it comes to dosage per day, recommendations vary. Adults should seek to take about 600 IU of vitamin D daily, but if you’re deficient, up to 1,000 to 2,000 IU a day is considered safe. 

3. B Vitamins for energy production and neurotransmitter function

This tiny supplement packs a powerful punch. Vitamin B complex comprises eight essential B vitamins that help our body and brain function. B vitamins like B9, B6, and B12 aid neurotransmission function, balance psychological health, and overall brain support. In fact, without adequate B vitamins, our brains are at risk of cognitive decline. Mirhom adds it may also help with energy production. 

Similar to other supplements, you can reap the benefits of B vitamins from a balanced diet of whole grains, meats, and veggies. However, one study found that only 2.7% of Americans eat a nutrient-rich diet. So, if you’ve been missing out on your greens and grains, a Complex B vitamin may help. 

4. Magnesium for relaxation 

If counting sheep doesn’t send you into a blissful slumber, magnesium might. This supplement reduces the stress hormone cortisol, potentially resulting in more relaxed mind and muscles. It activates your body’s natural melatonin and promotes the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that helps you fall asleep quicker without feeling groggy in the morning. Studies have also shown that this supplement may help regulate your sleep schedule. 

Remember that results take time, advises Mirhom; as with most supplements, magnesium must be taken consistently over time to be effective. Experts recommend taking no more than 350 milligrams of the supplement per day to avoid side effects like diarrhea, nausea, and cramping.

5. Probiotics for brain health 

It turns out optimal mental health starts in your gut. Many recognize probiotics as the “good bacteria” that boost our immune system and help improve digestion. But the gut and brain are connected through the gut-brain axis (GBA), which explains why when we feel nervous or anxious, we feel butterflies in our stomach, says Mirhom. 

Taking probiotics in a supplement form can help regulate our mood by boosting our serotonin and dopamine. Studies have also shown they can help reduce stress and anxiety. The recommended dose is unclear, so check with your doctor.

When buying supplements, be sure to read the label. Be wary of brands claiming to cure a condition or that lack transparency about ingredients. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Look for a gold certificate stamp on the bottle; it indicates the product has undergone third-party testing for quality.

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