It’s well-documented that natural disasters, wars, and other mass traumas can lead to significant increases in population-wide psychological distress. Depression was a leading mental health concern worldwide before the COVID-19 pandemic. After more than half a year of living with it in fear, anxiety, and grief, with record unemployment, lockdowns, and social distancing measures creating isolation and removing people’s support systems, it’s not surprising that depression has skyrocketed around the globe.
Self-care has become more important than ever just to maintain some sort of mentally healthy balance and to be able to keep functioning on a daily basis. Some recommended self-care practices might include:
- Limit alcohol and substance use
- Check-in regularly with friends and family
- Cut yourself some slack
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get outside (sunshine, fresh air, and nature)
- Exercise regularly (even taking a walk)
- Learn something new (start a new hobby or take an online class)
- Limit social media and news consumption
- Make time for rest and relaxation
- Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques
- Seek help or support when you need it
When you’re depressed. even the minimum self-care can be challenging. Ironically, that’s when you need it the most. Science shows that there are some vitamins and minerals you can take to help ease the symptoms of depression and tackle adding a few good-for-you practices. Research shows that some supplements can definitely improve symptoms in people — provided they are the right ones and that you’re low in them to start with.
Here’s what the most recent research says works as well as a few that don’t.
Vitamin B9 is also called folate, methylfolate, or folic acid and is typically low in people who are depressed. Research shows that adding folic acid to antidepressants can increase their effectiveness. Taking just folic acid can also reduce depression, although there is less research on this. But there are also studies finding it not effective. So, individual results may vary. Folate seems to work best when used for more than two months and in higher doses (15mg of methylfolate per day), particularly where depression hasn’t been affected by other treatments.[i]
Vitamins B6 and B12
There’s less research on vitamins B6 and B12 effect on depression than B9 and findings are mixed. When B12 is low, depression is more likely, but only for women according to the research. However, one longitudinal study showed that taking B6 and B12 may have preventative qualities and made depression less likely for both men and women.
People at a high risk of depression relapse are less likely to become depressed if they take B12 for longer than two months. In studies, taking it for shorter periods had less impact. B12 is safe to take alongside conventional antidepressants and can possibly make them more effective. If you are low in B12 a weekly shot of 1000mcg could reduce your depression by 20%. Again, research says you need to do it for three months to see results.
Individuals who are depressed often have low levels of Vitamin C. Insufficient Vitamin C is linked to a higher risk of depression. But can it help reduce depression? According to a group of good quality studies, the answer appears to be “yes”. A dose of 200 to 1000mg of Vitamin C daily has been found to reduce depression by 33 to 50% over two to six months. That’s a pretty respectable result. There are no indications that it can’t be mixed with mainstream meds, although it’s not clear whether doing so increases the impact on depression. As with B12, you may want to get a blood test to see if you’re low in Vitamin C before investing in the remedy.
Vitamin D is often lacking in people who are depressed, and low levels have been linked to a higher risk of depression and suicide. Research has shown that supplementing with Vitamin D can reduce depressive symptoms, especially if you are low to start with. A daily amount of 800 I.U. has been found effective. But if your Vitamin D levels are normal or your depression doesn’t reach clinical levels Vitamin D doesn’t seem to help.
When a person is low on zinc, research shows that depression is more likely. Individuals with sufficient levels of zinc are 28 percent less likely to get depressed than people whose zinc intake is low. Low blood levels of zinc are associated with depression, particularly for women. A small number of studies show that taking zinc with an antidepressant is more effective than the antidepressant alone. One study determined that adding zinc to multi-vitamins reduced depression and other evidence says that Zinc can reduce depression when taken alone.
Chromium seems to be a mineral that helps with depression for people who have cravings for carbs — like me! In experiments, a dose of 600iug per day of chromium picolinate got results. However, findings on this are mixed and more research is needed.
I see a lot of websites recommend magnesium for depression. But after looking very hard at the science, I found no studies that showed magnesium had an impact on decreasing depression. Rather, a review of 69 studies found magnesium didn’t reduce depression.
Iron, potassium, and selenium
While a low intake of iron makes depression more likely it seems no one has looked into whether taking iron reduces depression. At least, I couldn’t find any studies that did this topic. The same goes for potassium. There are a few studies with selenium, but science doesn’t strongly support it as a treatment for depression.
Multi-vitamins for Depression?
You might be wondering if you can just take a multi-vitamin since an assortment of vitamins and minerals prove helpful for depression.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any studies that compared taking a multi-vitamin to taking each individually. However, two studies found that combining multi-vitamins with zinc had a positive impact on lessening depressive symptoms. Enlyte, a prescription medication that contains B1, B2, B3, B6, folinic acid (B9) and B12, 1mg of zinc, some other minerals, and 23mg omega n-3s (fish oil) reduced depression among people who had difficulty metabolizing B vitamins. It also reduced depression to non-clinical levels in almost half the people who took it within eight weeks. No single vitamin or mineral has been able to do that.
In another study, multi-vitamins (vitamins A, D, B1, B2, B6, B12, niacin, and folic acid) plus 7mg of zinc reduced depression, whereas the vitamins alone did not. When depressed people took a multi-vitamin containing B1, B2, B3, B6, folate, B12, and biotin (Max Stress B) without zinc, researchers got the same results. There was no meaningful reduction in depression. So, adding zinc to multiple B vitamins seems to make the difference.
What is the best multi to take?
There is no consensus here. But the science says that a multi combining B6, B12, folic acid, and zinc is most likely to be effective. I would also supplement with Vitamins C and D, as they show a positive impact in many studies. Adding fish oil could also prove beneficial as it’s been shown effective at lowering depression symptoms — but only if it contains 50% or more EPA.
Can I take vitamins and minerals with antidepressants?
Yes, quite safely. Taking B9 (folic acid), B12 with antidepressants is not only safe, but it increases the effectiveness of the meds. Vitamins C and D do not have a track record of reacting badly with antidepressants. However, it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor before taking any supplements.
Kaye McLaren is an experienced researcher and author with personal experience of recovering from chronic, suicidal depression and discovering lasting happiness. She has written extensively on criminal justice psychology, as well as employment of people with experience of mental illness, recovery from mental illness, and adolescent development.
Kaye is currently working on a book about transforming depression into lasting happiness based on her own experiences and research. As part of this book, she is exploring many different techniques for improving mood. You can check out Kaye’s story of recovery on her blogsite www.kayemclaren.com and follow her on Twitter at @kayemclaren.