In the last few blogs, we focused on Omega-3 and its potential effects on your mood.
Especially, EPA Omega-3.
What’s at the tip of your fork can certainly affect the way you feel.
But even if you are diligent about your diet (read no sugar, no processed grains/foods), it’s difficult to get all the ‘happy nutrients’ you need from just your plate.
This is when supplements can help.
And no, a multivitamin does not count as a supplement for depression. They will not give you the right kind and quantity of what you need.
- It’s EPA, not DHA, that helps with mood.
- Take 1000 mg of ‘unopposed EPA’ per day.
- The mg of EPA minus the mg of DHA is the unopposed EPA in your fish oil pill.
The best Omega-3 supplements for depression:
|BRAND||mg UNOPPOSED EPA||COST PER PILL|
|OmegaVia EPA 500||500 mg||$0.24/pill|
|Minami MorEPA Platinum||528 mg||$0.53/pill|
|RenewLife EPA 1000||1000 mg||$1.11/pill|
|Nordic Naturals EPA Elite||800 mg||$0.64/pill|
OmegaVia EPA 500 is an EPA-only formula designed just for this purpose. Two little pills get you 1000 mg of unopposed EPA.
And more is not necessarily better!
OmegaBrite is good too but it only has 300 mg of unopposed EPA Omega-3 per pill.
Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega has 100 mg of unopposed EPA Omega-3. Nordic’s EPA Xtra has 393 mg unopposed EPA.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but eating cold-water fatty fish 3 to 4 times a week is better than any Omega-3 supplement.
Probiotics (and healing your gut)
Probiotics?! Yes, probiotics. The bugs in your gut talk to your brain through the vagus nerve. (I finally have an explanation for the ‘voices!’) In your case, think ‘gut feeling,’ ‘nervous butt,’ etc.
(This should really be at the top of this list because a lot of your neurotransmitters (‘happy chemicals’) are made in the gut. If there is an imbalance of some sort in your gut, you’re probably in trouble. Gluten, dairy, soda, tylenol, etc. can all cause issues. Simply assume you have gut issues and start to fix it.)
Recent studies have confirmed this head-gut connection and its relevance for anxiety and depression.
This new approach is called psychobiotics. Psychiatrists are all abuzz. You’ll hear more about this in the years to come.
Bifidobacterium longum was shown to help modulate anxiety in mice. Another mouse study on Lactobacillus rhamnosus recently suggested that probiotics have the potential to affect brain chemistry. A more recent human study done at UCLA proved that probiotics can and do influence emotion and sensation.
We’re just starting to understand how the bugs in our gut affect our feelings. We have a long way to go.
I don’t have specific probiotic strains or brands to recommend yet, but for now, start with healing your gut – eliminate wheat and fructose from your diet. Eat more fermented foods and only take antibiotics if you doctor feels you must.
A healthy human gut can have hundreds, if not thousands of species of bacteria. The best probiotic supplements have about a dozen species. Most supplements contain lactic acid bacteria derived from dairy. Whereas your gut has a mix of soil-based (think dirt!) and other anaerobic bugs like the kind found in sauerkraut, kimchi etc. Obsessive hand-washing and cleaning with anti-bacterial soap is probably not helping.
Healing your gut requires a lot more than just taking probiotic supplements.
It requires some food elimination (see above), stress reduction (exercise/sleep/meditation/yoga etc.) in addition to taking probiotics and prebiotic fermentable fibers. It may also require treatment for infections.
There is quite a bit of evidence linking low Vitamin D levels to poor mood. More studies on Vitamin D and depression here, and here.
Vitamin D3 stimulates production of serotonin, so this is not surprising.
How much should you take?
Well, I feel pretty comfortable telling people to take 10,000 IU of D3 per day for a couple of days. But I don’t recommend staying at that high dose for more than a week or so.
Your ideal maintenance dose is impossible to guess without actually measuring it – so don’t guess. Talk to your doctor and get it measured. It’s relatively cheap to measure and even cheaper to supplement. Get it to around 50 ng/ml. For most people, ideal dosage is somewhere between 1000 IU and 5000 IU per day depending on where you live and how much sun you get.
Vitamin D is slow-acting. If your ‘tank was on empty’ for a while, it may take a few months before levels reach acceptable levels. So don’t expect to feel remarkable a day after taking 10,000 IU.
Vitamin D is not exactly a ‘vitamin.’ It is a steroid-like substance. So more isn’t always better. In some people, too much D can increase calcium levels in the blood. So, again, work with your doctor on this.
Favorite brands? None. Most Vitamin D3 supplements are comparable. The raw material ingredient (cholecalciferol) is very inexpensive and you should be able to get a year’s supply for under $20. However, taking large doses of Vitamin D without Vitamin K2, A and E is not a good idea – these fat-soluble vitamins work together.
Oh, here is a brilliant, cheaper (and much better) idea: go outside in the summer, and get 10-15 minutes of upper body and leg exposure to midday sun. No sunscreen – it blocks D3 production. No shades – the bright light will help reset your circadian rhythms and can have a positive effect on mood.
Go ahead – expose yourself shamelessly. Make it awkward for the neighbors!
Unlike supplements, your skin makes D3 Sulfate, which is a superior form of Vitamin D and has benefits that extend far beyond mood. Vit D supplements are poor substitutes for sunshine. This year I got most of my D from the sun. I take a few Vit D pills in the winter.
And finally, this study says combing Prozac with Vitamin D is much better at treating depression than Prozac alone.
Magnesium is often called the original chill pill.
Geek speak: magnesium does a lot of things but it does its best work between brain synapses, where it keeps calcium and glutamate from ‘exciting’ the NMDA receptors too much. Overexcited neurons = tension and anxiety. Magnesium keeps a lid on this. Not enough magnesium and the neurons will eventually die. Neurons and synapses going kablooey in the brain doesn’t help you stay cheery. Oh, and remember St. John’s Wort from the 1990s? Everyone thought it was a natural alternative to Prozac. Turns out St. John’s Wort was simply good at protecting cells from the dangers of magnesium deficiency.
Too much calcium (yes, even from bone health supplements) and stress can wipe out magnesium. Food and water is where we used to get most of our magnesium.
But processed foods have virtually no magnesium. And they remove magnesium from the tap water to keep pipes clean. Dandy.
All that calcium and very little magnesium can make you pret-tee tense, anxious and may be even depressed.
This study showed rapid recovery from major depression in just 7 days, with magnesium supplementation with each meal and bed time. It’s not a perfectly designed study, so your mileage
may will vary. But the study is a good read and I think you should pay attention to the message.
Leafy green veggies and nuts are good sources of magnesium. Googling ‘magnesium rich foods’ will turn up beans and whole grains. Ack! Pass on the whole grains – they will spike your glucose, goose your triglycerides, the gluten with mess up our gut and your brain and the phytates will remove valuable nutrients from your body. There is NOTHING present in whole grains that you can’t get from veggies. Nothing. But I digress.
Unlike Vitamin D3, if you decide to supplement with magnesium, it is very easy to buy the wrong product.
Most drug-store magnesium pills are made of magnesium oxide. Even reputable brands like NatureMade use magnesium oxide. Magnesium oxide is not easily absorbed. You might as well swallow a pebble. Stay away from these products.
You can find lots of Magnesium citrate products online. They’re fine. I take Natural Calm powdered magnesium citrate dissolved in a cup of water and/or InnovixLabs Advanced Magnesium. (Disclaimer: InnovixLabs is owned by our parent company, Innovix Pharma)
Jigsaw Health makes a very good magnesium product as well. Their pills are small and time-released.
Well-absorbed magnesium salts are not dense – they are fluffy and cannot be compressed into one small pill. You need to take 4 InnovixLabs or Jigsaw magnesium pills to get 100% of your daily requirement of magnesium.
Unless you eat like a hunter-gatherer caveman, you need to take a magnesium supplement. Even if you don’t have depression.
There are lots of studies that link B-vitamin deficiencies to mood imbalance and depression.
Getting enough Vitamin B12 is a real problem for some people, especially vegetarians. Unless you eat clams, oysters and liver regularly, you may want to think about supplementing.
People used to eat liver. Now they think it is gross. It isn’t. Avoid it at your own risk. Here’s a recipe.
Folate, B6 and B12 help create happy chemicals – dopamine and serotonin. SAM-e is also important here – see more on that below.
As far as supplement recommendations, well, I think these are OK. I’m open to suggestions. Share your thoughts in the comments section below if you know a good brand. I take an occasional chewable B12 but depend mostly on my diet for B-vitamins – egg yolks and grass-fed beef liver.
Watch out for the wrong type of B-vitamin!
Most multivitamins and drug-store variety B-complex contain small amounts of the cheap form of B12 called cyanocobalamin. Not good. Look for the better methylcobalamin form instead.
Same goes for Folic Acid and Folate. Folic acid is cheap, synthetic stuff and found in most multivitamins. You can overdose in Folic acid. You are much better off choosing Folate. Look for Metfolin or Quatrefolic brand Folate.
Jigsaw Health provides the right type of B-vitamins in their formula. Someone at Jigsaw has done their homework.
SAM-e levels are low in depressed individuals. And several positive studies show that it is at least as good as prescription antidepressants in effect.
SAM-e (say Sammy) is made by our bodies…but to produce it, you need B-vitamins and methionine. Methionine is an amino acid found in meat. Vegans take note.
Which brand to buy?
The recommended dosage is 400 to 800 mg taken twice a day. This can get very expensive. Most brands of SAM-e are fine. There are only a couple of factories in the world that make this stuff and most brands sell the same raw material – usually Italian made. The Chinese may be getting into the game, in which case, forget what I said! Drugstores and Walmart type stores value cost competitiveness, so the likelihood of finding Chinese ingredients there is high.
Costco has a good deal on NatureMade SAM-e.
SAM-e is generally pretty safe, but taking a lot of it without taking a B-complex or a good multivitamin is not a good idea (long story) but just to be safe, take it with a multi.
Creatine also works in a similar way to SAM-e. But I’m not aware of any comparisons between the two when it comes to efficacy.
In a recent study, depressed people taking creatine along with their anti-depressants responded better than those taking the Rx pills by themselves.
And creatine has the advantage of being a lot cheaper than SAMe.
Every thyroid molecule in your body has iodine attached to it.
And iodine can only come from your diet. Mostly wild seafood, seaweed and dairy. A little bit comes from iodized salt. But since so many people are cutting back on salt and so many more eat at restaurants where they don’t use iodized salt, iodine deficiency is coming back.
Without enough iodine, you’re likely to have an under active thyroid. And an under active thyroid can make you feel tired and depressed.
My kids and some of my vegan friends like to snack on dried seaweed – the stuff is loaded with iodine. I tried it. Ptoooey!
So now I take LifeExtension’s Sea Iodine.
This is a nutrient that your grandparents probably got enough of.
Glycine is an amino acid (building blocks of proteins) that’s been shown to reduce anxiety and help with sleep. Glycine is abundant in parts of animals that we no longer eat. American grocery stores have begun selling mostly muscle meats that are low in glycine.
Glycine is found in cartilage and skin – think pork rind, feet, hock, ox-tail, bone broth and chicken feet. Ugh, right? Butchers don’t sell things people are disgusted by.
Pork feet – ’twas what’s for dinner
But our ancestors weren’t disgusted by all this. They ate nose to tail. They scraped stuff off the slaughterhouse floor, put it into intestines and called it haggis. Bad enough that they walked backwards from school in the snow, they got fed pigs feet when they got home! But I bet you they slept better than we do on our memory-tempur-sleep-number-foam things.
Something to think about before you dismiss Paleo diets as fads.
You can talk to your doctor about Glysom, a glycine supplement that’s available through doctors. I have a lot of bone broth at home – I’ll assume that’s out for you. Another option is high quality powdered gelatin like Great Lakes unflavored gelatin from Amazon.com. A couple of tablespoons a day of this tasteless and odorless powder into any beverage will also do the trick.
If you eat oysters and beef regularly, you can skip this one. But zinc deficiency will make you feel depressed among other things.
Actually, your zinc levels can be a pretty good indicator of how depressed you are.
If you’ve given up meat and have fallen for the ‘healthy whole grains and beans are better for you’ notion, you may have zinc issues. Grains and legumes have something called phytates that block zinc absorption.
Your body has no way of storing zinc like it can Vitamin D, so you have to eat zinc-rich foods or take a supplement regularly. If you choose the supplement option, do it a couple of times a week, not every day. Choose a gluconate or an amino acid chelate form.
In case you were wondering…
Why didn’t I talk about 5-HTP, Tryptophan, GABA, Theanine or St. John’s Wort? Well, these are band-aids. They don’t address the root cause of the problem – poor nutrition and inflammation. Other than SAM-e, all the other supplements recommended here are actual nutrients that you need on a daily basis. Once you’ve met those needs either through your diet or with supplements, then you can start looking at other ingredients.