Nutritional Supplements and Vitamins

Supplements and Depression and Bipolar

Research continues into the specifics of supplement use in major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar, with small studies coming out with suggestive results on a regular basis.  Rigorous analysis of these studies usually shows only that “more research is needed” before recommendations for clinical use can be confidently issued.  However, there are some results already becoming clear.

Omega-3 fatty acids are the dietary supplement with the most positive evidence for usefulness in some (but not all) situations.  Folates (Vitamin B9) have not been shown to have any effect in treatment of mental disorders, with the exception of some evidence for high-dose methylfolate in treatment-resistant MDD. Vitamin D may provide some help in depression for those who are deficient in this vitamin but this is limited to those with a significant deficiency rather than a mild deficiency.  See the sections below for more detail.

It should be emphasized that dietary supplements are not a replacement for following a healthy diet.  People with mental illness are often found to have an excess consumption of high-fat and high-sugar foods, alongside inadequate intake of nutrient-dense foods, compared to the general population, and there is general agreement that a healthy diet is an important component, not only of physical health, but also in reducing the risk of mental illness and in management of mental illnesses when they occur.  Nutrient supplementation can have helpful effects in specific cases, but it should not be seen as a cure-all.

We also have summarized data on the use of natural supplements for insomnia here…

Caveat Emptor – Let the Buyer Beware

For those who are interested in the topic and are concerned about the fact that there are no regulations to ensure that these products are safe and that they contain the ingredients they claim to contain, we strongly recommend visiting this website:, provides independent test results and information to help consumers and healthcare professionals evaluate health, wellness, and nutrition products. It publishes results of its tests online at, including listings of brands that have passed testing. Products that pass CL’s testing are eligible to bear the CL Seal of Approval. CL addresses a growing need of consumers and healthcare professionals for better information to guide the selection of health, wellness, and nutrition products.


Nutritional supplements and vitamins are chemicals that are found in nature (note: supplements don’t have to be any more “natural” in terms of how they are made than prescription drugs, they just have to contain chemicals which exist in nature). Because they are found in nature they are not, in the United States, subject to review and approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Also, because they are found in nature, they tend to be safer than prescription drugs (although that is not necessarily always true) and, at least in our experience, the effects of nutritional supplements and vitamins tend to be more subtle than the effects of medications, which increases the importance of tracking outcomes carefully (mood charting).

We believe in the value of supplements a great deal, but they are certainly not the right answer for everyone. What we have tried to do is summarize the available information on the supplements that have the most importance for those with mood disorders.