Contents of this Article
ⓘ This content is not meant, in any way, to substitute professional guidance or meant to treat, cure or diagnose any physical or mental health issues.
If you’re reading this, maybe you’re having a bad day. Perhaps you’ve even had a few weeks of feeling meh. You may also be one of the 19 million people in the U.S. who have depression and for whom these feelings persist.
Depression occurs in varying degrees of severity but is always to be taken seriously. For more information on depression click here. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline operates 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
There are lots of things that can influence mood including biological, psychological and environmental factors, inadequate nutrition, poor sleep, hormone imbalances, stress levels, the weather, and age-related issues. Identifying the underlying cause(s) of low moods can go a long way in helping determine the best way to address them.
We all get into a funk sometimes and supplements can be one way to help improve mood. If you happen to be taking antidepressant drugs, definitely speak to your doctor first before taking any of these because some of the supplements can enhance their effects.
Just a quick note – a lot of the studies focus on participants who have been diagnosed with depression and mood disorders. This just makes the research easier to interpret and report. You don’t have to have any diagnosed disorder to benefit from the supplements. That said, not all supplements are right for everyone. Speak with a professional before trying any of the following supplements.
10 Useful Supplements for Your Mood
St. John’s wort
Also known as Hypericum perforatum, St. John’s Wort is a perennial herb that grows in wild and cultivated forms in many parts of the world. In Europe, it is considered a medicine and is used alone or in combination with other herbs for a variety of mild to moderate depressive conditions. It is considered very effective for this purpose. (1)
It’s unclear exactly how St. John’s Wort works. Some evidence suggests it acts as a mild serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Most likely, however, the many different compounds within the herb exert multiple effects on the central nervous system. (2)
St. John’s Wort has been well-researched. Numerous reviews and analyses have been published on its effects. For example, a meta-analysis of 23 randomized trials involving 1757 people found that St. John’s Wort worked better than a placebo and almost as well as standard antidepressants for mild to moderate symptoms. (1,3)
While the herb has not been approved for use with major depressive symptoms, a study from 2005 comparing St. John’s Wort to the drug fluoxetine (Prozac) produced promising results. During a 12-week period involving 135 patients, those who were given 900 mg of St. John’s Wort extract experienced greater improvements than the fluoxetine or placebo group. (4)
How to take St. John’s Wort:
It’s important to talk to your doctor if you are taking medication or if you have any questions or concerns. Safety during pregnancy and lactation as well as contraindications are not known.
5-HTP is a compound that is naturally produced in the body from the amino acid l-tryptophan. It is made commercially for supplements from the plant Griffonia simplicifolia. 5-HTP is used to help reduce symptoms related to depressive moods as well symptoms associated with conditions like fibromyalgia, insomnia, binge eating, and chronic headaches. (5)
In the brain, 5-HTP is part of the normal pathway involved in serotonin production. It’s believed that taking 5-HTP as a supplement not only helps to increase serotonin production but also the production of other brain chemicals including melatonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and beta-endorphin. (6)
While 5-HTP has been used for decades, research on its efficacy and safety is inconclusive. Some studies indicate that it may work with other therapies but not necessarily by itself, while other researchers assert that it likely works but more research is needed to determine safety. (7, 8, 9)
One study suggested that 5-HTP may not have a mood boosting effect on healthy, young people. In fact, this study found that within this population, 5-HTP may actually impair decision making. (10)
How to take 5-HTP:
It’s important to talk to your doctor if you are taking medication or if you have any questions or concerns.
It is recommended to start with 50 mg three times per day with meals. If there are no adverse effects after two weeks, dosage may be increased to 100 mg three times per day. Some people experience nausea. (6)
Related: top 10 selling 5-HTP products
SAMe, short S-adenosylmethionine, is a chemical that is found naturally in the body. Made from the amino acid methionine, it plays a role in neurotransmitter metabolism. Abnormal levels of SAMe in the body have been reported in depression.(11) It is sold in the United States and Europe as a dietary supplement and is actually part of a first line of treatment for mild to moderate depression in Canada. (12)
Many studies have focused on SAMe’s ability to improve depressive symptoms alone and in combination with other treatments. It is generally considered to be effective. Research even shows that for some people, it works better than tricyclic antidepressants and has helped in cases where patients weren’t improving with other drugs like SSRIs. (13, 14, 15)
An important thing to note, however, is that data suggests that SAMe may not be as effective in females. In addition, how it performs compared to some of the newer antidepressant drugs is still being explored. (15, 16)
How to take SAMe:
It’s important to talk to your doctor if you are taking medication or if you have any questions or concerns.
SAMe can trigger hypomanic or manic symptoms in patients with bipolar disorder. Side effects of SAMe can include nausea, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort of vomiting. (15)
Doses used in studies range from 400-1,600 mg/day.
Related: top 10 selling SAMe products
Folate & B12
Folate and B12 are two separate vitamins but can be discussed together here because of their synergistic relationship and how they relate to mood. Both vitamins can be obtained through food but are not stored in the body and need to be continually replenished.
Folate is the active form of vitamin B9, also called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). It is converted into 5-MTHF before entering the bloodstream. (This is an important detail which will explained more later). Folate has many functions in the body including making DNA and other genetic material.
B12, also known as cobalamin, is needed for a wide variety of functions in the body including healthy red blood cell formation and energy production. (17)
These two B-vitamins relate to each other because they both are involved in the production of methionine and S-adenosylmethionine (remember SAMe?). Studies show a link between low folate and B12 levels and depression. (18, 19, 20).
While these low levels may be due to a dietary deficiency, more attention is being focused on some people’s genetic inability to convert folate to 5-MTHF. This genetic condition is called “MTHFR polymorphism” and may be more common than previously thought. If folate cannot convert, it cannot work with B12 to help produce methionine and other neurotransmitters. (20)
The research therefore suggests that folate and/or B12 supplementation would be a reasonable thing to consider for improving mood and depressive symptoms.
How to take folate and B12:
Folic acid is the synthetic, inactive form of folate and may not be the most effective. A pre-methylated form of folate (methylfolate) may be a good choice since many people who have the MTHFR polymorphism are unaware of it. The RDA for adults is 400 mcg and the Upper Limit is 1,000 mcg. It’s not recommended to take excessive amounts of folate as it may throw off B12 status. (21)
B12 supplements are available in many multivitamins, and in pill, spray, or gel form. It can also be administered as a shot (usually by a doctor). The RDA for adults is 2.4 mcg. It is considered very safe so no upper limit has been set for its use. (22)
Related: top 10 selling vitamin B12 products
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be obtained through some foods and made within the body by exposure to sunlight. In addition to vitamin D’s role in bone and immune health, it also works to activate genes that release neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. (23)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD) is the mood condition some people experience when the seasons change and there is less daylight. Researchers believe the depressive symptoms felt by those who suffer from SAD may be a result of dropping vitamin D levels in the body. (24)
Even during the sunny months, however, people can have vitamin D deficiencies. Some of the risk factors associated with a deficiency include having dark skin, advanced age, obesity, inflammatory bowel issues, or problems absorbing fats. (25)
Researchers in the Netherlands found that elderly people who had depressive symptoms did in fact have lower levels of vitamin D. (26) Another study found that supplementing with 4000 IU of vitamin D3 improved feelings of well-being of participants. (27)
How to take vitamin D:
Vitamin D supplements are available in two forms: D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). D3 is the preferred, more potent type.
600 IU of vitamin D daily is recommended for ages 9 to 70 years
800 IU of vitamin D daily is recommended for ages 71 years or older
These recommendations are currently being re-evaluated, however. Research suggests that 4000 IU/day is safe and more appropriate for most people. (28)
Taking too much vitamin D can cause serious side effects including calcification of tissues of the heart, blood vessels and kidneys. Most reports, however, show vitamin D to be toxic at 10,000-40,000 IUs/day. Your doctor can help you determine how much supplemental vitamin D is right for you. (25)
Related: top 10 selling vitamin D products
Magnesium is a mineral that is very abundant in humans and is used for hundreds of biological functions. It influences almost every system of the body including many of the pathways, enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation. (29)
Magnesium deficiency has been observed in people with depressive symptoms. (30). Given how common magnesium deficiencies may be, this is big news. Although magnesium is widely available in many foods, deficiency is quite common. Among those at risk of deficiency include people who are older, eat a nutrient poor diet, have type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, are under physical or emotional stress, or consume a lot of alcohol. (31)
There have been lots of studies on the beneficial effects of magnesium supplementation on mood, even when it comes to symptoms of major depression. In fact, a recent study found that symptoms of depression and anxiety improved significantly after just two weeks of taking 248 mg of magnesium! (32, 33, 34)
How to take magnesium:
The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies suggests that magnesium from supplements and dietary intake should not exceed 350 mg while at the same setting an RDA for some populations above this. (31) Magnesium is considered very safe and has been shown to be safe even at higher doses. Like any supplement, if you have any questions or concerns it is best to ask your doctor.
Related: top 10 selling magnesium products
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Besides the actual fat in your body, your brain has the next highest concentration of lipids (fats). Fifty to 60% of the dry weight of the brain is actually made of fat, specifically the polyunsaturated kind (PUFAs). Research has shown that the brain needs an adequate supply of two types of PUFAs – arachidonic acid (AA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – to function properly. (37)
Arachidonic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid while docosahexaenoic acid is an omega-3. This refers to their molecular structure. Back when human brains were evolving, people’s diets consisted of foods that provided roughly a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. Our modern diet, however, heavily favors foods that contain arachidonic acid, throwing off this ratio quite substantially.
It turns out that those diagnosed with anxiety and depressive disorders, seasonal affective disorder and social anxiety have a higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in their brains. This has led researchers to explore the possibility of omega-3 fatty acids as a therapy for mood problems. (37)
Numerous studies have been done to test if supplemental omega-3 fatty acids can help. The results are mixed but there are some common findings. According to the research, taking omega-3s can help improve mood in mild to moderate cases but not for major depression. An interesting finding was that even though the brain requires ample DHA, a different omega-3 fat – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – may be more effective. Finally, taking higher doses didn’t translate to better results. (38, 39, 40, 41, 42).
How to take omega-3 fatty acids:
Since a higher dose of omega-3s didn’t improve symptoms any better than a lower dose in studies, taking the moderate amount of 1 gram/day of a DHA/EPA combination supplement is recommended to help improve mood. (38)
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as winter cherry and Indian ginseng, is a plant that’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine for more than 3,000 years. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may also be helpful in reducing feelings of anxiety. (43, 44)
While anxious feelings and depressive feelings are different, they can often occur together. (45)
This herb has long been used for its adaptogenic and calming effects. Modern studies are now backing up what has been believed for thousands of years. For example, a study of 39 subjects with anxiety disorder took an ashwagandha extract or placebo for 6 weeks. Those in the ashwagandha group had a significant response with very few side effects. (46)
Another study involving 64 people with chronic stress demonstrated ashwagandha’s effects on anxiety by measuring subjects’ levels of cortisol (the “fight or flight” hormone that is released when people under stress). Those who received the ashwagandha extract had significantly lower levels of serum cortisol after 60 days. Again, few side effects were noted. (47)
Ashwagandha may also help with mood by improving thyroid function in people with very mild hypothyroidism. (48). Depressive feelings are sometimes associated with a poorly functioning thyroid. Identifying and addressing thyroid issues may help with mood. (49). This is definitely something to be discussed with a conventional or alternative healthcare professional, however.
How to take ashwagandha:
Ashwagandha is considered relatively safe. Dosages of up to 1000 mg have been used in studies for anxiety. It may not be appropriate for those with thyroid problems.
Related: top 10 selling ashwagandha products
Ginkgo biloba is a tree that is famous for being one of the longest living species of trees in the world. Its leaves have been used for a long time in traditional Chinese medicine and modern research is producing results that support its traditional use including in areas related to mood regulation.
While no one is quite sure how ginkgo works to help improve mood, theories include its possible role in 5-HTP and serotonin production, its effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (H-P-A) axis system, and/or its antioxidant abilities. (50, 51)
Many studies have focused on ginkgo’s ability to reduce feelings of anxiety related to aging in elderly people. One of these studies found that 480 mg of a ginkgo extract helped reduce anxiety in people experiencing age-related cognitive decline. (52)
While evidence is accumulating for ginkgo’s therapeutic effects in older populations, young people can also benefit. Research suggests that ginkgo can help decrease feelings of anxiety and depression and improve a sense of well-being in young and old, even after just 4 weeks. (53, 54, 55)
How to take ginkgo biloba:
The American Botanical Council issued a statement that as much as 90% of ginkgo products may be adulterated or of poor quality. When choosing a ginkgo supplement, be sure to trust the source. It’s also unclear whether or not it is safe to take during pregnancy and lactation. (56, 57)
An extract called EGb 761 was often used in studies in doses of 80-480 mg.
Bee pollen is a mixture of substances – flower pollen, wax, bee saliva, nectar, and honey – that is collected and used as a nutritional supplement.
The nutritional composition of bee pollen is beyond impressive and it provides innumerable health benefits. It’s used as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, anti-bacterial, detoxifier and because it’s a good source of vitamins and minerals. It can also enhance mood for some people. (58)
Hormones can affect mood dramatically, and menopause can affect hormones dramatically. As a result, it’s not uncommon for menopausal women to experience a decrease in quality of life at times. In a study, either a form of bee pollen or placebo was given to menopausal women for 3 months. At the end, the women who took the bee pollen not only reported having less hot flashes but reported an improvement in 15 other quality of life parameters. (59)
Other research has indicated that taking bee pollen alongside traditional antidepressant medications can allow someone to lower their dose (under the supervision of a professional, of course). (60)
How to take bee pollen:
There is no specific dosage recommendation for bee pollen.
Bee pollen can be added to smoothies or beverages or taken in capsules.
Those with bee allergies should use with caution.
Related: top 10 selling bee pollen products
Well-Being Requires a Holistic Approach
Again, if you’re feeling like you’re not in control of your mind and body, please seek professional help.
Besides supplements, there are many things you can do to improve and maintain mood. Some lifestyle habits that can benefit your mind and body include:
- Spend more time outdoors
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet with lots of unprocessed, plant-based foods
- Stay hydrated
- Get adequate rest
- Meditate or engage in some kind of mindfulness practice
- Stay connected to people
ⓘ Any specific supplement products & brands featured on this website are not necessarily endorsed by Jessica.
Stock Photos from crazystocker / Fahroni / Shutterstock
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