Skip to 0 minutes and 11 secondsWOLF MARX: Nutraceuticals are essentially individual compounds or nutrients that are delivered in a capsule, a liquid, a powder. And the reason why we're interested in looking at these specific nutrients is because we now know that certain nutrients interact with certain pathways that are involved in mental illness. And so if we can provide these certain nutrients to people with these mental health problems, that might help resolve some of the symptoms that they're experiencing.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 secondsIf you walk into a chemist or you look online or through social media, you'll note there's a whole host of different nutrients that are being marketed to us as dietary supplements and powders and pills and these sorts of things. And so I guess the first question is, well, which one of these actually work? And so we've recently conducted a review that actually was designed to answer that exact question. So we looked at the highest quality of evidence. These are studies that ran randomised controlled trials. And we looked at all the nutraceuticals that are published in the literature at this moment across all sorts of mental health disorders.

Skip to 1 minute and 33 secondsWhat we found was that fish oil-- so omega-3 fatty acids-- had the strongest level of evidence. And this was particularly for people with diagnosed clinical depression and when fish oil was delivered as an adjunctive treatment. And by that, I mean combined with their common antidepressant medications as opposed to delivered just by itself. There was other nutrients, things like zinc methyl folate, which is a more bioactive form of folic acid, and vitamin D that also had some promising levels of evidence. But when you move away from these nutrients and particularly in other mental health disorders, the level of evidence gets quite a lot lower.

Skip to 2 minutes and 18 secondsAnd so while we have some strong evidence for fish oil providing some benefit to people with clinical depression, other nutraceuticals, particularly in other common mental disorders like schizophrenia or anxiety disorders, the level of evidence just isn't quite that yet.

Skip to 2 minutes and 41 secondsMost of the research right now has looked at the role of nutraceuticals in people with clinical diagnoses of mental health disorders. When we move away from that to trying to prevent mental health disorders or the onset of mental health disorders, the evidence just hasn't really been evolved at this point. And so while we have some relatively high confidence in nutraceuticals for resolving symptoms in people who already have a diagnosis of a mental disorder, in the general population-- and by that I mean people that don't require certain nutritional concerns or have nutritional deficiencies-- the answer right now is that, no, we don't need nutraceuticals to prevent. Instead, our highest level of evidence is really around diet.

Skip to 3 minutes and 36 secondsAnd that's where we have our recommendations right now. So consuming a nutrient dense, minimally processed dietary pattern that allows you to consume all these sorts of nutrients is our best bet at the moment.

Skip to 3 minutes and 56 secondsSo when we look at the evidence for nutraceuticals in the prevention of cognitive decline, there are a number of different nutraceuticals that have been trialled, so things like B vitamins, particularly folic acid and vitamin B12. There's also herbal preparations, things like ginkgo biloba, omega-3 fatty acids, and polyphenols or poly phenol-rich foods, so things like your green tea, red wine, extra virgin olive oil. These are all very promising interventions. But currently, the evidence just isn't there. So we don't have that long-term evidence in people that are at risk of cognitive decline at the moment. And again, similar to preventing common mental disorders, your best bet is to go with a nutrient dense diet instead.

Nutraceuticals

Current research shows that some nutraceutical and dietary supplements could help manage mental health.

Nutraceuticals are usually defined as foods or food components with functional capacity to prevent or treat disorders. Dietary supplements are products that contain dietary ingredients such as herbs, vitamins, minerals or other consumable components that are intendent to complement a dietary intake.

Nutraceuticals for mental health

In recent years, research has shown the potential benefit of nutraceuticals and dietary supplements for mental and brain health.

There is a good level of evidence that treatment with some nutraceuticals used in combination with antidepressants, can be effective in reducing symptoms of depression. These nutraceuticals include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (essential polyunsaturated fatty acids obtained from foods, such as fatty fish and other seafood, nuts and seeds, oils, and animal foods).
  • S-adenosylmethionin (SAMe), a chemical compound that is naturally occurring in the body.
  • Vitamin D.

Another popular nutraceutical, particularly for a treatment of a mild depression, is St. John’s wort, a flowering plant, popular in many cultures as a traditional remedy. This is useful in mild depression, but must not be taken with other anti-depressant medications or some supplements due to interactions.

However, it is important to note that although nutraceuticals may provide a beneficial addition in the treatment of some mental health disorders, these should not be viewed as substitutes in place of a good quality diet.

Your task

Watch the interview with Dr Wolfgang Marx, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and head of Nutraceutical stream at the Food & Mood Centre.

Were you aware of the recommendations discussed in the video and outlined in the resources? What are your thoughts on the role nutraceuticals in mental health?

Discuss your thoughts with your peers in the comments.

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This video is from the free online course:

Food and Mood: Improving Mental Health Through Diet and Nutrition

Deakin University