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Some nutritional supplements might boost the effectiveness of antidepressants in people with clinical depression, according to a new review of research.

The nitty gritty:

Researchers looked at 40 studies that measured the effectiveness of nutrient supplements used in combination with three types of antidepressants. The team found that compared to a placebo, vitamin D and omega-3 fish oil helped to improve the mood of patients on antidepressants. Not all supplements seemed to work, though — folic acid and inositol didn’t do much, and zinc, vitamin C, and tryptophan supplements only helped in a small group of patients. The study was published Tuesday in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Why it matters:

An estimated 15.7 million people in the US over the age of 18 have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. But patients who seek treatment for their depression don’t always see the results they’d like with prescription medications alone, the authors said.


But keep in mind:

Nutritional supplements, sometimes dubbed nutraceuticals, don’t have to be approved by the FDA before they go to market. That means one omega-3 supplement can vary wildly from another, and, often, the vitamins and minerals that supplements claim to provide aren’t even in them. It’s difficult for patients who want to combine supplements with their antidepressants to know exactly what they’re getting.

“Quality between supplements can be an issue for consumers,” said Jerome Sarris, a mental health researcher at University of Melbourne and the author of the new paper.


And because supplements aren’t monitored like antidepressants are, they could pose a risk to patients taking the products in combination with other drugs.

The bottom line:

Some supplements could improve mood among patients on antidepressants, but patients should talk with their doctors before taking them.

“We want to keep in mind with patients that [supplements] deserve the same level of scrutiny as prescription medications,” said Dr. Marlene Freeman, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital who was not affiliated with the study.