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Natural Supplements May Help Treat Mental Health Conditions, Study Says

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Key Takeaways

  • Plant-based supplements can help treat mental health issues.
  • Supplements may not be as effective in treating more serious conditions.
  • Natural supplements can cause adverse reactions with other medications; patients should consult their doctors before starting a new regimen.

Almost 53 million adults in the United States had mental illness issues in 2020. Close to 8 million adolescents aged 6 to 17 dealt with a mental health disorder in 2017. The COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and numerous other current events have exacerbated these mental health concerns.

People dealing with mental health issues are seeking help and treatment. New clinical guidelines may provide an answer—in the form of plants and natural supplements.

According to a recent study, supplements made from natural nutrient-based products, which are nutraceuticals, and natural plant-based products, called phytoceuticals, have been effective in helping to treat mental health conditions.

David A. Merrill, MD, PhD

The study shines a spotlight on the fact that there is strong evidence for use of several of these supplements as treatment tools for conditions that might otherwise be difficult to treat.

— David A. Merrill, MD, PhD

“The study shines a spotlight on the fact that there is strong evidence for use of several of these supplements as treatment tools for conditions that might otherwise be difficult to treat,” explains David A. Merrill, MD, PhD, adult and geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.

“We’ll find that actually the combination of the meds plus the supplements will work better than either alone. This is helpful for both the clinicians—because they have other tools in the toolbox to use—and it’s helpful for patients,” he says.

The findings open the door to a wider array of treatment options for people living with mental health disorders. This knowledge allows medical professionals greater flexibility in treating and helping their patients.

Details of the Study

The World Federation of Societies of Biological Psychiatry and the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Disorders put together a task force of international experts. The group conducted a thorough review of data and evidence on the use of various supplements in treating mental health issues. Their findings, published in World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, found that the supplements positively impacted a number of psychiatric disorders.

Omega-3, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and probiotics were some of the beneficial products in dealing with depression. Chamomile was helpful in dealing in with anxiety. Omega-3 and Vitamin D provided a favorable response in individuals with schizophrenia, while Omega-3 fatty acids can help with ADHD. Researchers noted specific dosages that were advantageous.

Although experts offer clinical recommendations in the report, patients should consult with their doctor before beginning any new treatment regimen. Despite the necessary precautions, the findings are promising.

“There was a range of nutrients and plant-based medicines which were deemed to be effective and did have strong support. Some had provisional support, which is a less certain support, for a range of mental health applications,” explains Professor Jerome Sarris, PhD, Professor of Integrative Mental Health, NICM Health Research Institute, and head of the task force.

While some supplements were more effective than others, they can be viewed as an additional treatment patients could combine with prescription medication. They could also provide the answer a patient is seeking.

“You could consider sometimes with milder illness using the supplements as an alternative treatment. That would be instead of prescription medications,” Dr. Merrill says, noting it should be done with physician guidance.

Plants and natural remedies have long been viewed as beneficial. Doctors often prescribe dietary changes to help patients deal with emotions and mental functioning. In fact, studies found that people who ate a plant-based diet had improved mood and fewer symptoms of depression.

Practical Applications

Knowing that plants can provide treatment for mental health issues is one thing; understanding how to apply that knowledge is another. Nutraceuticals may not work for all patients, especially more severe cases. Additionally, dosages are important. Even though the supplements are natural, they can also have adverse interactions with other medications.

Being aware of how to take them can help it provide the most benefit.

“It’s not that you’re eating or taking the whole plant,” Dr. Merrill explains. “We now know active ingredients from those plants—either the leaves, the bark, the roots—have been extracted or distilled from those plants into capsules or powders that are then used, that are then tested in clinical trials at doses for treating things like depression, anxiety, [and] attention deficit.”

Even if you find the product in supplement form, experts caution that all natural supplements are not created equal.

“It is important to be selective about which brands you buy and try to go with trusted sources. It’s not always the most expensive supplement that has the best ingredients,” Dr. Merrill notes.

Jerome Sarris, PhD

These recommendations really go a long way to giving confidence about which supplements may be appropriate for people with various mental illnesses.

— Jerome Sarris, PhD

As more doctors become open to the possibility of using plant-based supplements or even combining them with pharmaceuticals, one clear winner will emerge—the patient.

“These recommendations really go a long way to giving confidence about which supplements may be appropriate for people with various mental illnesses, but also which supplements may not be appropriate,” Dr. Sarris concludes.

What This Means For You

Combining natural supplements with pharmaceutical medication to treat mental health conditions can benefit both the doctors and patients. The additional options to choose from create greater flexibility, and more ways to get people with mental health concerns the help that they need.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental health by the numbers.

  2. Sarris J, Ravindran A, Yatham LN, et al. Clinician guidelines for the treatment of psychiatric disorders with nutraceuticals and phytoceuticals: The World Federation of Societies of Biological Psychiatry (WFSBP) and Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments (CANMAT) Taskforce. World J Biol Psychiatry. 202:1-32. doi:10.1080/15622975.2021.2013041

  3. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Food and mood: Eating plants to fight the blues.