The review looked at what vitamins and supplements have possible positive effects for mental health disorders. Picture: iStock
The review looked at what vitamins and supplements have possible positive effects for mental health disorders. Picture: iStock

Vitamins that are a total waste of money

Australians who spend big bucks on supplements and vitamins thinking they're improving their mental health have finally been given some answers as to what works and what doesn't.

Western Sydney university researchers have delivered the world's largest review into the effects of nutritional supplements to treat depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar, personality disorders, schizophrenia and ADHD.

Professor Jerome Sarris from the NICM Health Research Institute said the research aimed to help Australians improve their mental health by looking at the potential benefits of natural approaches to treatment.

"The first point of call is to get a medical assessment, but I would say doctors should be recommending for people to enhance their diet and to take up positive lifestyle modifications (such as) enough physical activity and sleep," he said.

He also stressed the importance of social support for people struggling with depression, anxiety and other disorders.

"We want to be giving people as many options as possible but we don't want things to be overhyped or overinflated as some miracle pill."

Dr Joseph Firth, who led the study, hoped the findings would be used to produce more evidence-based guidance on the usage of nutrient-based treatments for various mental health conditions.


The study highlights which nutritional supplements are good for your mood and the ones that you're likely wasting your money on.

The report was released in World Psychiatry and examined 33 existing trials and data from almost 11,000 people living with mental illnesses.

Prof Sarris and the researchers found the majority of supplements they observed, such as Vitamins E, C and magnesium and zinc, did not significantly improve people's mental health.

But there was strong evidence that Omega-3, amino acid n-acetylcysteine (NAC) and folate found in B vitamins and vitamin D had potential benefits as an effective additional treatment for some mental disorders, when used with traditional medications.

Professor Sarris said it was important for people to have options when treating mental health, but he urged people to consult their GP before using supplements.



The review found Omega-3 could help as a treatment for depression, ADHD in addition to medications. Picture: iStock
The review found Omega-3 could help as a treatment for depression, ADHD in addition to medications. Picture: iStock

"While there has been a longstanding interest in the use of nutrient supplements in the treatment of mental illness, the topic is often quite polarising, and surrounded by either over-hyped claims or undue cynicism," Dr Firth said.

"In this most recent research, we have brought together the data from dozens and dozens of clinical trials conducted all over the world, in over 10,000 individuals treated for mental illness.

"This mass of data has allowed us to investigate the benefits and safety of various different nutrients for mental health conditions, on a larger scale than what has ever been possible before."

A spokesperson for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists told News Corp: "The RANZCP strongly believes in evidence-based practice and this study provides further evidence that, in some cases, the use of vitamins/supplements in conjunction with prescription medication can assist in treating some mood disorders."

"Advice from RANZCP would be that people who want to try supplements etc. as part of their treatment, should discuss it with their doctor.

"By the same token, if complementary therapies provide subjective benefit to patients, are affordable, are free of serious adverse effects, and do not prevent use of more proven conventional treatments, then the use of such therapies by patients should be respected.

"For some patients the sense of active coping and empowerment from using complementary therapies may enhance their sense of wellbeing and control, producing psychologically meaningful effects for them."





The review looked at Omega-3, folate, vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and more. Picture: iStock
The review looked at Omega-3, folate, vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and more. Picture: iStock



The strongest evidence the review found was for omega-3 as an add on treatment for major depression. It was found to reduce depressive symptoms beyond the effects of SSRI antidepressants alone. Omega-3 was also found to potentially have small benefits for ADHD symptoms including hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. There was no evidence to support omega-3 use to treat schizophrenia or other mental health conditions.



The review found amino acid N-acetylcysteine, commonly known as NAC, was useful as an additional treatment for bipolar, schizophrenia and had a small effect on depressive symptoms.



Certain types of folate, commonly found in vitamin B supplements are considered to have possible benefits for treatments of major depression and schizophrenia when used with traditional treatments, however the researchers deemed folic acid was ineffective.



It was found vitamin D resulted in moderate improvements for people with major depression.



The research for pre and probiotics turned up poor in this study in terms of the positive effects for people with mental health disorders, however the researchers found probiotics reduced mild depressive symptoms.

The research did not include plant based natural treatments such as St John's wort and Kava which are said to be possible treatments in some mood disorders.

Professor Sarris said while he encouraged people to work out what was good for them healthwise, he did not want people to experiment with supplements without consulting their GP. He also added that while this study did not show magnesium had mental health benefits, he said it was important for people to figure out what nutrients they are deficient in and what they may need supplements for.

"My sense is the public are certainly interest in natural remedies, we're making sure there's science behind it," he said.

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