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Nutritional Supplements and Mental Health: Here’s What We Know

We’ve all heard that ‘food is good for your mood’. Now, a new study into mental health and nutrient supplementation has taken a leap forward by establishing the gold standard for which nutrients are proven to assist in the management of a range of mental health disorders.

As well as an established relationship between poor diet and mental illness, there is now a vast body of research examining the benefit of nutrient supplementation in people with mental disorders.

To unpack this research, an international team of scientists led by researchers at the University of Manchester and NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University examined the ‘best of the best’ available evidence. The aim was to provide a clear overview of the benefit of specific nutrient supplements – including dosage, target symptoms, safety and tolerability – across different mental disorders. 

The world’s largest review of top-tier evidence, published online yesterday (10th September 2019) in World Psychiatry, examined 33 meta-analyses of randomised control trials (RCTs) and data from 10,951 people with mental health disorders including depression, stress and anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Although the majority of nutritional supplements assessed did not significantly improve mental health, the researchers found strong evidence that certain supplements are an effective additional treatment for some mental disorders, supportive of conventional treatment.

All nutrient supplements were found to be safe when recommended dosages and prescriptive instructions were adhered to and there was no evidence of serious adverse effects or contraindications with psychiatric medications.

Summary of results:

  • The strongest evidence was found for omega-3 supplements (a polyunsaturated fatty acid) as an add-on treatment for major depression – reducing symptoms of depression beyond the effects of antidepressants alone.
  • There was some evidence to suggest that omega-3 supplements may also have small benefits for ADHD.
  • There was emerging evidence for the amino acid N-acetylcysteine as a useful adjunctive treatment in mood disorders and schizophrenia.
  • Special types of folate supplements may be effective as add-on treatments for major depression and schizophrenia, however folic acid was ineffective.
  • There was no strong evidence for omega-3 for schizophrenia or other mental health conditions.
  • There is currently a lack of compelling evidence supporting the use of vitamins (such as E, C, or D) and minerals (zinc and magnesium) for any mental disorder.

Lead author of the study, Dr Joseph Firth, Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Manchester and Senior Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute, said the findings should be used to produce more evidence-based guidance on the usage of nutrient-based treatments for various mental health conditions.

“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.” Dr Joseph Firth

​Senior author on the study, NICM Health Research Institute’s Professor Jerome Sarris said as the role of nutrition in mental health is becoming increasingly acknowledged, it was vital that an evidence-based approach be adopted.

“Future research should aim to determine which individuals might benefit most from evidence-based supplements and to better understand the underlying mechanisms so we can adopt a targeted approach to supplement use in mental health treatment.” Professor Sarris said. “The role of the gut microbiome in mental health is a rapidly emerging field of research, however more research is needed into the role of ‘psychobiotics’ in mental health treatment.” 

Explore Further:

To explore pharmaceutical-free options for the promotion of better mental and physical health and peak performance, then please be sure to visit our main website. Our home page, here

About The study and Source material:

The review involved researchers from Western Sydney University, King’s College London, The University of Manchester, The University of Queensland, ORYGEN National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, The University of Melbourne, University of Toronto and KU Leuven.

The research paper on which this article is based can be accessed in the October issue of World Psychiatry and online at http://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20672

This article is based on material provided to us by the University of Manchester newsroom and appears here with permission.

Looking to Start the School Year on the Right Foot? Get More Sleep!

 By Ryan Meldrum

There is a palpable buzz at the beginning of every school year. There are new classes, new teachers and new friends to be mande. The start of a new school year – not unlike New Year’s Eve – is often accompanied by an optimistic outlook to do better, be better and accomplish more.

As you think about the strategies you might use to achieve these goals, it’s worth considering the merits of getting enough shut-eye.

The old adage of the importance of getting eight hours of sleep at night exists for a reason. Sleep plays a crucial role in washing away the waste that gets built up between our brain cells as a result of all the thinking we do every day.

Sleep helps us transform our short-term memories into long-term ones. Getting a good night’s sleep also makes you more alert, attentive and able to concentrate. Do you see a theme emerging? If you think about the things needed to do well in school, many of them align with the things that a good night’s sleep helps to promote.

But it’s not just in the classroom where sleep will benefit you. Many student-athletes are looking for ways to find that extra edge to outperform their competitors. Why consider more sleep? It aids in muscle recovery, increases reactions times and ensures your immune system is humming on all cylinders. Again, these are things essential to being able to perform at one’s peak abilities.

Don’t take my word for it. Professional athletes like LeBron James, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Cristiano Ronaldo all consider sleep to be a critical part of their regimen for success.

Then there’s the growing body of evidence suggesting that a lack of sleep can increase symptoms of depression, anxiety and irritability. There is also evidence that a lack of sleep decreases self-control. Given the known links between lack of self-control, poor health and problematic behavior, it might come as no surprise that young adults who consistently sleep less than eight hours at night are more likely to be overweight, to engage in risk-taking behaviour (such as texting and driving), to use drugs and to engage in violence.

So, what can you do in order to get more restful, high quality sleep at night and boost your chances of starting the new school year on the right foot?

Stop drinking caffeinated beverages after 3 p.m. Caffeine is a stimulant. It makes it harder for you to fall asleep when you want. While this might seem obvious, what is less widely known is that it takes several hours for caffeine to be fully metabolised by the body. Pulling an all-nighter studying for exams by slamming back energy drinks? You would be better served going to bed at 9 p.m. without any caffeine in your system and waking up at 5 a.m. well-rested and ready to do more studying. Better yet, don’t wait until the night before the exam to start studying

Stop using electronics an hour before going to sleep. If you aren’t familiar with blue light, it’s a wavelength of light that is emitted by TVs, phones, computers and tablets. It suppresses melatonin, which helps our brains to shut down and fall asleep. Of course, if you can’t let go of your phone before bed, you can purchase blue-light blocking glasses on the cheap, and many TVs, computers and phones have settings that can reduce blue light emission (e.g., the “night” mode on smart phone apps like Twitter).

Avoid alcohol. For older students, who think getting a good buzz from alcohol may help you fall sleep more quickly, you should know that the quality of that sleep will not do much with regard to helping you earn better grades. This is because alcohol reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which helps your brain retain what you have learned during the day.

Explore Further:

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For ways to help optimise your learning and academic performance see here 

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About The Author and Source material:

Ryan Meldrum is associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the Florida International University. He researches the links between sleep and outcomes ranging from self-control, obesity, substance use, drunk driving and suicidal tendencies. The material for this article was provided to us by the press office of the Florida International University (FIU) on August 26, 2019.  It is reproduced here with permission. The article has undegone minor editiorial amendments to account for British English spelling and our primarily European readership. To visit FIU, see here

A Wellness Checklist To Help New Students Start College on a Healthy Footing

With A-level results out today, many students will begin preparing to leave home to start their college or university course. For most, this will be the first time that they’ll be on their own – taking sole responsibility for their academics, daily routine and, most importantly, their health.

Taking the reins of their own healthcare will be a novel prospect and one that is easy to neglect, but a few simple preparations can help make this important transition a smooth one.

One expert in helping freshers to settle into their new lives is Bernadette Melnyk, who is chief wellness officer at The Ohio State University. Bernadette advises that “When students step on campus, they really should find out where resources are that they might need – assistance with teaching and learning, the student health centre and mental wellness resources,” and, she adds “Knowing when to ask for help is critical, whether you’re having trouble with your classes or are facing a physical or mental health issue.”

Bernadette urges all new students to check off a few simple but crucial tasks before moving to University and to revisit these throughout the year to so that students can keep happier and healthier when moving out on their own for the first time:

  • Establish Healthy Habits – Just like you schedule your classes, schedule time for physical activity (at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week), healthy eating, stress relief and at least seven hours of sleep every night. When you map out where your classes are on campus, also find your way to the places that will help you keep those healthy habits like the gym, a dining facility with healthy options and the student health centre.
  • Find Local Health Care – Get connected with a primary care nurse practitioner or physician and the nearest pharmacy. This is especially important for students who come to school with a chronic health condition, but every student could inevitably face a health challenge and should be prepared. Be sure to understand your insurance coverage before accessing care.
  • Make Your Mental Health a Priority – The pressures of school and new surroundings can be nerve-wracking for students. Stress, depression and anxiety are growing mental health challenges among college students. Getting involved in campus organizations helps you to start making friends right away and can go a long way toward reducing stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and it’s interfering with functioning, don’t wait to seek professional help.
  • Find a System that Works for You – Whether it’s scheduling workouts and health care appointments in a planner or using apps on your phone to remind you to take medication, find a way to stay organized and proactive about your health and well-being.

Experts say new students should also establish healthy sleep habits and keep all-nighters to a minimum.

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About the author and source material:

This article was first published here on 15th August, 2019 and is adapted from an original press release written by Phil Saken, of the Ohio State University News Service. Visit the OSU website here