By Dr. Lea Lis
As a psychiatrist, I am often asked by my patients what they can do to promote better mental health without the use of prescribed medication. Natural remedies certainly can offer a very useful way to improve mood, but the effectiveness of many of these treatments has not been proven. I would like to discuss which natural remedies have been shown to be the most effective, in real medical studies. As always, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor before taking any supplements.
One remedy is a type of folate supplement called 5-MTHF. Some people are deficient in methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), an enzyme important for a chemical reaction in the body involving the vitamin folate (also called vitamin B9). This is the primary form of folate found in blood, and is necessary for the multistep process that converts the amino acid homocysteine to another amino acid, methionine. The body uses methionine to make proteins and other important compounds. Up to 40 percent of the general population cannot convert folate to its active form, methylfolate. This makes it difficult for certain antidepressants to work, or can lead to a deficiency that causes anxiety and depression. If you have this genetic issue, it is important to supplement with folate.
Unfortunately, you cannot do so with regular folic acid pills. You must take a specific type of a folate supplement called 5-MTHF—one option is the brand Thorne Methyl-Guard Plus. An easy saliva test for the gene can be taken to determine if you have this genetic mutation and possibly low folate levels. Genomind and Phosphorus are two companies that test for the genetic variant. I recommend taking the vitamin regardless, as I have found it very useful in lifting mood.
Another evidence-based vitamin is SAM-e, very effective in treating depression and anxiety. SAM-e helps produce and regulate hormones and maintain cell membranes in the body. I recommend taking 400 mg a day of the Nature Made brand. Be careful not to mix SAM-e with traditional antidepressants, as this can cause serotonin syndrome, a flu-like reaction with symptoms ranging from mild (increased heart rate) to severe (high fever).
For adults and kids with insomnia, I love Nature Made Good Sleep gummies with melatonin and L-theanine. They work great, without causing addiction.
Want more? Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be an effective nootropic, helping cognitive functioning, attention deficit and memory. They have to be derived from oily fish, such as anchovies; plant-based forms are not as effective. Taking high-dosage omega-3s may reduce symptoms of depression, and possibly help with bipolar disorder. They can also reduce the risk of psychotic disorders for those who are prone to them, as well as help with a decrease in depression and heart disease. I recommend 1000 mg, or 1 gram, of omega-3 from the Nordic Naturals brand; they make many options for kids and adults in various sizes. Dosage must be 1000 mg to be effective.
Lea Lis, MD, is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, and author of the upcoming book No Shame: Real Talk With Your Kids About Sex, Self Confidence, and Healthy Relationships. See shamelesspsychiatrist.com for more.