I’m not a doctor so this article isn’t meant as advice, and is for entertainment purposes only! Check with your doctor before trying supplements.
Depression is a doozy. There are so many possible reasons why you’re depressed and a lot of them overlap.
For the last few years I’ve obsessively studied different ‘cures’ for depression. I did several years of therapy, gone on a few silent meditation retreats, read dozens of books, exercised everyday for months at a time, and tried medication.
Pharmaceutical medication was helpful once I tried it, but the two most powerful and helpful habits for me to improve my mental health have been meditation and exercise.
I don’t think supplements should be your first line of defense for mental or physical health. You can’t out-supplement a bad diet or shitty lifestyle habits.
But they’re still a great addition to your mental health regime.
I work part time at a health food store that also sells supplements. I know how expensive they can be. That’s why the five supplements on this list are great- not only are they effective, All except one of them are about $10 for a supply for a few months.
This post has affiliate links linked to all the brands I use. If you decide to buy one through the links I’ll get a small commission. And I’ll be eternally grateful.
Without further ado, here is a list of 5 effective and inexpensive supplements that’ve helped me with depression.
Chromium is a trace mineral that helps balance blood sugar.
It’s been shown to balance blood sugar levels and help reverse insulin resistance in rats. As you know, Type 2 Diabetes develops from insulin resistance and high blood sugar.
So how is this related to depression?
There’s speculation that blood sugar crashes and spikes contribute to depression and the lethargy that often goes along with it. I know this is true with me- If I eat pasta, sugar or other high carb stuff that spikes blood sugar then I’ll be tired and irritable about an hour later from the crash.
Coffee also effects blood sugar. I take chromium every morning because even though coffee makes me a bit anxious, I still drink a cup each morning (and a couple cups during the day). This helps keep my blood sugar stable, despite the coffee.
I take 200 micrograms (MCG) in the morning.
Speaking of coffee..
2. L- Theanine
L-Theanine is the amino acid found in tea. It’s one of the reasons why tea has a calming effect.
L-Theanine is neuroprotective so it helps protect your neurons against stress. It’s been proven to be effective at helping everything from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia.
This supplement goes great with coffee. It takes the edginess away from the caffeine so you get a more focused, less anxious caffeine buzz.
L-Theanine and caffeine is even called the Everyman Stack in the nootropic community, that’s how popular it is.
Along with chromium, I take L-Theanine every morning before I drink coffee.
I like to take 200mg one or two times a day. If you’re using powder, it has a slightly sweet, pleasant taste.
3. Fish Oil
This is the most expensive supplement on the list. With fish oil it’s a good idea to spend the extra dollars and not get the Walmart or CVS Brand.
Omega- 3 fatty acids are sensitive and go bad when heated too high or when they’re exposed to oxygen for a long period of time.
Fish oil is usually just liquified sardines and anchovies, so it’s a good idea to get a high quality brand. Also fish oil has potential contaminants like mercury, PCBs, and other heavy metals because it’s a concentrated oil. High quality brands molecularly filter the oil to get rid of any of these contaminants.
I think Nordic Naturals is the best brand, and the lemon taste covers the fish taste completely.
As you’ve probably heard, fish oil is good for brain and heart health. The omega-3’s in fish oil provide insulation to your brain and central nervous system, help your arteries stay flexible and decrease inflammation in your body.
I like to take 1-2 grams a day, though I’ve heard of people taking a lot more.
Magnesium and zinc are minerals that our bodies need to thrive. Magnesium helps muscles relax and is good for the heart. Also, magnesium is a cofactor in a lot of enzymatic reactions and our cells use it to create ATP.
Not just that, but magnesium also helps control cortisol levels and keeps our neurons functioning properly.
Needless to say, magnesium is important, but most of us are deficient in this important mineral. It’s hard to get enough from diet unless you’re eating ounces of almonds and a few cups of spinach everyday.
Zinc is another important trace mineral that we need. Zinc is needed to build healthy T-Cells that our immune system uses to fight infection.
And zinc, like magnesium, helps our neurons communicate with each other- this is why these two minerals can help against with depression and overall brain health.
Another added benefit of zinc is it helps increase sex drive, which can be low if you’re dealing with depression.
Most supplements have magnesium and zinc in the form of oxide (magnesium oxide or zinc oxide). This form has less than 10% absorption. You want to look for products with things that end in ate, like magnesium citrate or magnesium glycinate.
A daily dose of 10 mg of zinc and ~600 mg (split up) of magnesium is usually the standard.
A lot of people get freaked out when they hear about this supplement. After all, lithium is used for bipolar disorder. But lithium orotate is available in much much lower doses than is prescribed for bi-polar and it’s a different form of the mineral.
Like magnesium, chromium and zinc, lithium is a trace mineral that our brain needs.
An amazing thing is that low dose lithium can increase BDNF (brain derived neurotropic actor) which helps our brains create new neurons, especially in our hippocampus. The hippocampus is the area of the brain that is hit hardest by depression and can even shrink in size from chronic low mood. So helping this area recover is a very good thing.
5 to 10 mg is the standard dose.
Can’t You Get all of This from Food?!
It’s true that (ideally) you get all of your nutrition from food. But I think some nutrients are still good to supplement with.
Important minerals like zinc and magnesium are hard to get solely from food. Most people don’t enough raw nuts and seeds or leafy greens everyday to get the RDA. Also, most grains that we eat contain anti-nutrients that can block the absorption of these minerals in our guts.
Considering most of us eat a diet high in grains, it might be a good idea to supplement with some minerals.
Also, some supplements are much more concentrated than you’d get in food. For example, one cup of black tea has an estimated 24 mg of L-theanine, while a cup of green tea only has about 8 mg of L-Theanine. That’s not much. I’d rather take a concentrated dose instead of drinking 10 cups of tea.
As you know, there are dozens of dozens of other supplements that can help with depression. The one’s above are just 5 of the most inexpensive yet still effective one’s that I’ve tried.
Here are a few more that I’ve tried..
- NAC (N-Acetyl Cystine). I’ve had a bottle of this in my bathroom for the last 8 months, but I haven’t done much with it yet. My psychologist first recommended it to me because high doses are apparently good for OCD.
- Selenium. This is a very important trace mineral. Soil with high selenium levels have lower rates of cancer. It’s also good for anxiety. Just 2 Brazil Nuts have more than 100% of the RDA of selenium.
- Probiotics. The gut is the new hot topic in alternative health. But, probiotic supplements are expensive, so I just eat fermented food.
- Adaptogens (Ashwanagda, rhodiola, ginseng). This is a class of herbs, roots and plants that help our body regulate stress. A lot do this by balancing cortisol which is responsible for the stress response.
- Vitamin D. Good for people who live in places with long winters like New England. Needed for everything from immune health, to bone health to brain health.
- Turmeric and Curcumin. Turmeric and curcumin are really popular supplements these days for inflammation. Turmeric is a bright yellow root used in curries and curcumin is the effect ingredient responsible for most of the anti-inflammatory effects of this root. I’ve tried both and didn’t really notice any pronounced effects. It’s used for anything that involves inflammation like arthritis, diabetes, and depression and anxiety.
- CBD. This stuff is everywhere now. It doesn’t do anything for me. I prefer THC.
So that’s my list of inexpensive supplements that I take for depression! All are inexpensive and are known to help with mood and mental health..
What’re some of your favorite supplements for depression and overall brain health?